Adult Learning Principles: Incorporating them into the Traditional Classroom

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

Adult Learning Principles are the actions and conditions that support, enhance and promote learning for adults. FKA has identified ten adult learning principles specific to instructors/facilitators that ensure learning happens. In this blog we will focus on how to incorporate adult learning principles in the traditional classroom.

1. Adults must have a reason to learn.

  • During the lesson introduction, establish the learners’ motivation for the content.
  • Connect session objectives to learners’ needs as well as to organizational needs and goals.
  • Use the VIVE formula to maintain ongoing motivation to learn throughout the session.
    • Variety of presentation methods
    • Interaction to keep learners actively involved (See number 3 below)
    • Visuals to support the content
    • Examples to remind learners why the content is important to them

2. Adults must be involved in the learning.

Too much lecturing results in learners being passive recipients who are often bored. Minimal information will be retained and put to productive use. Remember that the sage-on-the-stage does not promote learning as well as a guide-on-the-side!

  • Minimize the amount of time you are telling learners about the concepts while providing opportunities for them to develop and discuss these concepts themselves.
  • ‘Mine the gold’ that learners bring into the room as a way to ensure interactive instruction.

3. Adults learn by building on experience.

Adults learn by relating new information to their own rich reservoir of life experience and to the experiences of others.

  • Build on learners’ experiences by drawing examples and information from the group.
  • Help learners connect what they already know to the new skills and knowledge.

4. Adults learn by doing.

  • Allow sufficient time for application exercises so learners have ample practice opportunities. They need repetition to remember new information and to increase the likelihood they will be able to recall and use that information back on the job.
  • Ensure learners practice applying the new skills and knowledge in real-life situations. This lets them build their confidence and skill in the supportive environment of the classroom.

5. Adults learn in different ways and at different rates. Adults need a variety of methods.

Each person has a preferred learning style; therefore, a group of learners will possess a range of preferences. Coupled with the range in styles, is a range in rates at which the learning is picked up.

  • Use a variety of instructional methods to appeal to the greatest number of learning styles and rates.

6. Adults need a meaningful program.

Effective programs are relevant to the ‘real world’ situation of the learners. Most adult learners take courses for specific reasons.

  • Relate course content to problems learners face daily on the job – this ensure learners are receptive to instruction.
  • Ensure that content and materials are practical.
  • Point out how the content supports learner success in life and/or work situations.

7. Adults need a safe environment.

Coming to a learning activity can provoke anxiety for many adults. It may have been awhile since their last formal learning session and they may not have positive memories.

  • Ensure the learning environment is not only physically safe but psychologically safe for all the learners.
  • Be aware of the physical environment and communicate any emergency procedures that are relevant to it.
  • Conduct the training in a way that guards the learners’ physical and psychological safety while bolstering their self-esteem.

8. Adults appreciate constructive feedback.

Adult learners want to know how they are doing and how they could do even better.

  • Provide specific, immediate and constructive feedback to support the learners while they experiment with the new skills and knowledge.

9. Adults appreciate an informal environment.

Adults learn better when they feel comfortable and at ease with their peers.

  • As early as possible in the program facilitate learner introductions.
  • Encourage learners’ questions.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to work in pairs or small groups to reduce the stress of speaking in front of the whole group and to foster interpersonal connections among the learners.

10. Adults appreciate being treated with dignity and respect.

Effective programs are concerned with gain, not with proving inadequacy.

  • Treat all learners with dignity and respect.
  • Honor the right of everyone to have their own opinions while ensuring these opinions do not negatively impact anyone else.
  • Demonstrate through your actions and words a sincere desire to help each learner achieve success.

Part 2 in this series will look at what virtual classroom instructors/facilitators should remember when incorporating these principles.

FKA President
Michael Nolan