Adult learning is hard

Something I’ve not really cracked, and I don’t think anyone has, is how to deliver learning sessions well for adults.

What we’ve mastered, down to the finest details, is how to design a learning session brilliantly. I don’t know if this equates to how adults learn.

In a face to face session this often involves presenting some knowledge, getting the group to do an exercise of some sort, using reflection to get into learning, and create some form of action plan.

In the e- environment this often involves information needing to be read, some audio and visual content to present it differently, and some text based exercises.

In the online environment this often involves a slide deck, some very clear instructions for what to do next, a chat facility, and some interesting use of interactive software.

In the social learning space this tends to include enterprise social networks, online collaboration tools, communities of practise (online and in person), and wikis or blogs.

These are all useful and helpful in various ways, and as we know, context is everything. What might work for one group may not work for another. Also, that classic question of efficacy of learning always rears its head.

We’re learning more about how adults learn. There’s more of a focus on using principles from neuroscience to design learning sessions that are in line with what process the brain goes through to take in information.

I get stuck, though, when trying to unlock whether or not the learning sessions we deliver, or facilitate to happen, are actually supportive of the adult learning process.

It feels like we’re taking a lot of learning from academics and the likes and applying that knowledge to our situations. And it feels like we’re taking the developed technology and adapting it for our learning needs. I wonder if what is missing is practitioners actually carrying out research that charts the adult learning process in a work environment. I also wonder if what is missing is practitioners developing their own technology based on this research.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “Adult learning is hard”

  1. Sukh, I tend to agree, whether or not we are actually assisting adult learners in their learning is a difficult nut to crack. I was recently look at the all of the data that Australia collects on its adult Vocational education and training (VET) sector and what disturbed me was that very little of it actually looked at whether or not what was happening was supporting and assisting adult learning or whether that learning was just happening anyway through the activities of the person in question. Even most of the research that I have seen which attempts to look at learning in the work environment doesn’t seem to hit the mark for me.

    I mean I know people learn when we work with them, sometimes I am just not sure why.

  2. Hi Sukh. I think there is a desperate need for a ‘researcher practitioner’ type career path. One where we do what we do while applying enough rigour and structure to allow it to pass a peer review process and where it is built and formed on real life, not in a lab. It’s what I am trying to become as a result of my MSc, albeit in a slightly different setting. Excllent point, well made that man!!

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