Skip to content
Icon with question mark. Design only. Questions? Call Us: 800-356-4530
Do I Qualify?

How to Foster Growth and Innovation: The Impact of Adult Learning Principles on Employee Training

In today's ever-changing business world, employee training is more important than ever before. The traditional 'one size fits all' approach simply doesn't work for a diverse workforce that thrives on change and growth. That's why adapting adult learning techniques in employee training is the key to achieving success.

As a business or organizational leader, your role is pivotal in shaping the learning culture of your organization. By implementing these key principles in your training strategies, you can greatly improve learning outcomes and equip your team to tackle new challenges with confidence. 

Principles of adult learning 

Adult learning theory, or andragogy, is a concept initially proposed by educator Malcolm Knowles. It suggests that adults learn differently from children, and these differences should be taken into account when designing training or education programs. Here are the key principles of adult learning:

  1. Self-Direction: Adults prefer to take ownership of their learning. They appreciate the freedom to explore areas of interest and learn at their own pace. In a workplace context, this can translate to self-led online courses or opportunities for autonomous project work.
  2. Practicality and Relevance: Adults are motivated to learn things that have immediate relevance to their work and/or personal life. They value practical knowledge that can be applied straight away, rather than abstract or theoretical information. 
  3. Experience-based Learning: Adults bring a wealth of life experiences to the table, which can be a valuable learning resource. They learn best when they can relate new information to experiences they've already had, making case studies, simulations, and real-world examples particularly effective teaching tools.
  4. Problem-centered Learning: Adults are most ready to learn when they perceive that the knowledge or skills will help them solve real-life challenges. This readiness often aligns with career transitions, job changes, or shifts in responsibilities.
  5. Respect for the Learners: Adults need to feel valued in their learning experiences. This means acknowledging their existing knowledge and experience, and treating them as equals who are capable of self-direction.

By understanding these principles, you can design more effective and engaging training programs that meet the unique needs of adult learners. This article will help you apply these principles in a workplace context.

Applying adult learning principles to employee training

Transforming the conventional approach to employee training by incorporating adult learning principles requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. Here's how to integrate these principles into your current training strategies:

  1. Incorporate Self-Directed Learning Initiatives: Promote a learning environment where employees take the initiative. For instance, offering access to a range of online employee training programs allows employees to choose what they want to learn, while autonomous project work can stimulate practical problem-solving skills. 
  2. Ensure Relevance and Practicality in Training Material: Use real-life scenarios and case studies that mirror the tasks your employees deal with daily. This relevance can motivate employees to learn and apply their new skills quickly.
  3. Leverage Employee Experiences: Value the diversity of your team by encouraging employees to share their insights and experiences during training sessions and learning activities. Peer learning can facilitate more profound, more personal learning experiences. 
  4. Timely Training: Address Readiness to Learn: Align learning opportunities with career transitions or shifts in responsibilities. By providing the right training at the right time, you can ensure your employees are fully prepared to handle their evolving roles.
  5. Maintain Respect in the Learning Environment: Treat your employees as partners in learning. Acknowledge their experiences, listen to their ideas, and incorporate their feedback into your training programs.

Benefits of employing adult learning principles 

Implementing adult learning principles in your training programs can offer many benefits, not just for your employees but also for your organization. Here's an overview of the potential outcomes:

  1. Enhanced Employee Retention: Engaging and relevant training programs can significantly improve employee satisfaction and loyalty. Employees are likely to stay longer with organizations that invest in their learning and development.
  2. Improved Job Satisfaction: By involving employees in their learning journey, you're helping them gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This increased job satisfaction can positively affect their productivity and overall performance.
  3. Increased Productivity: Practical, well-timed training equips employees with the skills they need to perform their tasks efficiently. This leads to increased productivity and, consequently, better business outcomes. A Gallup poll found that more engaged employees result in 21% higher profitability.
  4. Nurturing a Culture of Continuous Learning: Incorporating adult learning principles fosters a learning culture where employees continuously seek knowledge and growth. This self-directed learning can keep your organization innovative and competitive in an ever-evolving business landscape.

By understanding these benefits, you'll be well-equipped to make a strong case for adopting adult learning principles in your organization's training strategies.

Challenges and solutions in implementing adult learning principles

While the benefits of applying adult learning principles to employee training courses are evident, it's also crucial to recognize the potential challenges you might face during the implementation process. 

  1. Dealing with Resistance to Change: The shift from traditional training methods to adult learning principles can lead to some resistance. To mitigate this, communicate the benefits clearly, provide necessary support, and engage employees in the process of change.
  2. Balancing Self-Directed Learning with Organizational Objectives: While self-directed learning encourages employees to explore their interests, it's important to align these interests with organizational objectives. Regular check-ins and open dialogue can help ensure this balance.
  3. Making Training Material Relevant for Diverse Employees: With diverse roles and backgrounds, finding universally relevant training material can be tricky. Customizing training programs and offering a range of options can help address this issue.
  4. Addressing Timing Issues for Learning: With varied schedules and workloads, it can be challenging to find the right time for everyone's learning. Flexible, on-demand learning options can help accommodate individual preferences and work rhythms.
  5. Maintaining Respect while Upholding Standards: While adult learners require respect, it's equally crucial to maintain training standards. Constructive feedback and an open communication culture can help manage this balance.


Harnessing adult learning principles to optimize employee training in your sphere of influence can bring transformative results. While it comes with its set of challenges, the rewards—in terms of improved employee performance, increased job satisfaction, and a vibrant learning culture—are certainly worth the effort.

By applying adult learning principles, you not only acknowledge the unique ways adults learn but also value their experiences. This fosters a respectful and dynamic learning environment. Continue exploring these principles and innovate in your approaches to training. You’ll discover that you are nurturing a future-ready workforce ready to tackle the ever-evolving business landscape.


man in glasses sitting at desk with a laptop

Insights from Newsweek Expert Forum Blog

Apply for Membership Today

Membership in Newsweek Expert Forum is by application only. Our multi-step vetting process ensures every member is of the highest quality.

Do I Qualify?