EdApp by SafetyCulture

10 Adult Learning Principles


September 13, 2021



Adult Learning Principles

If you want to set your organization’s learning and development programs up for success, understanding the various adult learning principles should be prioritized. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the different principles of adult learning theory and how you can leverage the different learning styles in your pedagogical strategies to deliver more effective and meaningful corporate learning experiences for your employees. Read on to learn more. 

1. Adult learners need to know why they should learn

Adult learners exert more time and energy into their learning if they know the benefits they’ll reap at the end of this journey. They are much more willing to learn if they want to, not because they are simply told to. Rather than forcing them to attend a mandated conference or workshop, helping them understand how this initiative will impact their personal and professional growth will result in higher engagement, participation, completed learning objectives, and better learning outcomes. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners need to know why they should learn

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Before implementing your instructor-led training, it may be a good idea to first create an outline of the subject matter of your employee training program and present the purpose and value of learning and the cost of not participating. You can also use pedadogy learning theories, case studies, and some real-life examples to better explain the benefits of your effective training program. And instead of requiring everyone to participate in your workshop, you may also want to consider making your corporate training optional and offer it to those who only need them. 

Agile training courses

2. Adult learners prefer relevant training 

Adult learners tend to respond better to a training program that is relevant to their job roles and responsibilities. They are much more willing to sit and learn in an hour-long class if they will gain relevant skills and knowledge competency that they can use and apply to their daily tasks. For example, when you facilitate communication skills courses for your marketing and sales team, they will have higher participation and engagement rates because it will improve how they connect and interact with their customers, as well as hone their problem-solving skills. Meanwhile, interview skills training courses will attract your trainers, facilitators, and L&D professional as they will equip them with the right skills to find and hire the best talents. Bottom line, if their training is interesting and worth knowing, then their attention will most likely soar. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners prefer relevant training

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Training is not a one-size-fits-all learning solution. So instead of trying to cut costs and implement general training, it’s much more practical to gather a setlist of the most important soft-skills and topics that your employees specifically need training on. To do so, you can conduct an assessment, survey, or interview to get some direct insights and suggestions from them. You can also evaluate your team’s metrics and KPIs to detect gaps. From there, instructional designers can create relevant training that will help improve their skills and knowledge and transform their weaknesses into strengths. 

3. Adult learners want to learn at their own pace

Most employees are generally swamped at work with barely enough time to spare for learning. But, by allowing them to decide on their preferred learning pace and timing, they will have more stake in participating in your training program. Self-directed learning is a learning strategy that also results in increased knowledge retention among adult learners since they can focus more on particularly challenging subjects. Likewise, they can easily skip the topics that they already know without the need to drag anyone else. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners want to learn at their own pace

How to apply this adult learning principle:

One of the best ways to train and apply self-paced and active learning to your learning development program is by shifting to elearning. Making your online learning materials easily accessible through laptops and mobile phones will allow your adult learners to learn anytime to their best convenience.

You can also adopt a microlearning design model and structure your training content into bite-sized nuggets. Self-paced training programs with content that is easier to digest and comprehend often lead to higher completion rates. This is because professional development lessons can be taken and completed in just a couple of minutes, and not days or weeks. 

Unsure where to start? Microlearning expert SC Training (formerly EdApp) can help you put together highly engaging and visually appealing microlearningmicrolearning courses. Just choose from their 80+ intuitively designed templates, drag and drop your content, and hit publish. If you’re short on compliance training resources, you can also use their ready-made microlearning courses and deploy them directly to your employees. 

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Microlearning Courses

4. Adult learners look for a higher sense of engagement

Among the principles of adult learning, engagement is a huge factor that can determine how well adult learners absorb information. They may be accustomed to learning via instructional modules, PDFs, or simple PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t really work well with adult learners. They want a more engaging learning experience where they can actively participate and not just sit for hours listening or reading. Adding engagement elements in your learning and development program will increase their attention and focus, driving higher success rates and better learning outcomes. Adults who are highly involved and satisfied with their learning journey are also motivated to apply their new skills to their performance and contribute to the growth of the company. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners look for a higher sense of engagement

How to apply this adult learning principle:

There are myriad ways to foster learner engagement in the learning environments of your employees based on adult learning theory. Why not devise quizzes and activities where they can participate or work with teams? You can also pair them up with their colleagues and promote peer-to-peer learning. 

For online training, you can set up some tasks as games to further excite your learners. You can also incorporate a point system coupled with some rewards when they succeed or win a challenge. Infusing these competitive aspects will inspire your employees to work harder on their learning needs and even score higher on assessments. 

SC Training (formerly EdApp) Learning Management System can help you host gamified activities to improve your training initiative. There’s no programming and coding needed. Their in-built templates like letter jumbles, jeopardy games, find a word, true or false, and image/word match make adding a game in your training a breeze. Technically, all you need is to bring your knowledge and copy and paste your questions and answers, and it’s all good to go. 

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Gamification Templates

5. Adults learners are task-oriented 

Adults learn quickly with task-oriented training, a strategy that involves hands-on activities relating to their real-life tasks. Instead of simply memorizing the knowledge, putting the theories into practice can help remember the processes better and embed them into the long-term memory. It also improves their self-efficacy in these new tasks, making sure that they are well-prepared for real-life events. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adults learners are task-oriented

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Organize your learning materials with real-life tasks and activities. You can incorporate role-playing games and allow your learners to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills in the situation. You can also leverage the use of VR technology and set up virtual simulations based on actual events, allowing you to create blended learning environment. With this method, adult learners will undergo realistic simulations in a virtual environment and experience the direct result of their actions, whether good or bad. 

6. Adult learners want to bring their past experiences to learning

Unlike younger learners, adults carry a whole world of experiences behind them. As they already have rich reserves of knowledge, simply presenting and feeding them new ideas won’t really work well with them. Adults respond better to training programs that tap into their past experiences, existing skills, and knowledge. If they can relate and apply them to their learning, they will become more receptive to new concepts and even give richer meaning to them. 

Adult Learning Principle - Bring past experiences

How to apply this adult learning principle:

As their training manager, you need to curate learning content that draws upon relatable scenarios and experiences. Gather and present relevant case studies that you think most people in your team will most likely relate to. You can also hold a sharing and feedback session, allowing your employees to discuss their struggles from past experiences. From there, you may then offer them solid guidance and expert advice on how to avoid similar situations in the future. If your learners are carrying some outdated, incorrect, and biased information, it is also the best opportunity to correct them and guide them to new conclusions.

7. Adult learners look for mentorship

Adults can grasp concepts far better if they are guided by a mentor who has achieved a higher level of expertise in the field. Unlike teachers, mentors won’t spoon-feed the information to their mentees. Rather, they will share their knowledge from their experiences and let the learners self-reflect. Mentors allow their learners to decide and function themselves, and from there provide support and guidance to improve their skills, or correct their mistakes. This learning method makes it easier for adults to absorb new knowledge, excel further, and become the best version of themselves.

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners look for mentorship

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Most employees are accustomed to having their department managers and supervisors as their mentors, although seniors and excelling employees can also play the role. You can then appoint a mentor to a person or group and set clear goals from this program. While it’s ideal to let these parties learn at their own pace, it is also a good idea to establish a timeline to meet their objectives. Initiate a monthly or bimonthly assessment to ensure the learning cycle is on track and confirm if their mentor-mentee relationship is working.

As for your mentors, you can use SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s mentoring and leadership training programs to help them communicate effectively with their mentees and execute their strategies. Some of the microlearning courses that you can deploy include Mentoring, Leadership and Coaching/Management Styles, Beginning to Lead a High-Performing Team, and How to be a Passionate Leader. They are also fully customizable, which means you can tweak their content and add strategies that are unique to your team.

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Mentoring Course

8. Adult learners need to be constantly reminded

According to the Forgetting Curve theory by Ebbinghaus, nearly 50% of the information from their training is simply forgotten within the first hour, while 70% of those data points are lost within 24 hours of completion. The same study also shows that the knowledge drops can be curtailed if adult learners are constantly reminded of their lessons. This proactive practice is widely known as the spaced repetition strategy. By retaking or revisiting topics at predetermined intervals, their brains will continue processing the information and file data in their long-term memory. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners need to be constantly reminded

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Flashcards are the most basic way to apply spaced repetition to learning. But if you want to engage even further your adult learners, you may want to progress beyond this grade-school technique and reinforce a learning method that is more advanced and sophisticated—like SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s Brain Boost tool. This powerful, algorithm-based feature automatically sends knowledge and content to learners that they haven’t mastered yet. The idea is to remind learners of the course materials they need to complete and repeat these topics until it’s locked into their long-term memory. Brain Boost is a useful feature that's available upon request.

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Brain Boost

9. Adult learners are open to mobile learning

Living in the digital age, most adults are more inclined to learning and using their mobile devices to get new information. It’s no surprise, given that they are more convenient to use than their bulky laptops or desktops. Plus, they’re so handy that they can take and complete their learning virtually anytime and anywhere. But apart from its ultimate convenience, mobile learning also results in increased completion and knowledge retention rates among adult learners. This is because lessons delivered via smartphones are normally structured into bite-sized chunks, similar to the microlearning strategy. For this reason, adult learners won’t have to clutter their brains with irrelevant information and focus only on the essential things that they need for their tasks and role. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners are open to mobile learning

How to apply this adult learning principle:

When it comes to mobile learning, it’s not enough to simply make your learning materials accessible via smartphones. You need to make sure that your courses are presented in a way that will catch the attention of your adult learners—otherwise, you’re just offering them an e-book. With this in mind, you can take advantage of SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s advanced authoring tool to author and design beautiful courses that will perfectly respond on different mobile devices, like iPhone, Samsung, LG, and HTC.

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Mobile-Friendly Templates

10. Adult learners are motivated by rewards and prizes

Adults are motivated to put more effort into their learning activities when they are given strong recognition through rewards and prizes. The feeling of being valued and appreciated in an organization creates a positive and uplifting environment, which contributes to higher morale. And when the morale is high, your employees are much more interested to learn, upskill, and give their very best for your company. It is even backed by a study, which suggests that 78% of employees work even harder after being rewarded and they are 12% more productive if they are happy and satisfied. 

Adult Learning Principles - Adult learners are motivated by rewards and prizes

How to apply this adult learning principle:

Rewards and prizes come in different forms. The most basic one is through cash incentives and bonuses. You can also reward your top learners with sales coupons and coffee vouchers, or even go beyond with gadgets and tech accessories. If you’re on a tight budget, non-monetary prizes will also do the trick. You can use SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s Achievements feature to add banners and badges to your courses that represent their milestones and share these achievements with the rest of the organization.

Adult Learning Principles - SC Training (formerly EdApp) Achievements feature


Adult learners have different qualities and needs that younger learners don’t possess. For instance, they’re only interested to learn if they know exactly the benefits they can get out of it. They are open to mentorship and more advanced learning methods for adults. Most of them are also self-directed and task-oriented. To maximize the effectiveness of your workplace training, you need to leave the traditional school-based learning process behind and move forward with a program that adheres to the adult learning principles we’ve listed above. 

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Jeanellie Avelino

Jen is a learning expert at SC Training (formerly EdApp), a mobile-based training platform that helps corporates and businesses bring their training solutions to the next level. She carries an extensive writing experience in a variety of fields, including architecture, the gig economy, and computer software. Outside of work, she enjoys her free time watching her favorite series and documentaries, reading motivational books, and cross-stitching.

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