Advice for Getting Hired as an Instructional Designer or eLearning Programmer #2: Adult Learning Concepts and Theory

August 9, 2022

We get so many requests from visitors on the best way to break into the field of instructional design or eLearning design and programming. As a result, we have a six-part series on getting hired as an instructional designer or programmer. This is our second step: Master adult learning concepts and theory.

Adults learn different from children. Adults have a way, a process if you will, of learning that is incredibly different from children. Malcom Knowles is the developer of Adult Learning Theory, and his work from 1968 has been updated, adapted and modified over the years, but the core concepts are the same. He refers to the theory as “assumptions” about adult learners.

Assumption 1: Adults are Self-Directed

Adults are self-controlling, self-monitoring and self-inspiring creatures. We don’t need a facilitator or course to hand hold us through the process of learning. Adult learners benefit from being self-directed. This is why creative activities and exercises, both in the classroom and online, are important for the adult learner. They want to try out what they just learned.

Assumption 2: Adults See the World Based on Their Experience

Adults will take your new concepts and overlay them onto their own world experiences, and if it doesn't mesh or at least make logical sense, the adult learner will reject it. The experiences of the adult learner have made them who they are – their opinions, world-view, knowledge and references all are a result of their past experience. Your new content must connect to what the adult learner already knows or learning the new ideas will be a challenge.

Assumption 3: Adults Only Learn When Required

Adults are ready to learn when the learning is directly tied to a personal or professional goal. Generally speaking, adult learners don’t prefer to learn just for the sake of learning. However, if you tie the learning to a promotion, a job responsibility change, a financial motivator or degree achievement, the adult will dive into the prospect with enthusiasm.

Assumption 4: Adults are Practical

Tied closely with assumption 3, adults only want to learn what will be applicable to their lives. Adults don’t want to learn something unless it can be applied to their jobs. A successful ID must figure out how to link the new content being created to a problem or situation that the learner is having in order to create a clear link from the classroom to the real world.

Assumption 5: Adults are Self-Motivated

Children learn because their teacher or parents tell them or force them to learn. And children don’t get to choose what they want to learn, in most cases. In fact, most children don’t get to choose how they learn either! This would frustrate adults and make them abandon the learning moment. The adult’s motivation to learn is internal. 

As adults, we want to learn because of a specific reason. We want to learn because it’s our choice. We make the decision what and how we learn. 

This blog post barely scratches the surface. Here are some interesting links about Adult Learning. Use them to broaden your knowledge of Adult Learning Theory to become a great designer and developer. 

7 adult learning theories and principles to enhance your education

What is Adult Learning Theory and Why Is It Important?

The Adult Learning Theory - Andragogy - of Malcolm Knowles

3 Adult Learning Theories Every E-Learning Designer Must Know

6 Adult Learning Theories and How to Put Them into Practice
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