Literacy Professionals

Principles of Adult Learning

Seven Principles of Adult Learning

These principles show the differences between how children and adults learn. Are you using adult teaching principles in your teaching?

  1. Adults must want to learn They learn effectively only when they have a strong inner motivation to develop a new skill or acquire a particular type of knowledge.

    Helping their children is a strong motivator for learners who are parents.

    Getting a high school diploma or a good job is another strong motivator for adults.
  2. Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn Adults are practical in their approach to learning; they want to know, “How is this going to help me right now?”

    Be practical, be direct.
  3. Adults learn by doing Children learn by doing, but active participation is more important among adults.

    Adults need to be able to use these skills immediately so that they see their relevance.
  4. Adult learning focuses on problems and the problems must be realistic Children learn skills sequentially. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution.

    Begin by identifying what the learner can do, what the learner wants to do and then address the gaps and develop practical activities to teach specific skills.
  5. Experience affects adult learning Adults have more experience than children.  This can be an asset and a liability.

    Use the learners’ experience (negative or positive) to build a positive future by making sure that negative experiences are not part of their experience in your program.
  6. Adults learn best in an informal situation Children have to follow a curriculum.  Often, adults learn only what they feel they need to know.

    Involve adults in the learning process. Let them discuss issues and decide on possible solutions. Make the environment relaxed, informal and inviting.
  7. Adults want guidance Adults want information that will help them improve their situation or that of their children. They do not want to be told what to do. They want to choose options based on their individual needs.

    Present options, not instructions.


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