Blog Post

Learning Principles for the Digital Age

As an adult, we are faced with many different challenges daily; how do we wash dishes, what is our teacher expecting in a paper, how do we know when a car needs its oil changed, how do I properly budget, etc.  How we navigate those challenges comes from what we have learned during our different stages in life.  In this post, I will discuss four different learning principles that I believe help an adult learner learn.  My four principles are: trust, comfortability, transferability, and past experiences.  These principles play a strong role for the adult learner in the digital age.  As you read I challenge you to think which of these resonates more with you and your learning style.  “Knowing who participates in adult education activities and why adults are participating (or not) is necessary information for both providers and policymakers.” (Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner, 2007).  The digital age is here and now.  We are constantly on our smart phones or on the computer, less of us are using handwritten letters or reading newspapers.  We are getting our news faster and more accurately because of the digital media platforms.  But how does this all play into the role of learning specifically as an adult learner?

Trust.  My first principle is a heavy one, trust.  To learn you must trust yourself and who or what you are learning from.  If you are learning from a professor, boss, leader, or co-worker you are trusting that they are the expert in what is being taught.  You are trusting that they will teach you in a way that you can learn the skills and knowledge you need to be successful.  If you are learning from a computer, you are trusting you can learn the material in a way that it is presented to you.  As a working adult, there are several trainings in my current role that I need to complete on an annual basis.  My company trusts that I will sit and watch the video tutorials and complete the quiz that tests my knowledge at the end of the course.  As the learner, I am trusting the company puts together the learning module which includes all the information needed to successfully pass the course.  I am trusting the material is presented in a manner that will make sense to my learning style and answer any questions I might have regarding the topic.  This is because there isn’t a physical teacher classroom setting option to learn the material.  These concepts from the working world have made their way to the non-working world because of the digital age.  Think about the many different how-to videos seen on social media.  You can create anything from a four-ingredient meal to a birdhouse all by watching a video online.  There is no final quiz at the end to test your knowledge though, the quiz is essentially did you or did you not create the product.

Comfortability.  The second principle I would like to present is comfortability.  There are many different factors that can inhibit learning because of comfortability.  There are just as many factors that allow learning to happen because of comfortability.  To learn you must be in a mindset that will allow learning to happen.  You might not realize how being in the right mindset will allow for active learning.  Driving a car on a busy highway is a great example.  You are learning from the drivers around you how to react to their learning style.  If you are not an active participant in learning how others drive you could get into an accident.  I believe much of the road rage people has is from the fact that they were not in the mindset to learn how others are driving around them.  This concept can be defined as informal learning because it is embedded in our everyday activities (Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner, 2007). You need to be comfortable in your environment to learn properly.  When you are driving a car, you are not familiar with you not only learn how others are driving around you but also how the car itself drives.  If you do not learn how the car drive you could end up hitting the brakes too hard and causing a very sudden stop. 

The comfortability with learning the in digital age relates to the platform the material is presented in.  Are you learning from an online course or from a person?  When you learn from a teacher are they using a form of digital media that makes sense with the topic that is being learned?  Is your teacher the digital media itself?  Think about the newer washing machines that are being created, they are touchscreen machines.  Does this mean that computers are the only form of digital media that will be available to learners?  I would like to think that is not the case.  In my role, you cannot learn how to treat a customer until you interact with the customer.  In the sense of comfortability, you need to be able to react to the customer in a way that will not come off too offensive or too defensive.  One is always on-stage when dealing with people, if you are learning from a digital method you can be off-stage and let yourself be more relaxed.  This could lead to greater learning of the topic at hand.

Transferability.  The third principle I would like to present is transferability.   This relates to the subject being learned or taught.  How is this subject going to make sense to me in different facets of life?  A real-life application of this would be smart phones.  We have been able to learn the skills that we taught ourselves from smartphones to apply those skills to other items in the digital age.  Now cars, laptops, washing machines and other popular items that are used daily have a touchscreen feature.  Without smartphones, we would to have been able to transfer the touchscreen feature to other facets of life as seamlessly.  There are also skills in the working world that are transferable into academic life.  Time-management and work ethic are skills that are utilized in both areas of life.  In the working world, there are deadlines that need to be met that require consistency with work.  In the academic world, there are deadlines for project and papers.  These skills are transferred from one world or the other.  To get a task done you need a good work ethic.  Without this transferable skill in the work world or academic world you will not complete tasks.

Past experience.  Our past experiences are individualized which is why this is my last principle for adult learning.  No one has the same type of experience as someone else which is why learning is so individualized.  We can teach each other different ways to complete a task based off how we completed that task ourselves.  How does this relate to adult learning though?  As an adult, we use the skills that we were taught in our structured school environment to teach ourselves in our adulthood.  We use reading and writing on a regular basis to communicate with one another.  “Each language sorts and categorizes the world in a unique way, marking differences between approved and disapproved, good and bad, and other distinctions that an infant being raised into that society needs to learn.” (Davidson, 2011).  When we were infants we were taught how to speak specific languages which is how we can communicate with each other today.  How we wash dishes or how we fold clothes comes from how we were taught when we were younger.  How we complete a task or procrastinate comes from how we could handle similar tasks previously.  Our procrastination could be from multitasking.  Mark’s looks more at how we are constantly diverting our attention from one thing to another.  (Davidson, 2011).  We are in the digital age now which is how we utilize those multitasking skills that we learned previously.

Learning comes through life in many ways.  The principles I have stated: trust, comfortability, transferability, and past experiences are unique to who I am as a learner.  These principles could be weighted differently for any other adult learner in the digital age of today.  Different learning styles and different teaching styles are what creates change in our world.  Don’t be afraid to think differently to learn, use the skills you have and work with what you know to complete your tasks.  Learning is an individualized experience, there is no right or wrong way to learn.



Davidson, C. N. (2012). Now you see it: How technology and brain science will transform schools and business for the 21st century. London: Penguin.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



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