Top Learning Tips and Techniques for Adults (The Secret Sauce Uncovered)

Top Learning Tips and Techniques for Adults (The Secret Sauce Uncovered)When training adult learners, it’s essential to know what motivates them and why they have specific needs that don’t correlate with children’s requirements in the classroom. Understanding adult learning theories and how adults tend to learn more effectively is something any instructional designer needs to know to be able to develop better learning experiences for employees.

In this post, we’ll be looking at our top learning tips and techniques for adults, and whole the 3rd option is one you should take note of.

Learning is something that adults do every day of their lives. The main difference is that they have already built experiences, so the ways they learn are different to children, and instructional designers need to keep this in mind to keep engagement high.  

We will not be talking about learning styles, as they don’t relate to our top learning tips and techniques for adults analysis.

As discussed in one of our previous posts, here at Taughtup, we believe that learning styles, especially for adults, cannot be proven. Even if they do somehow exist, it is based more on preferences than an actual style, so we’ll be skipping learning styles for this one.

First up, though, let’s look at how children and adults differ in learning and what adults need to be aware of to ensure that they can learn whatever they need most effectively.  

Why do adults learn?

Adults sat round a table having a discussion

Here is another question that we should find a good answer to.

In general, adults want to learn to develop a part of themselves and become better at who they are or what they do. This could be at work, in their home lives, relationships. Sometimes it is for exploration of the world around them, and sometimes it can be as simple as they want to build knowledge for when the time comes when they need to know something, they have it ready to go.

Pedagogy vs Andragogy

This topic we have already covered in a previous post and is a great place to start as without this knowledge, learning in adulthood becomes more complex and takes longer to achieve.  Understanding how Pedagogy and Andragogy differ will be key to engaging adult learners. 

This comparison will provide insights into how our top learning tips and techniques for adults can help your own content development, but also help you as an adult learner gain better learning outcomes. 


Check out our comparison table below to see how these differences align. 

The 5 pillars of Andragogy as we know were invented in 1968 by our favorite learning model developer, Malcolm Knowles.

These principles are easily some of the top tips and techniques for adults out there currently, even though they were created over 50 years ago.

Below we cover most of them, and show how as an adult, you can use these models, as well as instructional designers, to level up your learning game out there in corporate America.

Self-Directed Learning (SDL)

So much of the learning we do is self-directed, and could definitely be defined one of the top learning tips and techniques for adults.

If we have a problem, we need to find a solution and understand how to learn more? We go out and find it, we go to Google, YouTube, or find people with more knowledge than us like teachers and mentors, or in the workplace, this could be a co-worker. 

SDL also involves:

  • Diagnosing the issue.
  • Understanding what your learning goals are.
  • Being able to assess your own learning results.

This is one of the best ways that adults learn and build skills, as it is done on their timeframe, in the method they find most straightforward, and shows their ability to problem solve, which can massively benefit them in other areas of their lives. 

Experiential Learning

As we look through our top learning tips and techniques for adults, our research demonstrates that learning through experiences is one of the primary methods that separates how children and adults learn in the current age. While children are most used to a teacher facilitating a classroom and learn through dictation, games, and social interaction, adults are different, and as educators, we can’t forget all that knowledge that adults already have.

As an adult learner, learning through experiences where you are immersed in the content (immersive learning) and have to complete a task by using the skills you have developed allows you to have a place to play and practice.

The Experiential Learning model was developed by David Kolb in 1984, leaning on John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget, and is arguably one of the most critical learning methodologies today.

It better be relevant

Adult learners usually come to learning professionals with a particular problem and are looking for a specific solution.

The worst thing is to provide them with too much tuition or to provide training, resources, assistance, etc., on things they don’t want to learn about or do not need.

Keep it tight, keep it focused, and keep it relevant for the best learning outcomes with your adult learners.

This is arguably one of the most important top learning tips and techniques for adults to know, as without relevance, it is highly unlikely they will not engage with your efforts.

Problem-Centred Approach

Adult man using a problem-centered learning approach
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

When adults seek solutions, it is usually because a problem exists in their lives, and they want advice on working through the issue.

Related: Problem Based Learning (PBL)

We don’t need to provide them with superfluous information that is not innately helpful, and the critical thing adults are looking for is value. Their time is precious, and they are usually looking to dedicate the smallest amount of time to finding the answers they seek.

So, keep it problem-focused, and just try and help find the solution they need; that’s it, no more, no less.

Motivation to learn

We know most of the time, if adults want to learn something, motivation is usually not an issue, but is reason enough to include it in our list of top learning tips and techniques for adults. Now time management, logistics, or technical ability are all definite barriers we all face, but adults are generally more than motivated to learn. So, the key here is to build on that motivation by bolstering positivity, excitement, and engagement, and you are halfway there. Compared to teaching children, this is a mindset shift that many teachers moving into ID (instructional design) find, but on the whole, it’s a win for all concerned.

Check out some resources on other adult learning models

Here are some other examples of learning models that you should know about, either as an adult learner or an instructional design. These are maybe a little out of scope for this post, but I have provided links to excellent resources to help you learn more about them.

Check them out below

Transformative Learning

When Jack Mezirow first introduced transformative learning theory into the wider consciousness, it took a bit of getting used to, but in essence, it consists of the following:

Jack believed that personal experience(s) are a vital component of the overall learning process.

Related: 6 Adult Learning Theories and How to Put Them into Practice

It states that a learner’s interpretation of a given experience creates meaning, which leads to a change in the behavior, mindset, and beliefs, and as all adult learners are looking to create change. For example, learning something they don’t currently know makes a tremendous amount of sense.

From the psychological and behavioral aspects of this model and the meaning structures involved, it’s a model that can make a considerable amount of change to any adult looking to learn in the workplace and outside, and deserves its place on our list of top learning tips and techniques for adults.

If you want to know more, take a look at this great post on elearningindustry’s site.

Social Learning

This theory, created by Albert bandura in 1977, hypothesized that learning through observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others is something we all do day to day and are where some of the most significant learning exploration and retention is done.

Social learning has elements of human emulation where we can take what we observe, imitate, and implement it in our own self.

This is definitely one of the best top learning tips and techniques for adults.

Find a mentor, not a teacher:

1 man mentoring a co-worker
Photo by nappy from Pexels

As an adult learner, you should be looking to find yourself a mentor, not just a teacher. A mentor is someone that takes what you have, caresses your abilities, and gives you what you need to succeed. This will allow you to understand where you need to develop and bolster what you are already great at.

Make it activity based

On top of this, one of the top tips and learning techniques for adults is that learning should include activities that help to conduct a specific task. A good example would be if you want to be ample to input a process order in a sales software, and learning should include every task needed to process the order and the ability to practice to become more proficient in this scenario.

Why engagement is important

Unlike children, adults aren’t mandated to learn but usually want to if it provides value to them. As a learning professional, it is vital that you put strategies in place to make any learning experience with adults engaging and give them a reason to what to participate and learn from your content.

This can be done through the content itself, the way you deliver it, or the activities you include, whichever one you use, make sure that engagement is near the top of your list of things to do

Make feedback part of the learning experience

Man getting feedback from his female manager
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

One of our other top learning tips and techniques for adults is to ensure that feedback is part of the learning experience. This can be an informal or more formal process, but the most important thing is to let adult learners know what improvements they need to introduce and how they can add value to their own lives. Adults want to know where they have gone wrong and how to improve, so you should offer that if that’s what they want.

What can learning professionals do to better engage adult learners?

Below is a list of strategies you can employ to help adult learners reach the results they are hoping to achieve:

Make sure to chunk your content and add Microlearning

This can be achieved by using Microlearning. This consists of any learning content (not specifically eLearning) which is quick and easy to absorb for a learner and is focused on a very tight and focused topic. Lastly, make sure you include a variety of multimedia, including tests and video-based content, to provide a wholesome microlearning experience. 

Base learning on staff and organizational needs

Learning is best when it’s based on what people actually need, not what learning professionals think they want. This means conducting a needs analysis, an action map, or any additional assessment tools to understand where needs exist and then creating “just-in-time” content that genuinely helps them.

Make it valuable

Adult learners want to ensure that the time they are giving up for learning is worth their time, whether this is in a corporate setting, purchasing an online course, or attending a conference, making it valuable and highly relevant is what will engage adult learners the most.

These are all great points that we would like to include to our list of top learning tips and techniques for adults. 

Final Thoughts

So overall, having looked at our top learning tips and techniques for adults, it’s crucial to realize why adults learn the way they do and how they can improve. 

Below we have a few ideas of what instructional designers can do to better engage adult learners in their organization. 

  • Try developing content in a blended approach to provide more options and modalities for learning. 
  • Chunk learning experiences make them more manageable and digestible and have microlearning as the methodology used.
  • Give learners the ability to explore, make their own mistakes and use self-directed learning. 
  • Make it experiential; adults love learning from experiences and learning from stories. 
  • Involve adult learners in synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities. 
  • Learning should be about what is needed.

Adults have historical experiences they can use to help them learn, and as developers of learning material(s), we should keep that in mind and work with our learners to provide them with what they need and offer it just in time. 

As an adult learner, you should be clear about how you wish to learn, what you bring to the learning experience, and what you need. 

If this information is known, then learning professionals can create focused training programs to help you reach your goals and meet your objectives. 

If you have any tips you want to share, write them below in the comments.

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