Adult Learners

The thing I love most about learning is there’s always something new: a perspective, idea or technique that gives way to a different level of understanding. This happened recently as I attended a training on the principles of adult learning. During the day-long session, participants were taught various steps for designing learning opportunities for adults as well as principles that, when adhered, lead to valuable and productive time spent.


As I prepared for the session by reading an assignment, I had an aha moment. Whether I am preparing to work with educators, youth development professionals, leaders, volunteers or parents; the same principles apply. Even though these ‘students’ range from GED students to Ph.D. students, they have incredibly similar needs as adult learners.


I want to share four assumptions about learners and the learning process from Jane Vella who has made critical contributions to the field:

1. Learners arrive with the capacity to do the work involved in learning.

2. Learners learn when they are actively engaged – cognitively, emotionally, and physically in the content.

3. New content can be presented through learning tasks.

4. Learning tasks promote accountability.


Do you share these assumptions? While no one can make you believe in these assumptions — I promise you — your learning experiences for adults (whether you call them training, workshops, seminars, classes, courses, etc.) will be enhanced by your belief and commitment to them.


You can read more of Vella’s seminal work on her website. I suggest you start with the first chapter of her book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults in which she presents Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning.


For now, design your adult learning experiences with at least some of these four assumptions in mind. And expect improved results and satisfied participants.


In the near future, we hope you will have an opportunity to experience these principles and design steps through our Catalytic Courses, which include:

– Team-Building for Leaders
– Facilitators Toolbox 2.0
– The Art of Listening


Stay Tuned . . .
—- Dr. Folami Prescott Adams