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What is the Adult Learning Theory – A Comprehensive Guide


Making corporate learning as engaging and impactful as possible is the goal of every trainer. Understanding how your learners learn is an easy method to master excellent training and course creation. Adult learning theory can also be called andragogy. This concept has been around for years. This theory highlights the distinct ways that adults respond to learning.  

What is Adult Learning Theory

Malcolm Knowles developed adult learning theory or andragogy in 1968. The Adult learning theory is how an adult or elder learns compared to how children learn. There is a focus on the difference. This theory shows how adult learning is distinct and identifies the learning styles that suit them best. 

The ALT theory has been added to and adapted over the years. This is to make it better suited for today’s society. The core of the theory, however, stays the same. The core contains five key assumptions about adult learners and four principles of andragogy. This theory is often applied in businesses in particular as it works well for standard training courses. 

Key Assumptions of Knowles’ ALT

Adult Learning Theory, What is the Adult Learning Theory – A Comprehensive Guide

Knowles’ adult learning theory refers to five key assumptions. These assumptions each highlight the general ways in which adults perceive learning and how they prefer to train.

  1. The Self-Concept of the Learner:

As we grow older, we naturally also grow more independent. This means that we prefer to learn from being led by an instructor to a more self-directed approach.

  1. The Experience/s of the Adult Learner:

Adults have lots of experiences from which they can draw knowledge and references. In addition, adults learn from experience, so it is best to include that in the learning process. 

  1. How Ready the Learner is to Learn:

Adults are more interested in learning when presented with a reason to learn. When presented with an opportunity to add growth and development to their work, their eagerness to learn increases. 

  1. The Orientation of Learning:

Adults prefer to have what they’re learning to apply to their everyday lives. Therefore, general learning about a subject might not fit their needs. Instead, adults prefer to learn practical skills that add to their problem solving and increase their work. 

  1. Their Motivation to Learn:

External factors such as parents and teachers are the reason that children learn. Adults, however, want to learn for their own reasons. They do not share the same interests or goals as children; therefore, their motivation to learn differs. 

The Principles of Andragogy

Four central principles explain how to best provide learning for adults. This is because adults have their own unique way of learning. 

  • With learning, adults need to be involved with how their training is planned, delivered, and executed. Adults prefer to control what, when, and how they learn. 
  • When adults can recall past experiences in the learning process, they better understand what they’re taught. They can draw on what they have previously known to add greater context to their learning.
  • Adults don’t learn by memorizing facts and information. For adults to have the most effective learning, they need to solve problems. They also learn best when using reasoning to best take in the knowledge they have been presented with. 
  • The content that adults learn has to be applicable in their everyday life and must be implemented immediately. The silent question often raised is “How can I use this information now?”. 

How to Apply This Theory to Your Corporate Learning

Adult Learning Theory, What is the Adult Learning Theory – A Comprehensive Guide

You, as a trainer, might be wondering how you could effectively practically apply adult learning theory to your corporate learning. 

  • Have a theory in mind when analyzing your learning:
  • Analyze everything from who, what, when, where, and how:
  • Be sure to take into consideration how andragogy applies to learning.
  • Assess the previous training performed and if it had fitted into the framework.
  • Consult on how you can plan out the practical applications of training so that your employees or customers can see the actual value of the training being provided. 
  1. Collaborate on the learning being provided:

Adults prefer to be involved in all stages of their learning. Take time to ask employees what they’d like to learn and how before developing courses. Be sure to encourage discussions, opinions, and collaborations with other learners and instructors. Once training has been completed, ask for feedback. This will give learners a sense of participation in the learning process. 

  1. Enable self-directed learning:

Use technologies such as LMS to create a self-directed, independent learning environment for adult learners. This will allow learners to train wherever and whenever they want. You can also offer them a list of courses they can choose to enroll in. This will enable them to have their own distinct learning goals.

  1. Use real learning examples:

Adults prefer to know how learning will benefit them. Therefore, when creating your course, add as many real-world examples as possible. 

  1. Let learners figure things out themselves:

Adults prefer problem-solving methods instead of being ambushed with facts. Therefore, it is recommended not to present all the answers straight away when creating a course. Instead, create quizzes to keep learners engaged in the learning process. 

  1. Keep experimenting:

The key to great learning is still experimentation and tests. To find the best training style for your learner, you will need to try different things. 

Adult Learning

Adult learning theory needs to be considered if you’d like the best results on your courses. Adults learn differently than children and therefore need to be presented with information differently. 

Education Compass Team
Education Compass Teamhttps://myeducationcompass.com
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