Practical Implications For Adult Learning

implications for adult learning

Every trainer in the corporate world wants to deliver effective and impactful learning programs. But all trainers know very well this is much easier said than done. Over time, many theories have come and gone, but very few have stood the test of time like adult learning design principles.

One effective way to deliver impactful learning is by first understanding what your target audience prefers to learn. Adult learning design principles offer an excellent insight into the ways adults grasp knowledge. These principles shed light on the best ways adults respond to learning models.

So continue reading to learn more practical implications for adult learning.

But What Exactly Are Adult Learning Design Principles?

Adult learning design principles, also known as andragogy, were first devised by Malcolm Knowles in 1968. These principles result from different studies and concepts that depict how adult learning differs from children learning. The primary aim for these was to establish the distinction of adult learning and determine the education strategies best suited for the purpose.

These principles have undergone extensive evolution over time to suit changing learning environments. Now, we are at a very crucial point in time where more and more adults are looking for diverse ways to enhance their skills and knowledge. This makes it an ideal time for leveraging adult learning design principles and delivering interactive and impactful learning.

Importance of Adult Learning Design Principles

People learn so many things when undergoing formal education. However, retaining all that you learn is never easy, and most people often forget many skills as they grow. As a result, when people mature and start working in the professional world, they often need to update their skills. But this is where the challenge surfaces. Learning something new as an adult and a child are two entirely different things.

Children are free of any preconceived notions, while adults come to learn with their own understanding of the world and society. Adult learning design principles come to the rescue here to spell out the distinction and bridge the gap. These principles give you an easy pathway to navigate through the complex mindsets of adults and empower them with new skills and knowledge.

So trainers need to leverage these practical implications of adult learning to realize their goal of delivering more impactful and effective learning.

How Do Adult Learning Design Principles Impact Your Training?

Adult learning design principles are based on a couple of assumptions. These assumptions show how adults prefer to learn, which depicts the impacts of these principles on training and learning courses.

Experiences of Adult Learners

People learn something new every day, and as they mature, they tend to grow their existing reservoir of knowledge and experiences. The upside of such past experiences is adults can relate their knowledge with experiences and better retain what they learn. Such experiences, including mistakes, offer a robust foundation for different learning activities.

Experience is one of many important factors associated with adult learning design principles. This is the reason you find these principles asking you to focus your efforts on task-oriented learning instead of memorization. You can use different learning activities in context with the learning modules to enhance reasoning and problem-solving among adult learners.


Everyone strives for more independence as they grow. This brings in a dramatic shift in the way adults wish to learn. Adults always prefer self-direction over being instructed to do any specific task. As a result, it becomes essential to involve adults in the planning and scrutinizing of training programs to enhance engagement.

Adult learning design principles direct instructors to delegate control of subject matters to learning adults. This gives them a much better idea of what they are to learn and why to learn. You can use advanced technologies to encourage adult learners to explore different content with the flexibility that suits their preferences.

Willingness to Learn

No one is forcing an adult to learn anything new. Since they have likely already completed their formal education, they are here to learn because they want to. Adults are eager to learn new things that benefit them in a tangible and practical manner. Consequently, it can hamper the effectiveness of training programs when knowledge is future-oriented instead of focusing on current scenarios. They seek knowledge that promises immediate relevance and a positive impact on their lives.

Adult learning design principles suggest making the learning programs more personalized in such cases. This helps because it is not always effective and reasonable to lead everyone onto the same path. Different individuals have different requirements, making it imperative to respect those preferences.

Motivation to Learn

More adults are driven by intrinsic motivation. While external motivation, such as incentives, can be effective in some circumstances it scarcely beats the internal drive that an individual creates. Personal rewards in the form of intrinsic motivation can be much more effective. Ultimately, adults learn what they want to learn and enjoy this autonomy.

Different adult learners prefer different forms of motivation. So it becomes necessary for the instructor to determine what best motivates the learner. Making learners feel confident about their competence is a great way to keep them motivated. Besides that, you can even try ensuring greater learning autonomy and relevance to boost their intrinsic motivation.

Orientation towards Learning

The perspective of adult learners continues to change with time. As a result, this also changes their orientation towards learning from being centred around the subject to becoming more focused on problem-solving.

Keeping this in mind, instructors should curate learning programs that encourage independence and self-learning. But that doesn’t mean that you should not guide adult learners to help them navigate through mistakes and relevant complications. Adult learning design principles also encourage instructors to create problems that require feedback from others. It is all about shaping their direction towards perpetual learning.

Final Thoughts

Adult learners are different, and they retain information only when it is useful and relevant. Therefore, it is vital for them to know why they are learning something new and understand their motivations in the process. Adult learning design principles make it very clear that adults have a mature perspective. This mindset is eager to solve real-life problems with better and more relevant knowledge.

Thus, instructors need to understand the practical implications of adult learning when crafting their learning programs. This will help them curate better and more impactful learning programs that add value to the lives of their audience.

About the author 

Hannah Dupuis