Learning Forward: Characteristics of an Adult Learner

lifelong learning

We last talked about the rising trends in eLearning. Today we’re going to turn our focus back to you, the adult learner. If you’ve ever spent time with children, you probably have noticed that the way they view the world is pretty different from the way you do. It only makes sense that the way we as adults approach learning is different than the way our public school system educates children.

Andragogy vs Pedagogy

“Andragogy” is a technical term that refers to the methods and techniques used in adult education. The term andragogy was popularized by American educator Malcom Shepherd Knowles in the mid-to-late 20th century. The term is meant to distinguish the practice of educating adults from “pedagogy”, the practice of educating children. In Greek, andragogy means “leader of man”. By contrast, pedagogy translates to “leading children”.

Knowles argued that there are core characteristics of an adult learner that differ from those of a child. Knowles did most of his work on adult learning theory in the 1980s but much of it remains relevant today. Times have certainly changed, but educators can still draw on Knowles’ characteristics as a guiding force to help understand and effectively teach the adult learner.

Five Characteristics of Adult Learners

  1. Self-Concept: Adults believe that they are responsible for their own lives and should be seen as being capable of self-direction. When it comes to education, this means that it’s critical to treat adults as independent learners.
  2. Experience: Adult learners bring with them a breadth of lived experiences to draw on as they learn. New concepts and skills are often validated based on these past experiences. This also means the “teacher” doesn’t presume to have all the answers – the student also has valuable knowledge to contribute.
  3. Readiness to Learn: Adult learners are more willing to learn if they can see value in what they are learning; generally, this means the learning needs to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities.
  4. Orientation to Learn: As people mature, their approach to learning shifts from one of postponed, subject-based application of knowledge (e.g. a student learns grammar in their English class with an expectation they will apply it later) to one of immediate, problem-based application of knowledge (e.g. an adult learner wants to improve their communication skills because they were recently promoted to a manager position).
  5. Motivation to Learn: Adult learners are generally more driven to learn by intrinsic motivation, meaning their desire to succeed comes from within.

CHA Learning holds five key values, each cultivated to help guide the programs we develop and the services we provide to our students. Each value is reflective of you as a learner and the unique way you approach learning. CHA Learning is committed to excellence in the following.

  • Learning: At CHA Learning, we know that adult learners bring their own experiences to the table when it comes to their education. That’s why we’re committed to learning with our students and from our students. Our programs and courses have been developed by healthcare, for healthcare, with input from our members, their staff, and our students. That means our offerings will have immediate application to a wide range of positions within the healthcare system. Take a look at our offerings and see for yourself!
  • Collaboration: We are a small but mighty organization, and we rely on collaboration and partnerships to design, develop and deliver education. We believe in working together to ensure our offerings are high-quality, relevant and applicable to you at work. We also value the collaboration our students foster in our programs and encourage you to learn from others and have others learn from you.
  • Innovation: CHA Learning aspires to develop the thought leaders of tomorrow: dynamic people who will inspire, innovate and educate others. We do this by connecting our students to other thought leaders of today in healthcare through our content, our faculty, and our partnerships. We foster the professional development of leaders who, together, will transform the health system.
  • Flexibility: As a student of CHA Learning, you are at the centre of your learning. We empower you with the choice in what you learn; you control how and when you learn it. Most of our students are employed full-time during their studies with us, so being an independent learner is crucial. We provide guidelines (such as study plans) to help direct your learning, but you decide when and how.
  • Caring: Your motivation might come from within, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you along the way! We all work in healthcare. We are all about connecting our education and leadership to our shared purpose: caring for those who need us. Our team is dedicated to providing you with the kind of caring service that keeps you motivated in your studies from enrollment to graduation.

What comes next?

Next month’s topic is How We Learn. We’re going to take a closer look at what goes on in the brain when we learn.

Tell us…

Do you identify with any of the adult learner characteristics? Which ones? Send us an email, connect with us on Facebook, or tell us about it on Twitter @CHA_Learning. You might see your idea in a future post!


Andragogy – Adult Learning Theory (Knowles). (2017, September 30). Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.learning-theories.com/andragogy-adult-learning-theory-knowles.html

Knowles, M. S. (1990). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (4th ed.). Houston: Gulf Pub. Co., Book Division.

Knowles, M. S. (1990). Andragogy in Action: Applying Modern Principles of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pappas, C. (2017, December 21). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles