Malcolm Knowles’ Five Adult Learning Assumptions - Romar Learning Solutions

Many consider Malcolm Knowles the father of adult learning. His research into effective instructional design and delivery is foundational to optimizing learning when training adults. Knowles’ five assumptions about adult learners form the basis of good instructional design and deliveryself-concept, adult learner experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learn, and motivation to learn. Romar Learning Solutions explains each of Knowles’ assumptions:



The learner practices applying the knowledge, skill, or behavior in a safe learning environment. Adult learning contains an element of independence. Adult learners are self-directed, preferring to have control over what, when, and how they’re learning. That’s why the most effective adult learning solutions are interactive and engaging, incorporating hands-on activities and open discussions. Furthermore, effective programs appeal to various learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), as each learner retains information differently.


Adult Learner Experience

Adult learning is unique because learners have a wide range of skills and past experiences to reference—and these experiences can actually enrich their development process! Therefore, effective training programs should incorporate in-depth group discussions that draw from learners’ past experiences so they may better understand and retain classroom material.


Readiness to Learn

Because adult learners already possess a wide range of skills and knowledge, they are usually a little more selective when it comes to learning new concepts. Learners want to know why they are learning something. They are more inclined to participate if they know what they stand to gain from the experience. Therefore, it’s important that all programs outline training objectives and goals and incorporate activities that allow learners to apply their new skills so they have a better understanding of how these skills will benefit them in real-world situations.


Orientation to Learn

Adult learners are less worried about concepts and more focused on finding tangible solutions. They are motivated to solve problems. Learners want to find ways to work more efficiently and meet/exceed performance expectations. They likely have a list of role-specific stressors they want to resolve. Therefore, effective training programs are scenario-based for the development of relevant skills.


Motivation to Learn

Adult learners all have unique motivations related to developing their skills. For some, motivation stems from their self-esteem; others wish to achieve greater satisfaction in their roles. Regardless, all learners have internal motivations for furthering their education. Therefore, all training programs should cater to these desires and motivations. Programs should engage learners, draw from their unique interests, and fuel their passion.


Interested in creating effective trainer development programs? The professionals at Romar Learning Solutions are ready to assist. Contact us today! Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Adapted from The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development by Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton, III, Richard A. Swanson, and Petra A. Robinson

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