3 Adult Learning Principles Every Instructional Designer Should Know


If you want to become a successful instructional designer, you’ve come to the right place. The field of instructional design, learning experience design, and creating learning programs for adults is ever-evolving.

Adults can also learn a vast amount, but the way how they do so differs. Through this blog, you can become a more competent instructional designer and start developing top-notch training programs for the employees. Once you have the skills, you can also provide these services to other professionals, such as entrepreneurs, life coaches, and business experts.

So, what’s the recipe for becoming a successful instructional designer or learning experience designer? You need to know some essential adult learning theories. First, let’s look at what adult learning is, and then we will talk about the ideas.

What is Adult Learning?

It is the practice where adults are involved in activities that increase their knowledge and experience. Adults are different from children because they have an extensive existing knowledge base and experience base on which they need to build. They also know why they are learning a particular skill, so naturally, their motivation to learn differs from children. Many people will tell you that there is a single Adult Learning Theory that was developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1968. However, this is only one theory called Andragogy, and there are numerous other theories too.

Why Should You Know About Adult Learning Theories?

As an instructional designer, you really need to tap into the essence of adult learning theories. Knowledge about how adults learn will automatically guide you through the design process and give you practical knowledge of implementing the training program in the most effective way. If you don’t know how the adult mind learns, you will struggle to become a successful instructional designer.

3 Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know

In this blog, we will talk about Andragogy, Transformational Learning, and Experiential Learning.   These are the 3 Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know.

1.  Andragogy

This theory is characterized by the fact that adults have prior experiences that help them learn additional skills or values. According to this theory, adult learners have a personal or practical need for knowledge. This need drives their motivation to attain that knowledge. Here are some other characteristics of this theory:

  • In most situations, adults have a willingness to learn because they can see the outcome clearly. For example, if they learn a new skill in the workplace, they know their boss will be happy with them and succeed in their job.
  • The reserves of experiences that are stored in every adult individual come in handy while learning.
  • Adults are primarily self-directed, and they want to lead their own life with little interference from others.
  • Adults learn best when they practically do something. Working on real-life workplace scenarios provides them with unmatched knowledge compared to the knowledge from a textbook.
  • Learning is a source of confidence for many adults. When they know something, they start feeling good about themselves. Thus, their productivity improves.

Here is a research article that outlines the differences between andragogy and pedagogy (the learning theory for children).

 2. Transformational Learning

This theory revolves around the fact that adults have flashes of inspiration in their learning periods. They do not have constant cognitive processes. Instead, there might be a few moments when they’ll have sudden realizations and a dynamic shift in consciousness. As an instructional designer, it is your responsibility to facilitate transformational changes in how the adult’s mind thinks. This theory talks about how adults can learn from such moments of revelation in three stages:

Identification – Adults often suddenly realize that they don’t know something that they should have known about or have the wrong information. This stage is the identification of a knowledge gap.

Establishment – After identifying the gap, adults often think about the outcomes of learning something. It means that they establish relevance to their personal or corporate lives. They ask themselves, “How will this knowledge be of use for me?”

Critical Thinking – Adults are rational people and can think for themselves. To engage them better in a learning program, let them deal with their own thoughts and feelings.

 3. Experiential Learning

A famous saying from the Chinese philosopher Confucius goes, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand”. Through this, we can clearly see the importance of experiential learning. This theory revolves around making sense of experiences in life to learn more. Experiential Learning takes place in four stages:

Concrete Experience (CE) – It refers to the learning through strong physical actions and the development of emotional responses in the mind, leading to impactful experiences.

Reflective Observation (RE) – In this stage of learning, adult learners reflect on their prior experiences and learn new things by observing what they’ve seen in the past.

Abstract Conceptualization (AC) – Experiential learning cannot be complete until the learners derive abstract concepts from their physical and emotional experiences.

Active Experimentation (AE) – Hands-on experience such as internships, role plays, and simulations can also go a long way in teaching adults essential life skills.

Now that you know the three Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know you can Read more about adult learning theories and their implications on online learning.

To Wrap it Up

In this blog, you learned about three Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know. It is vital that you implement them in the training programs you develop. If you need further help with instructional design, we recommend that you use our ID9 Custom Design solution. Our ID9 Custom Design team writes custom-built training programs for customers.  If you’d like to learn the ID9 Intelligent Design system, our globally proven ID9 Certification programs are the place to begin.  For a fast-track option for those getting started in ID9, check out our ID9 Workshop Creation Masterclass.

Check ID9 Intelligent Design out on our website and also look at the rest of our solutions. Contact us today!