Section 2.1: What is Adult Learning Theory?

Alexandra Kerr; Chelsea McMullen; and Natasha Mehay

Educators can maximize the success of a training program or workshop by tailoring the training methods used to their audience. Also, educators must be willing to explore their options and “tune them as needed… to find the right formula that works for [their] team and organization” (HR Daily Advisor, 2017).

To gain a better understanding of adult learning theory, it is critical to address and understand the differences between learners.



Adult learners are often self-directed and enjoy engaging in learning opportunities in which their experience is recognized. They draw from on their past experiences to incorporate them into the learning process. By doing so, adults build on what they already know. Allen-Solorio (2019) mentions that using existing knowledge helps ease the stress associated with the workplace transition; this allows adult learners to feel like capable contributors to the team and organization.

Since no two adults are in the same position in their lives, it is essential to ensure that life experiences are reflected upon when fresh content is being received. This helps them remain internally motivated while redefining the goals they wish to accomplish. Section 2.2 discusses the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing adult learning theory. It is necessary to understand the different adult learning theories and their strengths and weaknesses.

The a adult learning theories are: andragogy, transformative learning, self-directed learning, experiential learning, project-based learning. Further in this chapter, in section 2.3, these five theories will be examined in detail to discuss the insights they provide into how adults learn because they do not retain information in the same way.

Learner engagement is only one component of an effective training program. Educators should acknowledge other considerations such as ensuring that adults are respected, prior experience is recognized, a safe and inviting work environment is present, the applicability of what is being learned is clear, and adults find the learning relevant to their lives (AWENS, 2017).

Section 2.4 discusses the importance of incorporating adult learning theory into training so that organizations and trainers can build a custom [learning] program that derives people performance and organizational outcomes for the organization (Boyle, 2016). Utilizing adult learning theory allows adults to collaborate within a team environment to improve their practical skills and work better.

Also, studies have shown that adult memory increases when they hear and see something together, this allows them to remember about 90 percent of what is said and done (AWENS, 2017).

Section 2.5 highlights the uses of adult learning theory and how self-directed learning allows adults to experiment and resolve conflicts and critical thinking issues.



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People Learning and Development Copyright © by Alexandra Kerr; Chelsea McMullen; and Natasha Mehay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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