Understanding Adult Learning

Adults learn in a very different way to that of children and students. Adults have a lot on their mind and are difficult to motivate and engage with. So how do we negate these problems and create successful learning?

Let’s first understand Adult Learning.

Malcolm Shepard Knowles was an American educator well known for the use of the term Andragogy. Androgogy is the art and science of adult learning and thus refers to any form of adult learning (Kearsley, 2010). In 1980, Knowles made four assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners and added a fifth characteristic in 1984. The 5 assumptions of adult learners are:

Adult learning

With this in mind, how can we develop learning material that engages and impacts our adult learners?


  • Relevant – Align your content to your learner’s needs. Adults don’t want to complete a course or complete learning material if it doesn’t concern them or impact their lives or work space immediately. Develop material which is relative to their current situation. Do they need a quick course on new software updates? Is your learner battling to meet sales targets? Develop a course focusing on how to make successful sales. Adult learners appreciate more practical knowledge, rather than extraneous facts and theories.
  • Visual – 83% of learning occurs visually. Make your course visually impactful.
  • Bite-size information – Adults have a lot on their minds at any given time. Provide smaller, bite-sized information which can be quickly and easily digested and understood.
  • Drive learning – Allow your learners to drive their own learning. Adults likes autonomy and the choice of how and what to learn. Give them options and let them manage their own learning.
  • Challenges and scenarios – Challenge your learners so they feel stimulated and stay engaged in their learning. Scenarios are also a great way to make the learning practical and relevant.


Next time you develop a course for adult learners make sure to keep in mind Knowles characteristics and the above development tips.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *