Adult Learning

As people age, their brains change. Because it is more robust, it can take in and remember more details. It can also understand more complicated ideas than a brain of a younger person. But an adult’s mind isn’t as easy to change as a child’s. Adult learners are becoming biased because of what they have seen, heard, thought, and assumed in their lives.

To teach senior employees, you must use dialect, context, framework, and new tech well. To help you out, we shall outline the critical adult learning theories and elements you should consider while designing a corporate training program.

What do you mean by adult learning theories?

adult learning

What is the theory of how adults learn? Adult learning theory is a term that gets used a lot in corporate training. Does it make sense to you?

First, let’s bust a myth: there is no one theory about how adults learn. There are several popular theories about how adults learn, and they all explain it from a different point of view.

There are several different ideas about how adults learn, such as active learning, neuroscience, practical training, self-paced learning, and transformational training. These hypotheses have the same goal: to help you make learning experiences that work well for adults in the workplace.

Why do you need to understand theories about how adults learn?

Theories on how grown-ups learn are more than just a bunch of jargon, notions, and ideas. These theories allow you to plan your curriculum to make learning more accessible when you’re thinking about it, making it, and teaching it.

Below, we have outlined four reasons why your organization knows about theories of how adults learn:

  • To make courses relevant, we must match them with what we think adult employees need.
  • To come up with ways to teach that work in authentic learning situations.
  • To select the technologies that can help the teaching strategy the most.
  • To plan teaching methods that work for learners in the digital world and on the go.

The 3 adult learning theories

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Andragogy, established in the 1970s by Malcolm Knowles, is a hypothesis about adult learning and how they can use their past experiences to help them acquire knowledge. Its main idea is that adults use their perspectives to help them learn. Knowles says that there are five ways in which adult learners are different from children:

  • Grown ups ought to know “why” they must learn. Adult learners are motivated by things inside of them. If they really want to learn, they can. For example, a potent motivator is an excellent answer to the question “What does it do for me?”
  • Willingness: Adults are willing or ready to learn when they see how the information is helpful to them. They like to understand how what they learn will prove to be beneficial, and they learn better when they can see how it will help them right away.
  • Foundation: Adults have a lot of life personal experiences that form the basis for what they learn. Through the lens of their experiences, they analyze, reason, synthesize, come up with new ideas, or change old ones. You should use their perceptions to enable them to make connections, see the relevance, and get ideas.
  • Adult humans are self-directed people who want to be in charge of their journey of learning. They are free-thinking people who only want to perceive that they are in control.
  • Orientation: “Doing” is the best way for adults to learn. They find task-based learning useful because they can connect it to what they do at work. Also, task-oriented learning helps them get better at solving problems, which gives them confidence that they can solve their problems with the new information they’ve learned.
Transformational learning

All of us have had “aha” moments. We’ve had moments of insight which have helped us see the world in new ways. Little bits of sage advice have entirely changed the way we think. Deep understandings that broke long-held belief systems and rules.

These are life-changing events that change the way we think. You should try to make these kinds of learning experiences. Such events wake up the mind, make people feel intense feelings, and leave permanent marks. Many of these kinds of events cause significant shifts in how people think, feel, act, and see the world. These are called “transformations.”

Transformational learning theories explain how aha events help adult learners learn. The theory is based on the idea that people learn when an old experience is given a new meaning or an old definition is redefined and seen in a novel manner.

There are 3 phases of learning in the transformational learning theory:

  • How to spot a problem or a crisis: Realizing that we’ve been carrying on incorrect views or that we don’t know what we really ought to know often pushes us to dig deeper and find out more, or to look at our mindsets and ways of thinking. We all feel very bad when we don’t know something or don’t realize that we own the incorrect information. To get people interested in your course, you have to show them something they don’t know.
  • Establishing meaningful implications: This is the background or the response to the everlasting “what is there for me?” debate that motivates people and pushes learning. The setting can be individual, professional, or sociocultural, and you must set it up right at the start of the course to get people interested and keep them engaged by bringing it up often. Adults are more likely to gain knowledge once they can see how their efforts will pay off.
  • Critical thinking: The individuals you teach are intelligent, rational, and have their own perceptions. So, you could perhaps give them chances to do serious reflection — to get them to look at their attitudes and beliefs in a new way. Once you enable people to sort through their own thoughts and feelings and figure out what they want to get rid of or change, they are more likely to accept and use what they learn.
Experiential learning

Confucius, a Chinese thinker, said, “Tell me, and I will forget. If you show me, I might remember. Include me, and I’ll get it.”

The things we do and see shape us as people. For adults, nothing can replace the wisdom, clarification, and knowledge that emerge from real-world experience. The Experiential Learning Theory says that the most essential part of adult learning is making sense of what they have seen and done.

The best way for adults to learn is by doing. Instead of memorizing figures and interpretations from a chapter, they prefer learning once they are involved directly in the learning. This is called “experiencing” the learning.

Experiential learning is cyclical and happens in 4 phases:

  • Concrete experience (CE): Adults best learn when they don’t just sit and listen to a teacher talk. Active learning, or acquiring knowledge by inspiring physical responses (simulations), and teaching that evokes positive emotional reactions generate significant experiences which are hard to forget.
  • Reflective observation (RO): For adults to learn and grow, they need to interact with and think about their experiences. So it’s essential to give people chances to learn from their experiences and allow them space and time to think about what they’ve learned. Make sure there are chances to “see” how things work (through demonstrations) and “think about” how they work through conversations, scenario-driven exercises, and case studies.
  • Abstract conceptualization (AC): For experiential learning to work, the learner must be able to decipher complex thoughts from their perceptions, extrapolate these concepts, and see how they apply to their lives.
  • Critical thinking: Make tests that encourage students to use their “critical thinking” skills so they can come up with their own ideas and steps. Role-playing games, active experimentation (AE), internships, and other hands-on tasks allow students to put what they’ve learned into practice and really “learn by doing.” Active experiments lead to real-world experiences, which starts the cycle of learning all over again.

Now that you understand the three 3 adult learning theories, let’s check out the main elements you should include in an adult-oriented training program.

5 crucial elements to be included in an adult learning program

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Technology that’s easy to use

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s an important part that’s easy to ignore. Based on who your adult learners are, you ought to think about how they might navigate the virtual learning resources. Will you give them tablets and laptops or make an app that they can download? Are they people with a lot of money and a lot of devices, or are they low-income people with few devices?

Do you teach in a big city or in a remote area that might not always have electricity? Do they use the Internet all the time? It’s best to set up your eLearning course so that adult learners can download eLearning materials from time to time. It would help if you also considered using a mobile responsive tool to put eLearning content on multiple platforms.

Individual inspiration

Adult learners have different ideas about how to learn. They could be empty-nesters having fun or retirees following a dream they’ve had for an extended period of time. They could be high achievers who want to learn more, or they might be uninterested members of the team who have to meet their training requirements.

Making eLearning enjoyable is an excellent way to get all of these different groups of people interested. Add a competitive aspect and some fun gamification features to keep their attention. Make your online classes into modules, and at the close of each one, give a small reward. This approach provides adult learners with a sense of accomplishment that keeps them going.

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Real-time applications

Kids must go to school, so they do. They learn that children attend schools and adults work. That is the way things should go. They usually don’t get the chance to find out “why” they are learning something. Online adult learning must have a useful goal. A lot of the time, they will question if it’s something they would use in their job or in their everyday lives. If they begin the online class and think it doesn’t do anything for them, they are likely to abandon.

So, online adult learning must be set up in a way that is consistent with how adults learn in their daily lives. Include stories and practices that adult students can use what they’ve learned as a component of the learning material. Give real-world examples of how they could use your e-learning course beyond the virtual class.

Chances to make connections

Adults benefit a lot from the social relationships they make at work. By its very essence, eLearning is accomplished on an individual scale and doesn’t encourage interaction. But if the eLearning course gives adults a chance to meet each other, their business networks will grow. They will keep returning to online courses that provide them with an opportunity to grow their business and social networks.

The attrition rate can be bad for adult learning, so keeping learners is a major part of them. Connectivity is a good way to keep students interested and help them move on to more difficult eLearning courses. Here are a few ways to use social learning in your online class for adults:

Groups on social media

Make closed groups on social media where adult students can share tips, tricks, and ideas. These also are great places for sharing resources, since adult learners can post links and their own self-made eLearning content to help their peers.

Online discussions

Post a question or idea once a week, and then ask adult participants to take their unique points of view. You can also use blogging platforms or inspire your mature students to initiate their own internet forums. It’s best to make rules for the congregation so that people stay on topic.


Organize a webinar once a month that concentrates on one learning goal or topic. Send out invitations in advance, including an agenda that lists the main topics and benefits of the meeting. Adult learners can quickly decide if the occasion is appropriate for them or whether they should skip it and sit tight for the next webcast that concentrates on their objectives or obstacles.

Problems that one can measure

Some adults didn’t finish school because they didn’t think they were good enough. Their situations may have made them feel like they couldn’t learn, and they kept this belief as adults. Some adults who are learning are academics by nature and have more than one degree. They find it so easy to understand that it might even become dull or repetitive. The great thing about eLearning is that you can change a single course to fit the needs of different learners.

For adults who are more interested or have more experience, give them tougher bites to chew. For adults who aren’t sure of themselves, start slowly and build up. Include simple performance measures so that any adult learner can see how they progress from one tier to another. Adult smarter learners stay interested, and those who aren’t as intelligent feel like they aren’t slow learners. Begin with your fundamental eLearning content and divide it into different levels.


You have to meet adults where they are. They ought to feel like you care about them and that you can help them in some way. Start giving your grown-up learners toolkits they can use, and try to get to know them as people. Put online training manuals in a real-world context, set up situations where people can work together, and add challenges you can track into the online course. Adding these five things to your adult learning course will make it much more likely to be successful.

Ad: PlayAblo’s Enterprise-Grade Micro-Learning platform is built for millennial learners. Micro-Learning, along with assessments and gamification features, ensures learning outcome measurement and sustained engagement.
Find out more and request a custom demo!

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