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Effective Adult Learning Principles in The Digital Age

By. Malia Uhatafe

Adults encounter several challenges during their learning process. Time management, finances, and lack of confidence are a few examples. Despite these obstacles, adult learning can be achieved. I identify three principles for effective adult learning to be full commitment from learner, ability to self-direct, and acknowledgement that life experiences can be integral to the learning process. These three principles play a vital role for the adult learner during the age of technology.

Full commitment to learning is my first principle in successful adult learning.  As adults, the list of responsibilities is heavy. Many are parents with children that require time and attention. Numerous adults carry full-time jobs to handle the finances needed to care for their loved ones. Howard McClusky’s Theory of Margin supports the principle of full commitment. “[Mcclusky’s] theory is grounded in the notion that adulthood is a time of growth, change, and integration in which one constantly seeks balance between the amount of energy needed and the amount available” (Baumgartner, Caffarella & Merriam 2007, 93). Theory of Margin defines this balance as  “a ratio between the ‘load’ (L) of life, which dissipates energy, and the ‘power’ (P) of life, which allows one to deal with the load. ‘Margin in life’ is the ratio of load to power. More power means a greater margin to participate in learning” (Baumgartner, Caffarella & Merriam 2007, 93). I have made the commitment to create a comfortable margin to obtain a graduate degree. My power consists of job flexibility, a support system of family and friends, tuition re-imbursement, and effective study skills acquired during my undergraduate years. “To engage in learning…an adult must have some margin of power ‘available for application to the processes which the learning situation requires” ( Baumgartner, Caffarella & Merriam 2007, 94). Time management and multi-tasking are required skills for adults when establishing the balance of load and power. The first step as learners in maintaining a safe balance of margin or increase of power is to be fully committed to education. When fully dedicated to learning, students are focused in building a system of support and prepared to meet our goals. Adult learners create a margin of power because learning is a necessity. Moreover, for adult learners, technology should be viewed as a source of power. I view the internet as a major resource to research articles, meet with classmates, and establish a virtual circle of support.

My second principle in adult learning is to become a self-directed learner. By becoming the teacher, “individuals take the initiative, without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes” (Hayworth 2016, 360). With technology, students can forego the traditional classroom setting and obtain a degree online. In addition, there are a variety of websites dedicated to the self-directed learner. Individuals can study a language, build a resume, and acquire public speaking skills through the internet. Becoming a self-directed learner is vital for adults. Whether preparing for a job interview or exam, self-directed learners can acquire information at their own pace. When I made the decision to change careers from student affairs to corporate sales, I had to reorganize my resume, cover letter, and interviewing style. The worldwide web played a vital role in this transition. I took advantage of the internet and viewed sample resumes of corporate job seekers, read articles by former and current human resource administrators of large companies about the ideal candidate, and acquired interviewing tips. I took a hands-on approach in my desire to change careers. For adult learners, the internet can be a great resource in acquiring knowledge on almost any subject. To be successful in comprehending this information through the virtual lens requires self-directed learning.

The final adult learning principle is to acknowledge the power of life experience. “Andragogy places emphasis on the characteristics of adult learners and posits that their life experiences can be [a] valid source of learning” (Yang 2006). Our individual journey can play an fundamental role in our learning. Theories and concepts can be read in books, but seeking examples in our everyday lives and environment will bring genuine meaning. While taking a leadership theory course, I developed an elementary understanding of many leadership models. Find examples through my company management team, I fully comprehended these models of leadership. In addition, upon discussions about effective leadership qualities, I referenced former work experience in justifying my argument. Using experience as a learning mechanism requires the learner to be “[open and willing] to involve oneself in new experiences; observational and reflective skills so these new experiences can be viewed from a variety of perspectives; analytical abilities so integrative ideas and concepts can be created from their observations; and decisions making and problem solving skills so these new ideas and concepts can be used in actual practice” (Baumgartner, Caffarella & Merriam 2007, 93). Our story of life is unique, and we can share our story with the world. As we learn from our own experience, we have the access to share our narrative with the worldwide web.

 Adult learners can gain great knowledge through the internet. Although adults are challenges with many obstacles, they continue to have access to learn due to technology. I acknowledged three effective learning principles for adults as commitment, self-directed learner, and the power of life experience. These elements are an effect tool for adults as they seek to improve their own potential.




Haworth, Ryan. (2016). Adult Education Research Conference. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 60 (4), 359-364

Merriam S.B., Caffarella R.S., & Baumgartner L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass.

Yang, Baiyin. 2006. A Holistic Conceptualization of Adult Learning and Its Critiques of Selected Concepts and Theories. Adult Education Research Conference.      





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