Adult Learning Methods– When and How to Apply Them

Adult Learning Methods– When and How to Apply ThemDesigning an eLearning module for adults is way different than designing online courses for children or college kids. The reason being, adults have different needs. They have less time and many other obligations to fulfill.

Most adult learners are juggling a full-time job, their relationship, family needs, and a lot more. The stress of so many things takes a toll on their attention span and leaves them with little time to dedicate to studying and learning.

Therefore, adult learners need short, crisp, engaging, and relevant courses that allow them the flexibility to learn at their own pace and time. They want high-quality and practical training content that they get to access anytime, anywhere, and from any device.

All this can appear extremely tricky if you are just starting to create eLearning courses for adults. That’s why we are here for you! In this blog, we will tell you about the famous adult learning theory (also known as Andragogy) and how to apply its principles for creating eLearning courses for adult learners.

So, let’s dive right into it!

What Exactly is Andragogy?

Developed by the renowned American educator Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy is a popular theory about educating adult learners. It is based on four principles, which include:


  1. Adults should be allowed to get involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (involving mistakes) makes the foundation for the learning activities of grown-ups.
  3. Adults are most interested in learning those subjects that are relevant to their job and encompass real-world application.
  4. Adult learning courses should be problem-centered rather than being content-centered.


Though they are decades old, these principles are still as relevant as they were before. And they can be used by modern-day instructional designers to create high-quality and more meaningful learning experiences for adults.

How to Create a Picture-Perfect eLearning Course for Adults

Now that you know about the adult learning theory let’s see how you can apply its principles in your eLearning modules to make them more relevant and enriching.

1.    Create flexible learning paths

Adult learners usually have a greater sense of self-direction than younger students. They opt for an eLearning course because they see its value and not because they are told to do so. Adults prefer having a sense of control over their eLearning module and want the freedom to navigate through the course according to their needs. That’s exactly what the first Andragogy principle says too.

So, it’s important to create flexible learning paths for them. When you design an eLearning module for adults, allow them to identify their own needs and decide how to achieve their goals. Allow them to navigate through the course as they deem fit and enable them to assess their progress.

You can also take the help of AI developed to recommend content tailored according to each individual’s specific needs. The best example of this is YouTube. Notice how YouTube keeps us hooked for hours and allows us to browse through multiple videos and choose the one we like. It presents relevant suggestions, but nothing is ever forced, and hence, it gives us a sense of control and keeps our interest alive, isn’t it?

2.    Use real-world examples and relatable scenarios

When you are in the development process with the stakeholders, ensure to incorporate real-life examples and relevant content in your eLearning module. Unlike children, adult learners greatly rely on their experiences when taking up a course. That’s what the second principle of Knowles’s theory says as well.

Therefore, they prefer to engage with content that draws information from real-world examples and case studies. They can relate their own experiences with them, making for a more meaningful understanding of the subject.

So when you are creating the course content, don’t forget to include expert opinions, research, case studies, proven data, and interesting facts and information. You can also share your own experiences to make the course relatable, fun, and more engaging.

3.    Encourage workshops and seminars

According to the third principle of Andragogy, adult learners are most interested in eLearning courses that are pertinent and beneficial to their job and career. So besides creating lectures and textual content for your online course, you can also include live workshops and seminars for the learners.

You can invite industry experts to give insights about a particular field and provide valuable knowledge to the participants. You can also have a Q&A session to enhance the quality of the seminars. This will give learners a chance to engage with top industry experts directly and get a lot of insights.

4.    Use various course-delivery styles!

When it comes to adult learning, there are three styles in which grown-ups usually tend to learn.

  • Auditory, that is learning by hearing
  • Visuals, that is learning by seeing, and,
  • Kinesthetic, which means learning by doing something.

So you can enhance the quality and relevancy of your online course by combining these different styles in varying degrees. Include graphics, videos, quizzes, engaging exercises, podcasts, live discussions, and everything else that you want.

Mix and match different elements and test them. See what works the best. Don’t create a monotonous module. Be creative and make your course enjoyable!

5.    Focus on problem-solving!

“Knowledge must come through action.”

Sophocles stated this hundred of years ago and it is as relevant today as it can ever be! Learning with action is the best way to understand a concept thoroughly. That’s why problem-solving is essential.

The fourth principle of Andragogy also stresses the importance of problem-based course content for adults. So while brainstorming about the elements of your eLearning course, include some achievable goals in the form of problems for the learners.

There are many ways to incorporate this in your eLearning course. You can engage them in problem-solving at the end of every module. You can ask them to complete different exercises like drag and drop correct answers, matching the problems with their solutions, etc.

Another way to do this is by using gamification. You can include fun, challenging, and engaging games to encourage learners to complete weekly goals, participate in team challenges, etc. You can also provide some weekly rewards to the best performers.

Summing Up

So there they are! The best ways to apply adult learning methods in your eLearning course curriculum. While you create a course for grown-ups, don’t forget to ask for their feedback too. It would make them feel that you value their opinion and help you know what more you can do to improve your lessons.

Always remember, there is no sure-shot way of creating a perfect eLearning course, so you need to try, test, and try again. And don’t forget to update your modules so that they always stay relevant, effective, and impactful!

If you want to start creating successful eLearning courses, join my  Instructional Design for ELearning program. This comprehensive program contains more than 10 hours of video content, lots of supplementary materials, and Articulate 360 and Captivate step-by-step guides. I am offering a $100 discount for a limited time! Sign up now, because the price will definitely go back up! 





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