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Core adult learning pricniples according to M. Knowles

The need to know




Adults want to learn skills that can be applied to their life and current role. They want to apply learned skills now rather than later (Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Readiness to learn



Experience gathered over the years is a valuable resource upon new knowledge can be built. It also affects learning as there can be many mental models and beliefs each leraner has built. (Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Prior experience

Sdult learners need to understand why, what and how they will learn.
(Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Sdults are self-directed beings. They are more independent and may need to discover things on their own and set their own terms for learning. (Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Learning should be problem-centered and applicable right away. Adults have a clear goal on why they want to learn based on the problems they are facing now. (Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Orientation to learning


With maturity intrinsic motivation overtakes extrinsic. Adult learners are motivate to learn with little to no need to be motivated with external stimuli, (Pappas 2013; Knowles et. al 1998)

Motivation to learn


Click on each principle to see supporting instructional design practices

WHY - before starting the learning journey, explicitly state learning objectives and future implications of learning in real life.

WHAT - provide learners with an overview of what they will learn as a result of the learning program

HOW - define clear deadlines and framework of learning so that the learners know what to expect

Create opportunities for autonomous and exploratory learning by integrating self-study or group projects into the learning program. Simulations or games without any preliminary information may come in handy to allow learners for self-exploration and definition of takeaways and goals of the activity. At the same time, don't forget to include opportunities for questions or seeking support from an instructor when needed (Pappas 2014).

Include a variety of instructional design theories and techniques into your course as adult learners might have a wide spectrum of experiences that will affect what they already know. It is important to try to appeal to as many experience levels of learners as possible by providing them with less to more challenging tasks. Pre-surveying your learners if such opportunity exists might be helpful in creating a meaningful and fitting learning experience (Pappas 2014).

Adult learners are often encouraged to learn to develop in their social roles - that's why they seek learning experiences that offer a social development benefit. Include opportunities for collaboration in, e.g., social media to allow for building a network and connecting to those who share similar interests and goals (Pappas 2014).

Offer adult learners real-life examples and base your instruction on providing them with tools to solve immediate problems they might be facing right now (Pappas 2014).

Explain why learners are required to participate in a certain learning activity or expected to learn certain skills. When adult learners know what a particular learning experience will bring them and how it will help them solve their problems, they will have more motivation to learn it (Pappas 2014).