Adult learning theory primarily focuses on how adults learn. It is founded on the assumptions that adult learners concentrate more on the processes rather than contents. This is because adults bring in real life experiences to the learning environment. Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913-1997) had a significant influence on the field of adult education. He was determined to discuss the fact that adults learn differently than children and thus bringing in the concept of andragogy.
An effective training program takes into consideration that adults learn differently than do young children or that a traditional teacher-learner structure may not be the most appropriate context. When designing a training program, instructional designers understand that it is important for adults to know why they are in the training and to be able to apply the training to real life situations.
It is also important for adult learners to exercise their own personal decisions in the course of the activity. Participants should be asked to volunteer to share their ideas or their reactions. Another thing to consider is that adults have already experienced so much of life and that these experiences should be respected and recognized as an important resource to be used in the activity. In a training program, the previous experiences of the participants can be used to enrich their ideas. New skills or knowledge taught in the training can be related to their previous experiences and then they can on them and/or share them with the group.
Adults also come into training because they want to learn, which means that the training should be designed to include an activity that would encourage the participants to actively participate in the training program, such as role-playing and hands-on activities.
Adult learners find meaning in what they learn if they know that it can help them become a better person, thus a training program that tries to teach participants technical skills should do so in such a way that participants feel that it is an important life skill, and when training for skills like communication, conflict management or teamwork, the orientation of the activity should always be geared towards enriching the quality of interpersonal relationships.
Finally, adults are internally motivated to learn. Because of this, the training facilitator should explain to the participants the importance of the training and what it will do for them in the long term. Recognizing their ideas, affirming their opinions and letting them share and be listened to are great motivators.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development