Adult Learning Theory

Updated: August 23, 2009

Adult Learning Theory

In order for effective learning to occur, adults typically need to have the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities on which to build, to understand the "value added" of new learning, and to have confidence in their ability to master new information and skills. This is consistent with Vroom's Expectancy Theory. It is essential for the learning and training to be relevant to the adult learner's career. It is important that the learner receive non-judgmental feedback. Negative feedback should be given in a respectful, supportive manner, focusing on how the staff member can improve his or her performance while also giving recognition to positive accomplishments.

Most adult learners have a strong foundation of experience upon which they can connect new knowledge, skills and learning. Experiences can vary significantly among staff members; the teacher should take the background of the individual into account when designing the training. It is ideal for the learning environment to include the sharing of life experiences, strategies, and knowledge. This does not mean that the adult should be trained in isolation. Training should include "how-to-do" information as well as the "when" and "why," so the learner can more successfully apply the material to the necessary job skills. People respond positively when they are actively involved in the training process. Incorporating choice, personal experience, critical thinking, and reflection are important aspects of learning. Staff should be involved in the process from its initial stages, such as needs assessment, to evaluation of the program. Involvement is very helpful in overcoming resistance to change (Blanchard & Thacker, pp 106-109).

Reference List: Blanchard, P.N. and Thacker J.W. (2004). Effective Training Systems, Strategies, and Practices (Second Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Prentice Hall.

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