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How to Apply Adult Learning Principles in eLearning Modules

Posted by Dawn Lang on 8/6/18 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Seth Schwiet via Unsplash

Many organizations are using eLearning as one of their go-to training methods because of the many advantages it offers. The audience for these modules comes with many needs and wants. It’s essential for instructional designers to keep in mind how adults learn, as well as what motivates them, as they design eLearning experiences.


Adults Want the Opportunity to Participate

Adults are accustomed to being active. They should be given an opportunity for active participation whenever possible. Incorporate a broad range of methods to make the overall eLearning experience more meaningful and productive. Design eLearning modules that are informative and engaging versus overly challenging or nondescript.

Design Tips:

Rather than reading and memorization tasks, use a variety of practical activities to facilitate learning. Create opportunities for learners to apply their new skills in useful ways. Surveys, challenges, discussions, research projects, and practical exercises are all ways to facilitate application of these skills. Participants can learn from the challenges and master new skills through first-hand experience.


Adults Want Courses That Are Relevant

Adults like to know how things relate to their jobs. They want courses that focus on real-life problems and tasks rather than academic material. Focus on knowledge and skills they can apply to their situation, incorporating only the “need-to-know” content.

Design Tips:

Use video demonstration or incorporate a real-life scenario into the module, weaving the content within the context of the experience. The more you can relate to the everyday experiences of the learner, the more likely they are to see the relevance of the course and engage in the learning experience. Always choose images that are relatable to learners.


Adults Are Time-Oriented

Adults have a here-and-now viewpoint and wish to focus on current issues rather than material that may be useful in the distant future. They want to learn things they can use right away and don’t want their time wasted.

Design Tips:

Instructions for activities should be clear and concise to avoid any guesswork on what the task entails. Have a support system in place for users to ask questions and get help for overcoming obstacles. Eliminate potential technology issues and incorporate a way for users to get technical support when needed.


Adults Need to Maintain Their Self-Esteem

Help adult learners become competent and confident through guided practice and with feedback on how they are progressing toward their goals. The timing of feedback is critical. The longer the interval between performance and feedback, the less likely it is that feedback will have a positive effect on learning.

Design Tips:

Incorporate practical tips or hints throughout the course. This is a valuable way to scaffold content and set learners up for success. Provide feedback immediately after a skill is performed. Most authoring tools have direct and automatic feedback options built in, making this a simple addition to your online course. Acknowledge progression at different sections of the modules to give learners a sense of completion and satisfaction.


Integrate these principles of adult learning into your eLearning course for maximum engagement and motivation.


For more instructional design tips on how to apply adult learning principles in eLearning modules, check out Langevin’s 3-day Web-Based Training workshop.


Instructional Designer Starter Kit

Dawn has been a course leader with Langevin since 2015. She completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education at Kansas State University, followed by a Master’s in Information and Learning Technologies/Instructional Design from the University of Colorado Denver. Her passion for teaching started in third grade and she’s never looked back! As an educator, technology trainer, instructional designer, and facilitator of virtual training, she’s had the opportunity to work with a variety of stakeholders in all different contexts to support their learning and application of skills and knowledge. As a trainer, Dawn strives to inspire and empower people to reach their full potential. Consistently incorporating fun and laughter, building connections, and respecting others are important components she utilizes as a trainer. She enjoys spending time with her family, playing tennis, biking, being in the mountains, as well as reading at the pool or the beach!

Tags: adult learning principles, e-learning, instructional design

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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