Implications of Adult Learning Principles for Instruction

Examination of the adult learning principles related to this project goal revealed that there is not a single theory of learning that has been established for adult learners (Merriam and Cafferella, 1991). There seems to be a lack of a comprehensive model to guide the development of instructional materials for adult learners. The work of Knowles has however set the foundation for some best practices in adult education. Listed below are some of the basic adult learning principles and their corresponding implications.

Table 5. Adult Learning Principles and Implications or Instruction

Adult learning principle Implications for instruction
Adults are practical, problem-centered, and goal oriented. They want to learn what is meaningful and what will have an immediate benefit for them.
  • Inform the learner of the benefits of the learning outcomes, and the consequences of not participating in the training.
  • Ensure the practicality of all learning tasks.
  • Learning must be relevant to the learners.
  • Use less theory and more practice.
  • Assess what they already know about the training tasks (Knowles et al., 2005), (Muehlen, n.d.).
Adult are self-directed and goal-oriented learners. They can set learning goals, choose how to learn and assess their progress
  • Provide some autonomy and independence to adult learners.
  • Give adult learners a sense of control over their own learning by allowing them to progress at their own rate and using their own learning agenda (Knowles et al., 2005), (Muehlen, n.d.).
Training can threaten the ego of adults.
  • Provide low-risk activities.
  • Build individual success incrementally.
  • Motivate learners to promote motivation to learn.
  • Provide guided practice.
  • (Knowles et al., 2005), (Muehlen, n.d.).
Adult learners have rich experience.
  • Capitalize on prior experience.
  • Collect data on learners’ needs before, during and after training.
  • Keep training time flexible.
  • Allow for options to meet needs.
  • Make provision to address need to unlearn old habits (Knowles et al., 2005), (Muehlen, n.d.).
Adult learners want to be treated with respect.
  • Allow learners to pace their progress.
  • Provide bug-free environment and high quality training materials that are effective and efficient.
  • Avoid “talking down” to participants.
  • Validate and affirm their knowledge.
  • Use training material that is free of gender and cultural biases (Knowles et al., 2005), (Muehlen, n.d.).
  • Create a safe, welcoming learning environment (Keillor, C.; Littlerfield, 2012).

The work of the education theorist Robert Gagné has also been instrumental in the development of best practices for instructional development. In defining the conditions of learning, the education theorist Robert Gagné has proposed nine events of instruction, which activate the processes of information processing to support effective learning.  These events are:

  • Gaining attention;
  • Informing the learner of the objective;
  • Stimulating recall of prerequisite learned capabilities;
  • Presenting the stimulus material;
  • Providing learning guidance;
  • Eliciting performance;
  • Providing feedback about performance correctness;
  • Assessing the performance; and
  • Enhancing retention and transfer.
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