What Are Adult Learning Theories, and Why Are They Important?


Learning never stops, even when you’re all grown up. It is necessary for growth and advancement in any career.

Adult learners are increasing in number as the years go by, with several grown-ups taking master’s degrees in their free time to add more value to them as professionals. A lot of adults also go back to a classroom setting in their jobs, whether as new trainees or as employees who need to know industry- or work-related updates.

Adult Learning Theory Defined

Before we discuss any of the theories, we need to establish first that adults and children learn differently. For this reason, teaching adults should be given a completely different approach.

For instance, you cannot teach an adult taking up SkillsFuture courses the same way you would a kindergartner or a junior high student.

Below are some of the learning differences between child and adult:

  • Adults can process new information and concepts based on their existing knowledge, while you have to treat children as a blank slate when introducing new ideas.
  • Adults are more inclined to solving problems on their own while children need more guidance and direction.
  • Adults can motivate themselves while children need to be engaged to keep their attention.

Knowing the different adult learning theories can help both educators and learners understand the learning process and adapt accordingly. Your business will greatly benefit if these learning theories are put into practice in your corporate training.

Adult Learning Theories

career people

Learning Theory #1: Andragogy

As opposed to pedagogy, which is the art and science of teaching children, andragogy is best suited for adults who are goal-oriented and strongly self-motivated.

Learning Theory #2: Self-Directed Learning

Just like andragogy, self-directed learning is great for those who know how to keep themselves motivated and those who do really well with technology-based learning.

Learning Theory #3: Experiential Learning

Often, those who are more participative in class or those who are more hands-on in learning are the ones that benefit from this teaching theory.

Learning Theory #4: Transformational Learning

This is ideal for learners who can significantly shift how they see things based on the information and data presented to them. These are the ones that take time to analyze and scrutinize information that challenges their worldviews and rethink and use their critical thinking to adapt.

Learning Theory #5: Action Learning

This learning theory involves solving different problems by evaluating, taking action, and reflecting to see what improvements can be made and how they can be implemented.

Learning Theory #6: Project-Based Learning

Organizations that are intent on developing a long-term program for their people benefit from this. PBL requires engaging in problems as a group, coming up with solutions together, and learning a lot in the process as they explore real-world issues.

To say that adult learning is a lot more complex than the way children learn is a huge understatement. Understand that learning is not the same for different adults as it is for children. For education to be more effective, educators need to accommodate all types of learners.

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