Our CEO and Founder, Jerry Houston, opens a new Power Ideas series focused on Leadership Development, and the HPISolutions approach to Adult Learning. There are 7 key principles in adult learning and Jerry will help us to understand those principles and their importance not only to learning itself, but also to long-term retention of the information. We know you will find value in the information we will share with you in this first article of 2019.

There are 7 top facts about adult learning theory that are important to recognize, especially as it relates to eLearning. Over the past several years, HPISolutions has recognized that eLearning is a powerful way to impart continuous learning and development to business and organizational professionals. Continuing with our philosophy of spaced repetition methodology (receiving concepts and ideas that can be applied over time), we have found eLearning to be a powerful method to achieving spaced repetition for our clients.

According to eLearningIndustry, Malcolm Shephard Knowles put forth a theory that distinguished adult learning from childhood learning. He used five main assumptions and extrapolated four principles to make adult learning more effective. Here are 7 facts about adult learning you should consider before investing in learning and development for the professionals in your organization:

1. Adult Learners Have a Well-Established Sense of Self
In childhood, we model ourselves off of our parents and siblings. As teenagers, we pull away from family to mimic our friends and peer groups. It isn’t until adulthood that we pick and choose from these two states. We begin to develop a sense of self and know that we are distinct and separate from those around us. Of course, some of us have a better developed sense of self than others. With regard to learning, this means we want a say in how and what we learn. Otherwise, we quickly lose interest in the topic.

2. Past Experiences Play a Pivotal Role in Adult Learning
Kids go to school with a good deal of knowledge, but it is not necessarily academic. They vaguely know how to share and speak. There is lots of space for fresh data. Adults, on the other hand, have a world of experience behind them. In order for them to get the most out of learning the curriculum, they must feed off of past knowledge to launch new concepts. This is the most powerful way for adult learners to buy into the new knowledge and make good use of it.

3. Adult Learning is Purpose Driven
Kids go to school because we as parents tell them they must do so (and it’s the law!). Adults learn because they see the relevance. They consciously decide to pick up a new skill or polish an existing one. The new learning must be goal focused. Learning must be tied to real-world applications. We must show adult learners how the new knowledge will help them overcome challenges or enhance their job performance.

4. Adult Learning Relies on a Readiness to Learn
Adult Learners recognize that they must be willing to learn in order to find success in the process. If they see value in what they are learning, it makes them more receptive to study the materials, participate in the sessions, and do the work required of them between the sessions. They see their classmates as peers and are more inclined to collaborate when there is a readiness to learn and grow.

5. Adult Learners Are Driven by Internal Motivation
You will often hear us say that “you cannot motivate another person.” However, a properly designed learning environment creates an opportunity for motivation for the self-learners. Adults focus on tangible learning that helps them to solve real-time problems and challenges that they are dealing with in the present. Once they are motivated the learning becomes many times more valuable to them.

6. Mistakes Are Often the Most Valuable Teacher
Adult learning hinges on experiential learning which means that adults are encouraged to explore the subject matter firsthand and learn from their mistakes. Experiencing this in real-time, with their classmates helps the adult learner to understand that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and leading. It also teaches them to anticipate mistakes and overcome them before they become a real obstacle in their workplace.

7. Adult Learners Must Participate in the Course Design of the Learning Experience
A key ingredient of successful adult learning is to engage the learners in how the learning experience will be designed and what is required of them for successful completion. Think of it as a contract between the facilitator and the students of the process. Establishing this agreement early on, and holding each other accountable to the agreement, is essential for maximizing the value of the learning experience.

At HPISolutions, we apply these principles throughout all of our learning processes, and tailor them to the specific needs of the participants that we are engaging with. We invite you to explore these concepts with us and we stand ready to help you understand how we can maximize the impact of our learning resources. We hope you will enjoy the series of articles in this first quarter of 2019 and that they will assist you as you work to grow and develop your work team in the new year.

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  • Jerry and Diane, thanks for the brief articulate post on adult learning. I think the 7 facts are valuable in thinking about corporate learning and development programs. It left me wondering, does some of this depend on how we define learning? How do we know when someone has learned something? How is learning measured? If we define learning as demonstrating the application of new concepts in a way that shows a permanent change in behavior or disposition, then this is partially addressed in your #3 Fact: The new learning must be goal focused. Learning must be tied to real-world applications. We must show adult learners how the new knowledge will help them overcome challenges or enhance their job performance. But this also means unless there is application, there is no learning. Following this logic, L&D programs should be designed to provide and measure applied learnings.

  • Jerry Houston


    Thanks for your comments. Learning indeed needs to be measured. In our Virtual Management Development Program, for example, we provide the participants with pre and post assessments and evaluate and produce the results. On average we see an overall management comprehension improvement of 11%. We also require the participants to complete a project that benefits their organizations either from a standpoint of better functioning and also economic benefit. What gets measured gest done, and it is very important that you are able to quantify learning in the adult setting. Keep the comments and questions coming! Regards, Jerry Houston

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