What is Adult Learning Theory?

A group of adults are sitting at a long computer desk. The focal point of the photo is a woman sitting in front of her laptop. She is looking off to the right hand corner of the photo, where a man wearing glasses is looking down at her as if they are engaged in conversation.
  • May 26, 2021

The old saying is true - every person learns differently. When in grade school, various types of learning approaches are discussed; visual learning, hands-on learning, auditory learning, and more. But what’s often not talked about is the fact that adults learn in contrasting ways than children do - a point that Adult Learning Theory, developed by Malcom Knowles in 1968, brings to the attention of educators.

 Adult Learning Theory, as defined by Knowles, Swanson & Holton (2011) in the book The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, is also known as andragogy. Knowles attempted to understand the ways in which adults learn in comparison to other age groups. There are seven main principles of the theory, which include:

 Adults prefer to be involved in the planning, delivery, and execution of their training or learning programs.

  1. Instead of regurgitating memorized items, adults prefer to use critical thinking and solve problems in order to absorb new information.
  2. Adult learners benefit greatly from drawing on their own past experiences as part of the learning process, even if they make mistakes or have made mistakes in the past.
  3. In addition, adults want to learn information that is relative to their lives and the best and most immediate ways to implement that information.
  4. In order for adults to learn what they need to know, they must have the desire and motivation to learn.
  5. Those who are learning during their adult years benefit the most by actively participating and practicing the skill they’re trying to learn.
  6. While young learners tend to do the best with a curriculum as part of their learning process, adults are more geared towards learning in a collaborative environment that they feel valued in as an active participant.

 Along with the seven main principles, Adult Learning Theory also explains six important assumptions that are connected to the motivations behind adult learners. These six assumptions are:


  1. The Learner’s Need to Know: In contrast to children learners, adult learners have the need to know why they should learn a specific piece of information. This goes hand-in-hand with the principle that adult learners want to learn information that is immediately relative to their lives.
  2. Foundational Experience: Adult learners can use their life experience as a basis for references throughout their learning journey.
  3. Self-Concept: Since adults tend to be more independent than children, adult learners often want to be involved with what they learn and how they learn it. Having a more self-directed approach to learning can be quite empowering for adult learners.
  4. Motivation to Learn: Of course, one must have the motivation to learn. When school age children are learning, they’re doing so because parents and teachers are telling them what they need to learn and how they need to learn it. However, adult learners aren’t required to go to school, so the motivation to learn must come from within.
  5. Learning Orientation: In an adult learning environment, it’s important for the process to be delivered in a problem-centered way rather than a content-oriented way.
  6. Learning Readiness: When learning, adults want information that is ready to be immediately implemented in their lives or jobs.


Safety Mentor’s LXP and Adult Learning Theory

 If one thing can be taken away from Adult Learning Theory, it’s this: adults tend to be more independent in their learning strategy and prefer to have a say in what they learn and how they learn it.

 Safety Mentor’s LXP (learning experience platform) is designed with the independent adult learner in mind, providing a collaborative learning ecosystem that fosters confidence building and a sense of self-importance in participating learners. Unlike a traditional LMS (learning management system), LXPs are focused on the learner rather than the instructor or administrator. Safety Mentor’s LXP allows learners to curate content and group it into categories or courses that can be personalized for each learner’s needs.

 The learning ecosystem within the LXP allows adult learners to upload and share resources and experiences with other learners. It also gives adult learners a sense of independence in their learning process, which helps to boost the motivation to learn.

 Want to know more about how the Safety Mentor LXP can help your adult learning community? Contact us today and we’ll help you find the best solution for your needs.

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