Planning To Train Your Employees? This Learning Theory Will Come Handy.

“Everybody learns differently, and everybody gets to a certain point from a different direction.” – Stan Lee

Over the years, teaching and learning techniques have become more innovative. The widespread use of visual aids such as presentations, mind maps, and videos during classroom sessions is indicative of this. But these practices didn’t just come out of nowhere – they all stem from studying the theories behind different learning styles.

However, as we grow older, the same techniques that worked so well when we were children tend to work less and less on us as grown-ups. So the question arises – how do you create the circumstances where an adult can be as conducive to learning as a child, while also retaining that understanding for years to come?

This is where the Adult Learning Theory comes into play.

The Adult Learning Theory (ALT) aka andragogy, is a study that explains how adults learn, and what helps them to retain information. On an organizational level, most people have a superficial understanding of it. But those that broach the subject in depth are usually rewarded with far more successful employee training and retention.  Have you considered it for your organization?

If not, then here’s why you probably should.


What is Adult Learning Theory?

For the longest time, the education system was focused solely on improving the learning process for children. It was only in 1968 that Malcolm Knowles developed Adult Learning Theory. He recognized that grown-ups do not learn the same way as children, and began researching the differences in a scientific manner.

The study aimed to understand how adults process new information and to help educators fulfill their learning requirements. Knowles identified the two main requirements of adult learners in his study: 

1. Self-directed & self-sufficient learning 

Tracing back to our childhood, learning was dependent mainly on teachers and parents—they were often our only motivation and direction towards learning. However, as we grew older, and learned to think for ourselves, that changed to self-motivated or self-led learning. 

Adults like to take charge of their learning processes. They first identify whether or not the learning would add to their growth and development at work before investing in it. Once they identify the purpose of their learning, they plan how to learn it, execute the plan, and evaluate it on their own. In many ways, these learnings tend to be the most profound, since they are realized instead of simply taught.

2. Hands-on learning

Adults retain far more knowledge from their experiences than only from reading. According to the American Society for Training & Development, the retention rate for experiential knowledge is 75%. This is considering how hands-on experience helps employees understand the intricacies of their job role, gain practical skills, and master them. 

While the theoretical study has a great positive impact on the hands-on experience, one cannot rely purely on it without seeing for oneself how those theories are applied in the real world.

As mentioned before, adults tend to invest in learning only if they find it beneficial in the long run. Hands-on learning has proven to be an effective tool in identifying whether or not their learning will be helpful, and to make efforts accordingly.

Here are the four central principles of Adult Learning Theory:

  1. Adults want to be more involved in their training process. They want to control what, how, when they learn.
  2. Adults pull past experiences into the learning process. They analyze what they already know to add a bigger context to their learning.
  3. Memorizing facts does not work for adults. Problem-solving and logical reasoning helps them learn and retain information faster. 
  4. Adults want to apply what they learn. Information should be useful in their real lives.

How to Apply Adult Learning Theory to Corporate Training

The principles of ALT enable understanding of how adults learn, so let’s find out how you can practically put into practice in the planning of the training program, its conception, development, and delivery. 

Here are a few tips and techniques to create an efficient learning experience based on the principles of ALT.

1. Analyze your existing training technique

Start by studying the training program that you are presently offering to your employees. Keep the principles of ALT in mind and assess whether or not your training fulfills the learning requirements of your employees. According to a 2015 ATD research, only 38% of managers believe that their learning programs meet their learner’s needs. To cater to the employees’ learning needs, it is important to know what their needs are. 

One of the ways to understand the learning needs of your employees is by soliciting feedback on your training program. Make room for your employees to share genuine feedback on your training and their overall learning experience. This will give you a headstart in identifying some key points in improving your training program as per your employees’ needs.

2. Involve your employees in the planning process

You can provide a personalized training program to your employees by collaborating with them in the planning and designing of their training courses. This will make their learning more effective than ever since they are involved in the process (the first core principle of ALT). The collaboration will enable you to offer exactly what your employees are looking for in their training program. Facilitate discussions with your employees on what and how they would like to learn. 

Since there is always room for improvement, keep the feedback loops open even when your training program is based on your employee’s requirements.

3. Empower your employees with Learning Management Systems.

Today, with technologies like the Learning Management System (LMS), which is a software application for the administration, documentation, and delivery of training programs, is used by 40% of Fortune 500 companies, you can provide the best learning experience to your employees. Enable self-directed learning because that’s what your employees are looking for.

For example, with Siminars when you add mixed media elements like videos, audios, images, podcasts, etc., you enable your employees to learn the concepts on their own. The assessments at the end of a course make it possible for them to self-check their progress.

It also allows your employee to select courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, and create an independent learning environment for themselves. This fulfills the self-led learning requirement of the employees that Knowles pointed out in his adult learning theory.

4. Promote Experiential Learning

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Adults prefer hands-on experience over classroom learning or reading books. They believe in getting involved in their tasks, get experiential learning during the training apart from just studying the concepts in a course. Regular assessments facilitate hands-on experience for your employees. It allows employees to practice what they have learned and evaluate their own progress by themselves. 

For instance, an employee that has completed a theoretical course on customer service without  hands-on situation handling training will not be able to immediately apply their learning to a real-world  scenario.

An assessment consisting of situational problems such as dealing with difficult, or angry customers will do the trick and make for the best experiential learning. This will prepare the employees for most types of customers encountered in different circumstances and will enable them to spot behavioral patterns in order to prevent further problems in the future. 

In the event that the employee fails to score well in the assessment, they have the option to revisit a lesson and find the section that requires their attention to improve their performance. This helps employees keep their learnings in mind while performing their tasks or duties at work. It prepares them to combat any task-related challenges as and when they come. 

5. Improve Iteratively

Rome wasn’t built in a day because great things take time. Similarly, it will take time for your training program to start showing results as well. Moreover, with more people joining your team, you will have to update your training program frequently to suit the learners’ needs. Fortunately, with Siminars, frequent changes in the program will be hassle-free. You can revisit your courses and make endless changes whenever required. 

Considering the scope of ALT, there is a lot that can be offered in a corporate training program to fit your learners’ requirements. Don’t forget experimentation is the key! Incorporate pieces of ALT bit by bit in your corporate training, and track the progress of your workforce until the goals are achieved.


It is imperative to incorporate the best-suited styles of learning in your corporate training programs to make sure your employees learn effectively. Your aim is not just to create a training program, but to make sure that your employees are flourishing because of it.

When you offer a variety of learning styles to your employees instead of one-size-fits-all training, they no longer have to compromise and settle for a suboptimal learning experience. With multiple options in a training program, one can pick and complete any course at their own convenience.
Not to mention, your dedicated efforts in the training program convey that the employees’ learning and growth matter to you the most. According to the Huffington Post, companies that invest in training observe 24% higher profit margins. So, fulfilling the learning requirements of your employees directly translates to improved employee performance, more employee engagement, and profit. 

We hope this article helped you understand what Adult Learning Theory is, and how you can incorporate the same in your training program. Create your first training program with Siminars.