O'Connell Advanced Training Solutions

flexibles und individuelles Englischtraining in Sachsen

Adult Learning Principles and competency-based training

Hi Trainers! This is the first of what I hope will be many blog entries written by a trainer for trainers. I specialise in language and business skill training for adults, and am located in a beautiful pocket of Germany, the Vogtland.

Adult training is fabulous - you often learn as much from your students as they do from you, and the exchange of experiences can be truly amazing. But at the end of the day we’re there to work, and so this blog is aimed at reminding us of those learning principles and theories we should be applying as well as giving some hints and tips from my experience as to how to apply these.

So - let’s go!

Adults, as we all know, are a special subset of learners who bring a wealth of experience, motivation, cognitive connections and a pragmatic approach to learning. That’s what makes training adults simultaneously rewarding and challenging - you’ve got to be prepared for the lesson to take swift turns and leaps or putter to a standstill at certain moments. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet, because when training adults you’re not the captain of the ship - your learners are. You’re the navigator.

I once knew a teacher who stuck to her lesson plans for dear life, unable to pause to answer “left field” questions from her adult learners or to slow down when difficulties or confusion arose. She was the captain and her learners the crew, struggling through the course on a leaky boat with broken oars. It’s simply not good enough - a trainer who adopts this teacher-centred strategy does both the learners and themselves a disservice.

And so we come to andragogy. Malcolm Knowles (1913-97) developed the theory of andragogy, or adult learning, in Europe in the 1950s. It’s a theory which contains a set of assumptions about how adults learn. Key is that andragogy is outcome-focused, “learner-centred”, focused on problem-solving where the learner becomes independent and self-directed. Learning programs are focused on real-life situations and applications, based on experiences, capitalising on an adult learner’s wealth of experience and knowledge. Knowles outlined its main principles as follows:
  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected
(Source: http://www.qotfc.edu.au/resource/?page=65375)

The mnemonic PROMOTING stands for Primacy and Recency, Reinforcement, Over-Learning, Multi-sensory Learning, Opportunities for feedback, Transferring the skills, Involve the learners actively, Nibble and Go from known to unknown.

“Andragogy requires that adult learners be involved in the identification of their learning needs and the planning of how those needs are satisfied. Learning should be an active rather than a passive process. Adult learning is most effective when concerned with solving problems that have relevance to the learner's everyday experience. “ (Source: andragogy.org)

Fabulous - but does that take into account contemporary learning methods, such as self-directed online training? That’s where we come to heutagogy.

Phillip Schmitt writes, “Heutagogy is a student-centred learning model that promotes the concept of self-determined holistic learning through constant critical reflection”.

With a plethora of online training possibilities and information at one’s fingertips, does a learner still need a trainer or does heutagogy spell the end of training? Hardly. As I noted above, a trainer is the navigator, facilitating the learning process by providing access to the right information in a logical sequence.


In the coming entries, I’ll describe adult learning principles and apply them to language training with practical examples. Let’s get to it!