Section 2.2: Advantages and Disadvantages of Adult Learning Theory

Alexandra Kerr; Chelsea McMullen; and Natasha Mehay

Advantages of Adult Learning Theory

When organizations understand how adults favour learning, training and educational programs can be tailored to ensure they leverage the qualities the adults possess to effectively share the knowledge they already have and what they have yet to master. Adult learning theory allows corporate training programs to incorporate practical uses that help increase an adult’s competence and overall confidence. When adults are placed in a new learning environment, they are motivated to showcase their capabilities and what they bring to the table. It is simple to walk adult learners through a step-by-step workflow process when they already have real-life experiences and examples to reflect on.

Learning for an adult can be transformative, so when an organization focuses on excelling in providing adult learning, they assist their team with their personal development in the long run (Chen, 2012). Unlike children, adult learners are able to learn at their own pace. However, it does not take much to motivate adult learners because they are often eager to succeed and put their knowledge to use. Utilizing adult learning theory, in general, helps support lifelong learning; it allows adults to engage in formal and informal learning settings to further develop.

Disadvantages of Adult Learning Theory

It can be challenging to apply adult learning principles. Adults must be keen and driven to seek their goals. If not, resistance can occur, thus impacting the overall culture within a workplace. Mentors or coaches who do not understand the different adult learning theories will have a hard time developing and selecting an evaluation system. They will be unsure of what tools and instruments to utilize that measure the expected competencies and outcomes that keep the learners motivated. It can be challenging to motivate adults because, more often than not, they are driven by their internal values and needs and have few external motivators (Smith, 2014). For example, adult students may refrain from participating in specific learning activities, especially if they have had previous negative experiences they fear will occur again (Chen, 2012). Also, it is critical to remember that adults have other social and personal responsibilities they need to focus on. In other words, even though an individual might be interested in participating in a training program, they might struggle to maintain a balance between their work and other commitments.

The next section will discuss adult learning theories and insights into what motivates adults to learn.


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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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