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Adult learners


October 31, 2019



Adult learners

Creating effective training for adults is no easy task. This is because it requires an understanding of their unique characteristics and tailoring the training accordingly. Unlike children, adults approach training with a different motivation and perspective.

Adults (andragogy learning theory) take up training for different reasons – improving job skills or work performance, pursuing a passion, or acquiring new information.

What is an adult learner?

More than the obvious difference in their overall ages, adult learners have a different mindset than their younger counterparts. First and foremost is their reason for learning. Adult learners primarily study in connection with their jobs—adding knowledge/skills needed to get a job or updating knowledge/skills needed to keep a job. As a result, their motivation is different from that of younger learners. Often, it is at a higher level, making them more dedicated to successfully completing their learning.

Adult Learner Characteristics

Adult learners have certain common characteristics which you should be aware of before developing training:

  • Adults need to know the context of knowledge.
  • Adults learn best when they know where they can apply their knowledge.
  • Adults learn by hands-on experience.
  • Adults assimilate through problem-solving.
  • Adults internalize knowledge through repetition and reinforcement.
  • Adults require facilitation and follow-up support to put their knowledge into practice.

Adult Learners’ Style of Learning

Every adult prefers to learn differently. There are three different types of learning – seeing, hearing, and doing. Since it is impossible to know in advance what the audience’s preferred style of learning, it is important to incorporate all three modes to benefit everyone.

  • Visual: Visual learners understand information better through visual aids, such as visuals, videos, diagrams, etc.
  • Auditory: Auditory learners remember information more accurately when they hear information through recordings, discussions, etc.
  • Tactile: Tactile learners absorb information when they are engaged physically in learning activities, such as role-play, exercises, digital interactivities, hands-on activities, etc.

Effective Training for Adult Learners

Training is most effective when they consider the content realistic and relevant to them. Adult learners expect the content to be applicable in the real-world. Training can be successful only when it stimulates the learner to use his or her previous experience and apply it in new situations. Lastly, the important aspect of effective training is to create realistic and achievable goals.

Adult Learners & Conducive Learning Environment

The success of any training program depends on making a positive learning environment. Here are some points to consider:

  • Sense of community: Adult learners tend to get more involved in the training when the learning environment is supportive to all participants. Warm-up and ice-breaker sessions are a great way to build a sense of community and encourage support from peers.
  • Feedback system: Adult learners require constant feedback to check the results of their efforts. Every learning activity must be built to provide structured, timely feedback to make the training more meaningful.
  • Group activities: Group activities during the training provide an opportunity for the learners to move beyond understanding to sharing, reflecting, and generalizing their learning experiences.
  • Apply the learning: Adult learners need to have an opportunity to apply the learning to their personal experiences in the real world.

Learning Strategies for Adult Learners

The best way forward is to use a combination of techniques that use their personal experience or learners (group discussions, role-play, simulations, problem-solving, and case studies) instead of merely using lectures.

  • Mobile Case studies: Case studies present real-life problems in training. Case studies can be in the form of provocative issues, situations, questions, unresolved statements, etc. Case studies encourage adults to judge, critique, analyze, speculate, and express opinions. Case studies can improve retention and recall information beyond the training.
  • Problem-based learning: Problem-based learning encourages critical-thinking skills when the learner is confronted with ill-structured problems that require solutions. The trainer facilitates this process by stimulating, guiding, and summarizing discussions.
  • Gamification and simulations: Game-like exercises and simulations involve learners having to achieve a goal, which is modeled on real-life problems and crises. Games and simulations encourage the use of skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, and reacting to the results of their actions.
  • Discussions: Discussions encourage learners to develop critical thinking to find solutions. In this strategy, the trainers use discussion as a method to pose a problem, monitor the progress, and summarize the results.
  • Role-play: Role-play encourages learners to come up with diverging viewpoints or perspectives to a specific situation. The trainer hands out different roles to the learners to discuss the situation.

Using a combination of learning strategies will result in not only in a positive learning experience but also improves the retention and recall of information for the learners.

You may also be interested in our article about creating a transformative learning experience. Click here to check it out or copy the link, https://training.safetyculture.com/blog/steps-to-build-a-transformative-learning-experience/


Guest Author Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is a senior technical editor and writer that has worked in the education and technology sectors for two decades. Their background experience includes curriculum development and course book creation.

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