Organizational Communication

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last updated 9/20/2013
adapted from a posting on the Yahoo Groups Training and Development List

Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 07:59:13 -0500

From: "Scheffler, Shawn" <>

Principles of Adult Learning--5 Common Denominators

In his book, "How To Train and Develop Supervisors", Donald Kirkpatrick opens chapter four "Conditions for Maximum Learning by Supervisors" with eleven authors throughout training's history and compiles their views on adult learning principles. Some, like Thorndike and Bob Pike call them laws while others simply state that they are "things" or "generalizations" we know about adult learners. Whatever you call them, these ideas number from 3 to 30 depending on the author. If you look closely you will find that all of them can be categorized into five primary (base) areas. These five areas, or principles are:

5 Principles

  • Adults learn best when they are ready to learn (Prepared)

  • Adults learn best when the information is familiar to their existing base of knowledge (Assimilation/Familiarity)

  • Adults learn best when they are active and involved (Experiential)

  • Adults learn best when the information is delivered to their individual "style" (Learning styles, Intelligences, Personality, etc. -- See Don Clark's pages on this!)

  • Adults learn best when they experience success (Positive Reinforcement/Achievement)

The real key to this model is not really in the principles, yet this is where most theories limit themselves. The critical piece to solving the adult learning puzzle lies in taking each one of the 5 principles and applying it to each one of the 3 players in any given training situation:

Shawn M. SchefflerInstructional Designer
H&R Block, Inc.

Malcolm Knowles on the Concept of Adult Learning
from the Wikipedia on "Andragogy"

Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: "man-leading") should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: "child-leading").

Knowles' theory can be stated with six assumptions related to motivation of adult learning:

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know)

  2. Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation).

  3. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept).

  4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives (Readiness).

  5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation).

  6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation).

The term has been used by some to allow discussion of contrast between self-directed and 'taught' education