Adult Learning Design Principles: Fundamentals for Course Creators

Adults engaged around table after instructor uses adult learning design principles

Increasing competition in the business environment calls for a competent and skilful workforce. And training your employees is the only feasible way to create one ready to take on the challenges of the modern-day ecosystems. However, this requires inculcating newer concepts within adults, which differs from teaching something new to a child. But just because it is challenging does not mean it is impossible!

You see, children do not come with preconceived ideas and prejudices, while adults do. Thus, educators need to use advanced and effective training approaches for them. This means adhering to certain sets of tactics to establish a fundamental base for training the workforce. These are conventionally known as adult learning design principles. But what are they, and how can you implement them? Continue reading to learn more and enhance the effectiveness of your courses.

So, what exactly are Adult Learning Design Principles?

The roots of adult learning design can be traced back to prominent educator Malcolm Knowles. The distinct and highly effective concept of andragogy was the brainchild of this very individual. Andragogy is formally defined as the art of teaching adults. This is different from pedagogy which is the art of teaching children.

Since adults do not comprehend, process, or even retain information as children do, Knowles determined specific characteristics of adult learners to curate the concept of andragogy. These characteristics include:

  • Attempt to apply new knowledge to real-life complications and situations
  • Preference for self-directed learning
  • Willingness to learn new things when making transitions to new roles
  • Motivating themselves internally rather than relying on external validation
  • Drawing life experiences to aid their learning efforts

What makes adult learning design principles so important?

No one wants to go back to that student-life phase when learning was more like a burden on them. However, organizations still need their employees to gain more knowledge and equip themselves with new skills. Adult learning design principles help bridge this gap.

One needs to understand that, due to rigid notions, it is not easy to get an adult excited about learning something new. Adult learning design principles help you curate courses and tap into the better input – greater outcome psychology to tackle this effectively. This is your best shot at making learning more fun and interactive for adults, helping them learn better and apply that knowledge to real-life scenarios. These principles also help keep them motivated to acquire more knowledge and benefit from it.

Devising courses with such foundations ensures learners absorb and retain the knowledge. It also encourages them to see the world through a different perception, further motivating them to strive for improved results.

Leveraging the adult learning design principles further allows organizations to train their teams much more effectively. In essence, they ensure people genuinely derive value and knowledge from your courses. This translates into better returns on investments and augmented growth for the organization.

Adult learning design principles to enhance the effectiveness of your courses

Businesses go to all heights to sustain their business in this proactive environment. Thus, when an organization looks for educational courses, you need to deliver a heavily information-based, precise, and value-generating set of modules. This is where the adult learning design principles come into play.

1. Inform Adult Learners Why They Need To Learn

Incentives are proven motivators in the field of education. When you know doing something will benefit you, you are automatically driven to give your 100 per cent efforts. The same psychology applies to adult learners. When one knows how learning something adds to their skill sets, they tend to be more willing to participate.

Coercive approaches for educating employees have barely yielded any results until now. Instead, your course must be able to communicate how the initiative will fuel their professional and personal growth. Be specific about the results they can expect right at the beginning of the course to keep them motivated.

The best way to go about it is to create an outline of the purpose and objectives of the course. Make them understand the worth of what they stand to lose to present an alternate perspective. It can also be a good idea to deliver some real-life examples that better explain the benefits of the training program.

2. Let Them Learn At Their Own Pace

Being an adult takes a heavy toll as it is. Further, adding another burden on employees defeats the purpose of the entire training program. An ideally curated course must never feel like an additional task to adult learners. Accordingly, allow them to learn at their preferred timing and pace to enhance participation as well as retention of knowledge.

You can even give them the option to opt out of subjects or topics they are already familiar with. This ensures they derive tangible value from the courses, which aids in keeping them motivated and engaged till the end of the training program.

One easy way to realize this is by providing e-learning programs and making study materials readily accessible through electronic devices. Employees of the organization can study the course at any time that best suits their schedule. You can even leverage the microlearning design model that breaks down content into smaller and retainable nuggets. Combining this with the self-paced principle will translate to higher completion rates.

3. Adults Prefer Task-Oriented Learning

Most adults are not interested in sifting through highly theoretical subject matters that mostly bounce over their heads. This has an adverse impact on the overall effectiveness of the course. Therefore, the focus of the course should be less on memorizing and more on putting the theories into practice.

Retaining something you have read five months earlier is not easy. But retaining the knowledge derived from some practical task with the theoretical application is a much simpler undertaking. This will also prepare the employees to face real-life challenges head-on.

Therefore, people creating the courses must add real-life responsibilities along with the learning materials. For instance, one can incorporate a role-playing game where a learner has to demonstrate a direct application of what has been taught. Besides that, leveraging the potential of Virtual Reality technology to create realistic simulations can also go a long way in boosting retention.

4. Adults Need Continual Reminders

Some shocking numbers suggest people forget 50% of the information from training in just the first hour. What’s even worse, 70% of information from the course is lost within the first 24 hours. But do not be dismayed by this information because a counter fix is available.

In this case, it is to constantly remind the adult learners of all lessons and skills they have acquired, which many refer to as spaced repetition strategy. Set up an interval to revisit and retake different lessons and topics. This allows the human brain to process the said information and store it in long-term memory.

You can use the flashcard approach to facilitate the spaced retention strategy. There are also other ways where using algorithm-based features can help reinforce the learning method.

5. Relevance Is Important For Adults

Adult learners have already completed their formal education, where they have spent time learning everything irrespective of whether it interests them. Therefore, now they are bound to stick around only for something relevant to their job roles and responsibilities.

For instance, suppose you have a course about enhancing employees’ communication skills. Providing this course to the sales or marketing department will garner more participation than the accounts department. Ultimately, employees will look for courses and training programs that interest them and practically add actionable insights.

Accordingly, the one size fits all approach has to go out of the window, and the spectrum of training courses needs some widening. This is your sure-shot way to boost both effectiveness and participation from employees. It also helps employees retain the skills and knowledge passed through the training programs.

Concluding Thoughts

Employees are the most significant asset of any business. Thus, setting them on the right path is crucial for the organization’s success as a whole. Therefore, it only makes sense that businesses empower them with skills and knowledge that aid in their holistic growth.

This offers an excellent opportunity for B2B course creators to provide businesses with courses and training programs that offer a value-driven approach. The most effective way to reach that benchmark is by leveraging the aforementioned five fundamental adult learning design principles.

Looking for more information on how to effectively design online courses for adults? You might find these articles useful

About the author 

Petra Mayer