Blog Post

Adult Learning Perspective



Adult Learning Principles

Paulena Webb

Saint Joseph University










Adult learning principles is the foundation for adult learning. Individual learning styles impact how an adult learns and retain information. Educators and learners both benefit from knowledge of their dominant learning styles. According to the Kolb Learning Inventory there are four different learning styles which include: assimilating; accommodation; converging; diverging. Adult learners are motivated to enroll in education programs from internal reasons that motivates their learning. Technology has proven to be a proven technique for instructing education programs world-wide. Learning to make technology work for the learner has been a challenge for trainers in areas of attention and engagement.













         Adult learners are becoming the largest group of learners in the United States. As the need to accommodate the hectic work schedules and demands of family life the methods in which education is delivered has changed over the years. Adult learners are motivated for different reasons to return to school or begin an education program. For an instructor, teacher, trainer, or facilitator it is important to be aware of you own learning principles and learning style when educating adults. In addition, it is also crucial for the educator to be aware of factors that could impact or motivate adult learners.

            The most common and prevalent theme found in research involving adult learning is attention. One aspect of attention that gets very little mention or consideration is in regards to the workspace of the adult learner. Research indicates that attention to the design of the physical space we utilize affects attention (Davidson, 2012, p. 3177). Davidson (2012), goes on to discuss the importance of constructing your individual workspace in a way that is congruent with the digital world (p, 3187). For example, the same tool (tablet or computer) that is designed to make the learner productive is also designed for entertainment, which is another way that greatly affects our attention. Individuals that are taking advantage of learning digitally may face the biggest challenges with attention and learning. An adult learner that is able to tune into class virtually allows them the luxury of folding laundry or preparing dinner for their family. Yes, they are listening to the lecture, but are they really engaged? Does the instructor have their full and undivided attention? The answer is: No. It is the responsibility of the educator to challenge their students to be present by creating activities that require participation or requiring all students activate their mics and video during the lecture meeting. The trainer being active with a live video versus recorded lectures and power points are also helpful in encouraging attention and participation.

            Research indicates that there are several different types of adult leaning principles: self-directed learning; adult learners drawing from experience, and internal motivation to learn (Finn, 2011). Learners are motivated for different reasons to return to an education program. One of the main contributors for adult learners to enroll in an education program is for economic gain (Finn, 2011). Although adult learners what to be successful there are many contributing factors that may affect their motivation to learn. According to Finn (2011), 90.6 % of adult learners are motivated to participate in education programs for career- or job- related reasons. Often times adult learners may have a hectic work schedule, juggle more than one job, and have families to care for. All of these factors can contributor to the adult learner’s motivation to learn and expectation for quick success. In an attempt to motivate learners’ educators should be willing to adapt to different learning styles (Williams, 2008, p. 8). 

            According to the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, there are four different learning styles: assimilating; accommodation; converging; diverging ( The learning styles relates the learner’s dominant or preferred style of learning. A learner with the dominant accommodating learning style would prefer controlled situations. This learning type typically combines feeling with doing, and learns from others experience. An adult learner with learning style fairs better by hands on experience versus lecture learning and theories. An accommodating learner bases actions on initiative. Educators must keep in mind that one form of teaching does not work for every learner. Presenting the information in different ways that speak to various learning styles is crucial when teaching adult learners. It is also beneficial for the educator to be aware of their own learning style by completing the Kolb Learning Style Inventory. Incorporating resources that interest all learners’ increases effectiveness and involvement.

            Educators of adult learners are also challenged to be aware of their beliefs, ethics, and attitudes towards the subject matter (Williams, 2008, p. 19). Keeping in mind that adult learners are internally motivated trainers should identify the goals and purpose of the teaching. Williams, suggest asking the following questions: “What are my responsibilities as the trainers?” or “What is the role of the organization in supporting the process?” According to research, trainers can use Gagne’s Types of learning as a foundation for instructing (Williams, 2008, p. 8). Gagne’s Types of Learning list the following: gaining attention (reception); inform learners (objectives); present the stimulus; provide learning guidelines; elicit performance; provide feedback; access performance; enhance retention and transfer (Williams, 2008, p. 8). It is important that trainers and teachers are aware of the learning environment and how it affects the learning process.

            Educators are encouraged to foster a “safe” learning environment. Trainers should be aware of the learning culture in their learning environment (Williams, 2008, p. 88). The learning culture has a huge impact on the learning process. Some individuals may be more extraverted and willing to share and participate. A “safe” learning environment encourages introverted learners to share and participate by not punishing learners who fail. Individual learning is greatly affected by the learning environment- students are less likely to participate if they feel uncomfortable. Cultural causes may also impact a student’s willingness to participate including: language skills and individual personality (Steven & Henrichsen, 2015). Research indicates that positive reinforcement can help alleviate feelings of vulnerability in adult students ((Steven & Henrichsen, 2015). Incorporating group activities encourages individuals to work closely with other learners in a smaller group which may be more comfortable for the learners to express ideas in a more intimate setting.


            In our society technology can be accessed anywhere from our smart phones to desktops. Having technology at our finger tips has made it inevitable that it would begin to have an impact on the world of education much like entertainment. Imagine the capability to switch in between a lecture and the YouTube channel that your professor has just made reference to in your course lecture all on the same device within seconds? The possibilities are endless when we can use the same tool to access both our education and entertainment.

            The challenge begins when attempting to break through the technology barriers that many adult learners face. There may be a digital divide due to the fact that not all students have access to technology or lack the skills needed to use it (Williams, 2008, p.106).

            Engagement through technology may be one of the biggest challenges that educators face when instructing adult learners. Teaching classes through E-Learning has been beneficial in many aspects one of which being the convenience for adult learners that may not have the time in their schedule to attend traditional classroom classes. An issue that adult learners face is self-learning (Williams, 2008, p.108). Adults learners often underestimate the effort that is required to learn the material independently without the social aspect that is available in the traditional classroom. E-learning also lacks that social aspect that you would expect a classroom setting. Although you can connect virtually with other participants and your instructor it lacks the personal aspect and interaction that you can experience in the classroom.

            There are many ways to engage learners through E-Learning. Some of the resources available include discussion board. The con of the discussion board is that it sometimes takes hours or days to receive a response from other participants. Conference calls and live video-based learning are great ways to elicit the social aspect that can be missing from E-Learning. Learners have an opportunity to connect with both the instructor and other learners in real time.

            In conclusion, attention and engagement are two of the most important aspects of adult learning. Developing techniques that require the attention of the participants lead to engagement and retention of learning material. An instructor that is aware of both their own personal learning styles and the styles of their students is likely to leave the learner with a more positive learning experience. Technology has both pro and cons as it relates to adult learning. There are equally as many benefits of technology for an adult learner as there are cons. Learning and facilitating remotely through technology is a wonderful innovation that still has more room to expand and grow. Future research predicts that technology will continue to be the door to opportunity for adults world-wide as our knowledge and expertise of E-Learning grows and expands.


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