adult learning
adult learning principles in action

Adult Learning

(Uh-DULt LURE-neen)

gas-like elements


What is Adult Learning Theory?

Adult learning is a theory of instruction which believes that learners are most likely to succeed when specific criteria are met, including ensuring that the learning is relevant, solves a problem and, when possible, self-driven.

What is Adult Learning Theory (Podcast Version)?

Other Common Names for Adult Learning

Other common names for adult learning include:

  • Andragogy
  • Adult learning principles
  • Adult learning theory
  • Adult education theory
  • Theories of adult learning

Key Properties of Adult Learning

No matter what name it is called (andragogy or adult learning) the key properties are:

  • Adults come into the training room with previous life and work experience.
  • Adult learners are autonomous and self-directed learners.
  • Adult learners need to see and understand the relevance of what’s being taught.
  • Adult learners want to be able to use what’s being taught to solve a problem in the near future.
principles of adult learning theory

Insights From Brian about Adult Learning Principles

Whats Your Formula book
Order your copy to learn more about adult learning principles (or andragogy) and all of the related elements.

Elements that are kin to adult learning theory and principles

learning objectivesLearning Objective Taxonomy

Honoring the key principles of adult learning begins with learning objectives. Are they learner- centric? Are you using verbs that will lead to learning activities that truly accomplish what your training program is supposed to do?

change managementChange Management

If you’re working with an organization that understands the need to integrate adult learning theory into learning programs, then your life may be much easier. If you’re working with organizations that either have not bought in to, have not heard of, or claim they don’t have time for “touchy feely” concept like adult learning theory, then change will be necessary and it’s not likely to happen quickly. Change management components such as identifying the need to integrate adult learning principles into a program and identifying key influencers such as a department head or subject matter expert who would be open to the change are important initial steps. Designing programs that integrate key principles of adult learning to show the rest of the organization what’s possible may be necessary, because just talking about theory and dropping Malcolm Knowles’ name into your conversation won’t move the needle on this.

subject matter expertsSubject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Keep in mind that nobody on the planet actually carries a business card listing subject matter expert as their job title. Subject matter experts have day jobs and are usually paid to make money for the organization by doing something other than training. So, if you’re able to help craft a message or lesson plan for your subject matter experts that abides by the principles of adult learning, you can support them and help ensure learners are exposed to meaningful learning experiences.


Download the Element Sanity Check

Even if you haven’t yet purchased the book (what are you waiting for?!) you can get access to worksheets that will help guide you through the use of the elements of amazing learning experiences.