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  • Rikki Lee

Learning, the Adult Way

In instructional design of any learning program, the needs of the learner should be your highest priority. Neither your instructional technological wizardry nor your dazzling writing style will do much good if you don’t know who your learners are, what they need to know and do, and in what ways they learn the best. When it comes to designing for adults, you should refer to the well-known principles of adult learning. If you don’t already know them, here they are (along with their implications for your e-learning design):

  1. Adults must be motivated, and develop a relevant, personal need to know why they must learn. (Identify learning objectives at the beginning of the course.)

  2. Adults are autonomous and prefer to be self-directed, pursuing only what they need to learn in informal, non-threatening learning environments. (Provide various resources they can download and/or read.)

  3. Adults must connect their learning with their current experiences and be able to practice new skills. (Add scenarios to exercises and knowledge checks, matching them as much as possible to real-life situations that they have encountered—or will.)

  4. Adults must be able to engage in self-reflection after completing a learning experience and before practicing on their own. (Include graded short-answer questions and evaluation surveys at the end of each course.)

  5. Adults must be actively involved in their learning, not just passively listening. (Give them the opportunity to choose which section of a course to take first, or to select different ways to obtain the same information—video, audio only or printed material.)

  6. Adults rely on one or more of their senses as their preferred mode of learning—visual, auditory or kinesthetic/touch. (Include narration, images and visual concepts, click boxes, drag-and-drop exercises and other multi-sensory elements.)

  7. Adults must master what they have learned and then transfer that knowledge immediately. (Provide job aids that build on nearly learned knowledge and skills.)

  8. Adults must feel respected and supported, and they must be treated as equals in learning. (Offer resources they can study independently for their continued learning.)

  9. Adults must receive regular feedback and positive reinforcement on their progress. (Provide feedback as soon as possible on any knowledge checks, such as the correct answer embedded in each question’s “failure” message.)

Finally, an “unwritten” adult learning principle: Adults deal with the issues of aging every day; they often forget things they’ve just seen or heard, or they can’t focus on a single task for a long time. And what does that imply for your design? Break up long courses into smaller modules, and give learners multiple opportunities for review of important content.

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