Applying Adult Learning Theories

Learning Objectives

  • [4]Formulate and articulate a personal philosophy of adult education informed by principles and theories of adult learning.
  • [5]Incorporate a personal philosophy of learning in the design of instructional strategies for teaching in a variety of learning environments.
  • [6]Explore, experience, and analyze various instructional strategies and their relationship to individual differences and experiential learning.
  • [7]Compare and contrast the characteristics of instructor-centered versus learner-centered and subject-centered teaching and their effectiveness in promoting active learning, collaborative learning, self-direction, and reflection by students.
  • [8]Demonstrate the importance of practice, experience, and critical reflection for both learners and teachers for personal and professional development.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding that learning styles are not necessarily relevant in teaching and learning.
  • Explore UDL and the 5 Cs of Teaching and Learning in order to draw conclusions on how adults learn.
  • Learn how to implement assessment activities geared towards adult learners.
  • Construct a personal philosophy of learning by examining others’ philosophies.
  • Identify and formulate a rationale for teaching which includes audience and course research.


Learning Styles and Myths

Have you ever been asked to describe what kind of learner you are? Were you an auditory learner or visual learner? Do you need to learn by doing? By touch?

What if someone told you that all of that is a myth? What if having this assumption actually slowed your learning?

Distinguishing or categorizing your learning can sometimes hinder your ability to process in different ways. For example, if you only consider yourself a kinetic learner, you may find difficulty in learning by watching.  It might be more suitable to consider it a “preferred” learning style rather than “your only” learning style.

Duncan Geere wrote an interesting article, Busting the ‘Neuromyths’ About How We Learn’, which describes the myth of learning styles and other ‘Neuromyths’ about how we learn. Below you will find a list of some of the myths described in the article.

  • Humans use only 10% of their brains – there is evidence that shows humans use almost 100% of your brain every day through dormant and active cycles of neurons.
  • Left-Brain/Right-Brain – while there was some evidence of networks of neurons being stronger on the left or right, however, the “Our data [2013 study of MRI brain images] are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater ‘left-brained’ or greater ‘right-brained’ network strength across individuals” (Geere, 2016).
  • Preschool programs have an enormous effect on children’s cognitive development – meta-studies show that by the age of eight it is not evident which children had preschool and which did not.
  • Importance of play – there has not been any evidence that distinctly supports that pretend play is uniquely important in development but could be possible that play is only one of many routes to development.
  • “Digital Natives” (a title given to kids who have grown up with screens/internet) are able to multitask while parents cannot.  While kids today are good practitioners of multitasking, doing so results in the same pitfalls and setbacks as those for non-“digital natives”.
  • Medicating students who do not perform well (pre-labelled students) – most sinister practice of all – while the diagnosis are real there may be more sinister reasons for the spike in students who are labelled as such.[1]

Universal Design for Learning

When designing a course or training, many educators use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework for the design of the curriculum. The framework is the “what”, the “how”, and the “why” of learning.

UDL Guidelines by CAST


Joe Ruhl’s The 5 Cs

While Joe Ruhl’s 5 Cs are geared towards kids, his methods are applicable to adult learners as well.  The 5 Cs advocate for moving from a teacher centered classroom into a student centered classroom by redirecting the teacher from the front of the class (and center of attention) to a mentoring role, allowing students to become the center of attention.

Choice – Offering choice in learning allows adults to explore in a manner that matters to them the most.

Collaboration – Learning is enhanced with others’ experiences and by working together to learn something new.

Communication – Without communication collaboration is not possible. Learners need to communicate their own understanding to others in order for collaboration to be effective.

Critical Thinking – Using problem solving skills and critical thinking skills helps solve problems and form an opinion or judgement on a subject.

Creative – Creativity makes learning pleasurable and can be a motivator.

The 6th C – Caring – this is what people remember the most. What you care about in regards to your students is what they will remember most. This will be the lasting memory that students will hold onto.

Assessment in Adult Learning


Personal Philosophy of Education

How to Write a WINNING Philosophy of Education by Xica Henley gives a overview on how to construct an effective Philosophy of Education.

Twitter bird

Let’s have some fun! Begin your Personal Philosophy of Teaching and post below. Your Personal Philosophy of Teaching should start with one or two sentences. Think about these questions:  Why do you love to do what you do?  What you want to accomplish as an educator? Who are the students you wish to serve?

You will have 1.5 minutes to present your philosophy.  Have fun!!

Password is Summer2018

Rationale, Audience, and Research

Before expecting students to learn something new, you will need to identify the audience, do the research, and provide a rationale behind why the information is important to learn. The rationale is the “why” for your course. Slides 4 – 8 on the following slideshow from SlideShare, created by Alvy Mayrina, explain the process and requirements of a course rationale. Review of the remaining slides is not required but they contain important information for educators.

Course Planning and Syllabus Design from Alvy Mayrina



In summer 2018,  Granite State College’s School of Education will be offering professional development sessions for educators around the state of New Hampshire. Limited human resources in our schools can contribute to educator  burnout. The School of Education feels there is a need for mindfulness practice instruction, emotional skills instruction, and caring and compassion discussion in order to ensure that teachers are taking care of themselves while educating and taking care of our children.



In today’s climate, it can be assumed that the audience has some previous knowledge of the topics, even if informal. Since this prior knowledge will be varied, and attendees will bring varying personal backgrounds and learning differences to the sessions, the ID team will need to consider additional support resources to ensure all attendees are able to access and participate in the course.


Course Research

There are many resources available regarding the content in this course. Many of the resources are links to YouTube videos which provide considerable information regarding each of the topics.The instructional designer was able to obtain written permission from the author of to include and potentially alter some of the assignments in his course about mindfulness practices.The assignments and activities were gathered from multiple sources and created with the ID and SME.


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Teaching and Learning in Adulthood by Tracy Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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