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Adult Learners

Updated on July 24, 2013

Aligning Instructions with Adult Learner Needs

Adults, perhaps for mid-life crisis reasons, adjust their life style by altering their career, so they attend a college or university in order to create a chance for a successful career transition. However, adults need convenient learning opportunities because they have many responsibilities that they cannot simply walk away from, so an e-learning platform becomes the popular choice. Therefore, my instructional plan will focus on middle-aged adults that attend an online university for higher educational purposes. Overall, the learning outcome for middle-aged adults will include attaining the necessary skills and knowledge to complete transformational learning or in other words, adults will attain certain skill sets to change as a person successfully. In order to facilitate the transformation process, the instructional plan will include learning strategies and outcomes relevant to adult learning theories.

The Platform

The delivery method will be an online university because it aligns with adult needs as a student. An online delivery method is ideal because it implements student-centered applications or allows the adult student to control the learning environment and pace. Traditional learning environments narrow the learning process by restricting students to attend classes at specific times and locations, but an e-learning platform allows adults to schedule in their studies when and where opportunity is available. For example, an adult may listen to his/her course studies via music player in the car on the way to and from work. More importantly, with simple time management skills or just winging it, adults can study when they see fit. Eliminating non-academic stressors such as when and where to study, and allowing adults to have some control over the learning pace provides adults with a sense of practicality, which also prompts motivational boosts. Therefore, an e-learning delivery method supports the transformational learning process.

Friendly Technology

The role of technology is a major aspect of e-learning; therefore, adult learners need to be familiar with modern technologies. For some adult learners, the technology trend may be difficult to adopt; however, the e-learning platform will be user friendly or easy for adult students to understand, navigate, and use without having to be technologically perceptive. Aside from a user-friendly learning medium, the role of technology will aid learning transformation. Technology will connect adult learners to the abundance of information on the internet that they need to enhance knowledge, connect learners to a university setting to stimulate a sense of belonging to something great, connect learners with other learners to share ideas, connect to the facilitator to receive professional assistance, and for other social and academic purposes. In general, technology eases the learning transformation process by making it practical for adults to attain a higher education.

The Change

What is transformational learning or what does changing as a person mean. It is important to realize that adults, like children, continue to develop. Developmental growths do not stop at a particular age and as a result, adults go through developmental stages that stimulate a need for change. Transformational learning aids adults with discovering that change and then acting on that event to elicit new meanings (Bergquist, 2013). In other words, transformational learning sprouts new values of reality and self-perception. For example, a retired architect that begins a hobby building birdhouses may think it will be easy because a good design is all that is in need. However, the retiree learns that the skills needed to assemble the birdhouse require mental capabilities beyond the blueprints instructions. As a result, the retired architect realizes that blueprints do not provide all the answers, but more importantly, relates better to building contractors in regards to blueprints causing building setbacks.

Simulating and/or Performing

Learning setbacks can also occur if practices do not stimulate new learning paths. Traditional learning and teaching practices can become too routine or monotonous and as a result, hinder learning growths, especially for adults attending a two to four year program. One learning strategy that aligns with adult theories is simulating or performing, which allows the adult to experience real life events (Fiddler Morris, 2000). According to adult learning theories, adults are more receptive to learning activities that involve performing tasks associated with their field of study. For example, a prospective journalist would enjoy observing people from different neighborhoods, completing face-to-face interviews, reporting on local events, and other job related experiences as oppose to merely constructing an imaginary experience from textbooks and the internet. In addition, according to constructivists, discovery and experience elicit a more meaningful and memorable event, which supports knowledge attainments (Hein, 1996).

E-learning is mainly a self-regulated learning program, so the purpose of the performing and simulating learning strategy is ideal for adult learners. The strategy allows adults to experience real-life applications according to study and it promotes self-assessments awareness, or allows the adult student to monitor learning growths. However, experience is a personal development, so adult values may play a role in the learning outcome (Ziegahn, 2013). For instance, a prospective journalist with humanistic views may not value reporting on death penalty issues; whereas, another student journalist may; therefore, the learning outcome may be different. However, in the end, experience stimulates personal knowledge and knowledge encourages transformation because it broadens meaning; therefore, my instructional plan will include the simulating and/or performing strategy for adult e-learners.


Collaboration aligns with adult learning because adults want to express their ideas. According to adult learning theories, adults want to be a part of something larger than self are (Fiddler Morris, 2000) or leave their mark in this world, so adults need to be expressive. Although some adults may be reluctant to express their ideas or respond with constructive criticism, the urge prevails because it is a responsibility. In addition, the social learning theory promotes a realistic dialogical learning process because it promotes critical thinking between peers, facilitators, and self about relevant learning events (Christie, 2000). Social activities are common natural events that at occur at work, home, shopping, vacationing, and predominantly in all virtual and real life aspects; therefore, collaboration exercises are practical learning strategies to implement.

However, implementing collaborative learning strategies requires careful scrutiny. Learning is an individual process often influenced by family values, social scripts, religious beliefs, culture, and other influences, so adult learners may find it difficult to be receptive to unfamiliar and dissimilar views (Ziegahn, 2013). However, the learning outcome allows adults to gain insight that may be valuable to developing new meaning. One way to implement a respectably active collaborative learning activity is to create group projects. Group projects are about establishing roles, organizing tasks, and developing an effective approach to complete a project, but more importantly, involves social participation. In order for the group to act cohesively, they must generate agreements in regards to the diverse perspectives of the group. Collaboration is an effective adult learning and teaching strategy because it encourages new meaning an as a result, a related change.



Adults may find it difficult to release long-life beliefs because there comforting, but reflecting is an adult teaching and learning strategy that facilitates change. Cognitivists suggest creating new cerebral learning paths to enhance prior knowledge; therefore, reflection strategies are ideal practices to stimulate new meaning. Reflection allows adults to reflect on experiences, associate context and concepts with reality, and recognize collective views in regards to self, which enhance meaning (Fiddler Morris, 2000). For example, instead of merely creating information pathways for the sakes of enhancing intelligence quantitatively, reflection aids transferring information into qualitative knowledge or connecting with information to develop meaningful and memorable experiences, which create new cerebral learning paths. Reflection strategies align with adult learning theories because reflection stimulates new meaning, which promotes change.

One reflection strategy for an e-learning environment involves journal assignments. Implementing journal assignments requires adults to complete an assignment about subject content and as a result, encourages reflection. The strategy compels adults to think critically about lesson content, which may reveal relationships. For example, an adult student writing a journal entry about hands on learning theories may attain new meaning about the concept because the process aroused prior experiences. In addition, journal entries can be shared with peers to promote further reflection. For instance, an adult student may find commonalities or discords with another classmate’s journal entry and as a result, perform further reflections to enforce new meaning or develop further growths. Reflection activities are powerful practices because they connect adults to new views and as a result, a change in reality.

My Perception

Unfortunately, adult perceptions are set according to long-term practices or lifelong beliefs; therefore, it is essential to align instructional learning strategies and outcomes with adult learning theories. From my personal perspective, there is not merely one philosophy of education that applies to adult learners, but several and as a result, incorporating learning strategies largely depend on the desired learning outcome or change. This paper mentions three adult learning strategies that align with three different learning approaches: constructivists, socialists, and cognitivists. Although the learning theories are different, an instructional plan can include a variety of learning and teaching strategies from a variety of educational theories. For adult learners seeking to modify life styles by furthering their education through an e-learning platform, I have chosen to implement simulating/performing, collaboration, and reflection learning strategies because the outcomes transfer over to transformation.


Bergquist, K. P. (2013, n/a n/a). Engaging Experience and Wisdom in a Postmodern Age. Retrieved from Professional School of Psychology:

Christie, B. (2000). Topic teamwork: A collaborative integrative model for increasing student-centered learning in grades K-12. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71(8), 28-32. Retrieved from

Fiddler Morris, M. C. (2000). Developing Adult Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hein, G. E. (1996, n/a n/a). Constructivist Learning Theory. Retrieved from Exploratorium:

Ziegahn, L. (2013, n/a n/a). Considering Culture in the Selection of Teaching Approaches for Adults. Retrieved from ERIC Digest:


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