Adult learning



By Ron and Susan Zemke
Innovation Abstracts Vol VI, No 8, March 9, 1984


A variety of sources provides us with a body of fairly reliable knowledge about adult learning. This knowledge might be divided into three basic divisions: things we know about adult learners and their motivation, things we know about designing curriculum for adults, and things we know about working with adults in the classroom.

Motivation to Learn


  1. Adults seek out learning experiences in order to cope with specific life-changing events–e.g., marriage, divorce, a new job, a promotion, being fired, retiring, losing a loved one, moving to a new city.
  2. The more life change events an adult encounters, the more likely he or she is to seek out learning opportunities. Just as stress increases as life-change events accumulate, the motivation to cope with change through engagement in a learning experience increases.
  3. The learning experiences adults seek out on their own are directly related – at least in their perception – to the life-change events that triggered the seeking.
  4. Adults are generally willing to engage in learning experiences before, after, or even during the actual life change event. Once convinced that the change is a certainty, adults will engage in any learning that promises to help them cope with the transition.
  5. Adults who are motivated to seek out a learning experience do so primarily because they have a use for the knowledge or skill being sought. Learning is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  6. Increasing or maintaining one’s sense of self-esteem and pleasure are strong secondary motivators for engaging in learning experiences.

Curriculum Design


  1. Adult learners tend to be less interested in, and enthralled by, survey courses. They tend to prefer single concept, single-theory courses that focus heavily on the application of the concept to relevant problems. This tendency increases with age.
  2. Adults need to be able to integrate new ideas with what they already know if they are going to keep – and use – the new information.
  3. Information that conflicts sharply with what is already held to be true, and thus forces a re-evaluation of the old material, is integrated more slowly.
  4. Information that has little “conceptual overlap” with what is already known is acquired slowly.
  5. Fast-paced, complex or unusual learning tasks interfere with the learning of the concepts or data they are intended to teach or illustrate.
  6. Adults tend to compensate for being slower in some psychomotor learning tasks by being more accurate and making fewer trial-and-error ventures.
  7. Adults tend to take errors personally and are more likely to let them affect self-esteem. Therefore, they tend to apply tried-and-true solutions and take fewer risks.
  8. The curriculum designer must know whether the concepts or ideas will be in concert or in conflict with the learner. Some instruction must be designed to effect a change in belief and value systems.
  9. Programs need to be designed to accept viewpoints from people in different life stages and with different value “sets.”
  10. A concept needs to be “anchored” or explained from more than one value set and appeal to more than one developmental life stage.
  11. Adults prefer self-directed and self-designed learning projects over group-learning experiences led by a professional, they select more than one medium for learning, and they desire to control pace and start/stop time.
  12. Nonhuman media such as books, programmed instruction and television have become popular with adults in recent years.
  13. Regardless of media, straightforward how-to is the preferred content orientation. Adults cite a need for application and how-to information as the primary motivation for beginning a learning project.
  14. Self-direction does not mean isolation. Studies of self-directed learning indicate that self-directed projects involve an average of 10 other people as resources, guides, encouragers and the like. But even for the self-professed, self-directed learner, lectures and short seminars get positive ratings, especially when these events give the learner face-to-face, one-to-one access to an expert.

In the Classroom


  1. The learning environment must be physically and psychologically comfortable; long lectures, periods of interminable sitting and the absence of practice opportunities rate high on the irritation scale.
  2. Adults have something real to lose in a classroom situation. Self-esteem and ego are on the line when they are asked to risk trying a new behavior in front of peers and cohorts. Bad experiences in traditional education, feelings about authority and the preoccupation with events outside the classroom affect in-class experience.
  3. Adults have expectations, and it is critical to take time early on to clarify and articulate all expectations before getting into content. The instructor can assume responsibility only for his or her own expectations, not for those of students.
  4. Adults bring a great deal of life experience into the classroom, an invaluable asset to be acknowledged, tapped and used. Adults can learn well -and much – from dialogue with respected peers.
  5. Instructors who have a tendency to hold forth rather than facilitate can hold that tendency in check–or compensate for it–by concentrating on the use of open-ended questions to draw out relevant student knowledge and experience.
  6. New knowledge has to be integrated with previous knowledge; students must actively participate in the learning experience. The learner is dependent on the instructor for confirming feedback on skill practice; the instructor is dependent on the learner for feedback about curriculum and in-class performance.
  7. The key to the instructor role is control. The instructor must balance the presentation of new material, debate and discussion, sharing of relevant student experiences, and the clock. Ironically, it seems that instructors are best able to establish control when they risk giving it up. When they shelve egos and stifle the tendency to be threatened by challenge to plans and methods, they gain the kind of facilitative control needed to effect adult learning.
  8. The instructor has to protect minority opinion, keep disagreements civil and unheated, make connections between various opinions and ideas, and keep reminding the group of the variety of potential solutions to the problem. The instructor is less advocate than orchestrator.
  9. Integration of new knowledge and skill requires transition time and focused effort on application.
  10. Learning and teaching theories function better as resources than as a Rosetta stone. A skill-training task can draw much from the behavioral approach, for example, while personal growth-centered subjects seem to draw gainfully from humanistic concepts. An eclectic, rather than a single theory-based approach to developing strategies and procedures, is recommended for matching instruction to learning tasks.

The next five years will eclipse the last fifty in terms of hard data production on adult learning. For the present, we must recognize that adults want their learning to be problem-oriented, personalized and accepting of their need for self-direction and personal responsibility.

Achieving Success with Adult Learners
As more mature adults pursue career changes,
educators must be ready!

As more and more mature adults decide to make a career move and re-enter the educational environment, educators must have a firm understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish. Clearly, more and more sophisticated learners are enrolling in our educational programs, especially within the specialty fields, such as esthetics and massage therapy. To help us better prepare for this special learner, it might help to take a look at how these learners compare to younger learners.

Younger learners tend to depend on others for material and psychological support as well as life management. In other words, they are directed by others, while adult learners are self-directed. Adult learners depend on themselves to manage their lives. Children basically learn what they are told to learn and view it as important because adults have told them it is so. Adults, however, learn best when they view the potential outcome to be of personal value to them. Young learners have yet to experience much of life, yet they learn quickly. Adult learners, on the other hand, have experienced life and tend to learn more slowly even though they learn well. Because of the younger learners’ limited experience, they tend to be open to new ideas and will readily take them in. Adults, however, have opinions of their own and may reject new information if it doesn’t “fit” into their life experience. Young people learn because they are told it will benefit them in the future, but adults generally expect the learning to have immediate applicability in their lives. External motivation, such as good grades and praise from parents and teachers, affect younger learners while adults are more motivated intrinsically. Feelings of achievement, self-worth and self-esteem are more important to adult learners.

Having identified those differences, it is also relevant to look at ten specific factors as they apply to adult learners and how educators can help accommodate their needs in the classroom.

  1. The motivation factor. Most adult learning is voluntary; it’s a choice. It stands to reason, then, that adults are more motivated to learn. There are several areas that serve as sources of motivation for adults. They include: a) community welfare: adults are interested in the improvement of the community and mankind; b) social relationships: adults have a need for associations and friendships; c) prestige: adults want to enjoy personal advancement and achieve a higher status in their professional position; d) expectation achievement: adults basically want to fulfill the expectations of others and comply with relevant instructions; e) acquisition of knowledge: some adults learn for the sake of learning; they want more knowledge simply because they have an inquiring mind. As educators, rather than focusing on learner motivation, we may want to consider spending more time on facilitating learning in an efficient and interesting way, since older learners are already motivated to pursue it.
  2. The control factor. Adults have an innate need to have some mastery or control over their own lives. They need to be self-directed and take responsibility for themselves. They tend to strongly resent not being able to make choices. They want to take an active, rather than a passive role in their education. We need to seek ways to include them in the planning of their educational experience. We need to consider giving them choices in assignments and projects that will offer a variety of ways to show that learning has occurred.
  3. The experience factor. Adult learners have already experienced a wide array of training, beginning at home, then in school, and then perhaps in various jobs prior to pursuing career education. Some of those experiences have been positive and others not. Consciously or unconsciously, adult learners tend to link new learning to what they already know, whether through education or life experiences. They evaluate new ideas as they relate to their past experience. As teachers, we need to get to know our learners and what experience they bring to the classroom. We need to use valid concept-connectors as we introduce new material on a daily basis.
  4. The diversity factor. Adult learners vary greatly from one another in terms of experiences and age. The variety they bring to the classroom can greatly enhance the learning environment. By using collaborative efforts and group discussion or projects, adult learners can all benefit from their shared experiences. Interactive dialogue facilitates increased solutions and options over simple private reflection. As educators, we must allow more time for networking among adult learners to share perspectives and experiences. In addition, we need to prepare our presentations to meet the needs of every learning style in the classroom.
  5. The aging factor. The speed of learning tends to decrease with age, but the depth of learning increases. While it may take us longer to learn as we get older, we do grasp what is learned at a deeper and more relevant level. Other physical factors should be considered as well. Adult learners may experience barriers to learning, such as hearing or vision impairments. As educators, we can compensate by paying attention to the physical learning environment and making adjustments as needed.
  6. The goal factor. Adults enter career education with a specific goal in mind. They want to be able to apply what they have learned as soon as possible. They want the information to be presented in a well-organized manner with all key elements clearly defined. As educators, we need to give them more than theory. They want information that they can grasp and put into practical use immediately. We need to classify and define goals and course objectives from the very beginning of their educational experience.
  7. The relevance factor. Adults must be able to identify the reason for learning something. It must be applicable to their personal or professional lives if it is to be of any value. As educators, in defining program objectives, we must make sure that the theories and concepts are relevant to the learners’ needs. We must also let adult learners choose projects and activities that reflect their own interests.
  8. The habits factor. Adult learners may come into the classroom with behavior patterns that are contrary to what we will be presenting. They may be less flexible or more difficult to persuade than younger learners. They may even feel threatened when told those behaviors must change.  Their opinions about certain subject matter may not always be productive or appropriate, but should be recognized as important. As educators, we need to take advantage of learners’ past experiences and behaviors and, if possible, use them to improve procedures or techniques. We need to inform adult learners that their ideas and opinions have value and weight.
  9. The change factor. While some adult learners are motivated by change, others tend to resist it.  Learning usually involves changes in attitudes, actions, and behaviors and that can cause some learners to become suspect. As educators, we need to carefully explain the “why” as well as the “how.” We need to recognize that small changes sought incrementally will be better received than global changes all at once. This allows learners to see that the change is beneficial, not harmful, and they will become more receptive to future changes.
  10. The respect factor. All students deserve respect; adult learners expect and demand it. As educators, we must learn to treat our adult learners as equals and allow them to voice their thoughts and ideas freely in the classroom. We must recognize that, even though they are students, they are also our peers, not our subordinates. The old attitude of teachers that “it’s my way, or the highway” simply won’t work anymore and has no place in the classroom, especially with adults.

Adult education is substantial and carries great potential for success. That success, however, requires a greater responsibility by the educator. We need to be aware of learners’ attitudes, past experiences, habits, opinions and cultures. We need to understand their perspectives and be able to help them discover how useful a change in behavior and actions can be for them. We need to engage them in the learning process and help them achieve their precisely defined expectations. If we can show them how our programs can benefit them practically, they will perform better and the benefits will last longer.

Section 2. Adult Learning

(The following material is excerpted from the NVAA specialized offering “The Ultimate Educator” by Edmunds, C., K. Lowe, M. Murray, and A. Seymour, 1999.)

Historical Roots of Adult Learning Principles

Since the 1970s, adult learning theory has offered a framework for educators and trainers whose job it is to train adults. Malcolm S. Knowles (1973) was among the first proponents of this approach. In his book, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, he resurrected the word “andragogy” a term popular in German education circles in the early 1800s, and used it to label his attempt to create a unified theory of adult learning. Knowles’ contentions were based on four assumptions:

1. As they mature, adults tend to prefer self-direction. The role of the instructor is to engage in a process of inquiry, analysis, and decision-making with adult learners, rather than to transmit knowledge.

2. Adults’ experiences are a rich resource for learning. Active participation in planned experiences—such as discussions or problem solving exercises, an analysis of those experiences, and their application to work or life situations—should be the core methodology for training adults. Adults learn and retain information more easily if they can relate it to their reservoir of past experiences.

3. Adults are aware of specific learning needs generated by real-life events such as marriage, divorce, parenting, taking a new job, losing a job, and so on. Adult learners’ needs and interests are the starting points and serve as guideposts for training activities.

4. Adults are competency-based learners, meaning that they want to learn a skill or acquire knowledge that they can apply pragmatically to their immediate circumstances. Life or work-related situations present a more appropriate framework for adult learning than academic or theoretical approaches.

Robert W. Pike (1989), an internationally recognized expert in human resources development and author of the book Creative Training Techniques, has conducted thousands of adult training seminars. His principles of adult learning, referred to as “Pike’s Laws of Adult Learning,” have built upon the original philosophy to provide similar guidance for trainers:

Law 1: Adults are babies with big bodies. It is accepted that babies enjoy learning through experience, because every exploration is a new experience. As children grow, educators traditionally reduce the amount of learning through experience to the point that few courses in secondary and higher education devote significant time to experiential education. It is now recognized that adult learning is enhanced by hands-on experience that involves adults in the learning process. In addition, adults bring a wealth of experience that must be acknowledged and respected in the training setting.

Law 2: People do not argue with their own data. Succinctly put, people are more likely to believe something fervently if they arrive at the idea themselves. Thus, when training adults, presenting structured activities that generate the students’ ideas, concepts, or techniques will facilitate learning more effectively than simply giving adults information to remember.

Law 3: Learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you are having. Humor is an important tool for coping with stress and anxiety, and can be effective in promoting a comfortable learning environment. If you are involved in the learning process and understand how it will enable you to do your job or other chosen task better, you can experience the sheer joy of learning.

Law 4: Learning has not taken place until behavior has changed. It is not what you know, but what you do that counts. The ability to apply new material is a good measure of whether learning has taken place. Experiences that provide an opportunity for successfully practicing a new skill will increase the likelihood of retention and on-the-job application.

Adult Learning and the Ultimate Educator


For more than two decades, adult learning theory has served as the framework for training adults. The idea that adults as learners require different educational strategies than children was first voiced fifty years ago when Irving Lorge (1947), writing about effective methods in adult education, suggested that to reach the adult learner, you have to teach to what adults want. He stated that adults have “wants” in the following four areas:

1. To gain something.

2. To be something.

3. To do something.

4. To save something.

Eduard Lindeman, also writing in the 1940s, proposed that adults learn best when they are actively involved in determining what, how, and when they learn. Since the 1970s, several authors and training experts have expanded upon the original concepts presented as adult learning theory.

Ultimate instruction, as used here, means helping adults to learn and involves far more than lecturing or presenting information. It involves instructing for results—powerful, highly effective instruction that results in applicable learning for adult participants. The material presented here is intended as a guide for both new and experienced trainers and educators. The reader is encouraged to adapt these ideas and techniques freely and to modify them as necessary to compliment his or her unique style of instruction. You, too, can become an ultimate educator.


Adults differ from children as learners. An adult has assumed responsibility for himself/herself and others. Adults differ specifically in self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, time perspective, and orientation to learning. Traditional teaching applied to children is “jug and mug” with the big jug (the teacher) filling up the little mugs (the students). Students are asked to pay attention and have few opportunities to make use of their own experience (Klatt 1999).

The following chart identifies some key differences between children and adults as learners:

Child and Adult Learning Characteristics



Rely on others to decide what is important to be learned.

Decide for themselves what is important to be learned.

Accept the information being presented at face value.

Need to validate the information based on their beliefs and values.

Expect what they are learning to be useful in their long-term future.

Expect what they are learning to be immediately useful.

Have little or no experience upon which to draw, are relatively “blank slates.”

Have substantial experience upon which to draw. May have fixed viewpoints.

Little ability to serve as a knowledgeable resource to teacher or fellow classmates.

Significant ability to serve as a knowledgeable resource to the trainer and fellow learners.


Novel Styles

Often, peoples’ expectations about the role of an instructor and beliefs about how adults learn are derived from personal experience in a college lecture hall or a job training program or from studying classical learning theories. However, learning in adult human beings seems to be a more complex phenomenon than some of the classical theories suggest. Three principles that provide the foundation for adult learning today can be summarized as follows:

1. The adult learner is primarily in charge of his or her own learning. Remember that instructors do not have the power to implant ideas or to transfer skills directly to the learner. They can only suggest and guide.

2. An instructor’s primary responsibility is to do a good job of managing the process through which adults learn.

3. The learners are encouraged to use their own judgment and decision-making capabilities.

Instructors are leaders, not dictators. They do have responsibility to make decisions, provide guidance, and be a resource for the students’ learning. Although instructors often view themselves as the ultimate authority on the subject matter, it is still up to the learners to determine whether the ideas presented in the session should be incorporated into their work or personal lives. Despite the primary role of the learner, instruction is not a passive, laid-back, go-with-the-flow process for the instructor. As the facilitator and catalyst for participants’ learning, the instructor makes it possible for learning to happen by designing and performing all the activities that the learning processes requires.

In their research on adult learning, Sullivan, Wircenski, Arnold, and Sarkees (1990) assert that the establishment of a positive learning climate hinges on understanding the characteristics of adult learners who will be participating in the instructional process. They report the dynamics of the instructional process are very much dependent on the instructor having a clear understanding of the participants. Sullivan et. al. cited applicable characteristics of relevance, motivation, participation, variety, positive feedback, personal concerns, and uniqueness.

Principle 1: Leadership. The adult learner enters the training or educational environment with a deep need to be self-directing and to take a leadership role in his or her learning. The psychological definition of “adult” is one who has achieved a self-concept of being in charge of his or her own decisions and living with the consequences; this carries over into the instructional setting. Thus, instructors can help learners acquire new knowledge and develop new skills, but they cannot do the learning for learners.

Although adults may be completely self directing in most (if not all) aspects of their lives, some can fall back to their conditioning in school and college and put on their hats of dependency, fold their arms, sit back, and say “teach me” when they enter a program labeled “education” or “training.” (This is especially true when adults enter a “training room” set up “classroom style.”) To resolve the “dependency” problem, adult educators have developed strategies for helping adults make a quick transition from seeing themselves as dependent learners to becoming self-directed learners. Adult educators, in the development of a learning environment, define the process through which learning takes place. For example:

  • The instructor guides the learners in determining the relevance of the learning for their own lives and work; whereas,
  • The learners are encouraged to use their own leadership, judgment, and decision-making capabilities.

To reinforce the notion of learner responsibility in the instructional process, a variety of activities can be used to obtain information from participants regarding what they want to get out of the session and to ensure a match between instructor and participant objectives.

Information should be gathered from participants prior to the session to assess participants’ skill levels, prior training, education, and professional experience and interest in, need for, and expectations for the session. This can be done through an application form, learning contracts, a mail (electronic or paper) survey of registered participants, or a brief telephone interview if the number of participants is small. This information can be used to organize instructional objectives, sequence content, and design-reinforcing activities.

During an introductory section, participants can be asked to write down their most important goal for the session, and then be asked to share their expectations. Students are asked to put their comments regarding goals on a wall chart labeled “expectations” or “learning goals.” Instructors can also ask participants to list the skills, experience, and positive characteristics they bring to the learning environment. This process honors participants, identifies participant resources for the group, and provides additional assessment data. The instructor can read goals from the sheet periodically throughout the session and indicate when a section is particularly designed to meet that learner’s need, thereby reinforcing learner investment in the session.

The ultimate educator remains alert to the first principle of adult learning: Adults enter the learning environment with a deep need to be self-directing and take a leadership role in his or her learning.

Principle 2: Experience. The word “experience” holds two meanings for the ultimate educator. Experience is the accumulated knowledge an individual arrives with at the session, as well as an individual’s active participation in events or activities during the session.

Adults bring to a learning situation a background of experience that is a rich resource for themselves and for others. In adult education, there is a greater emphasis on the use of experiential learning techniques (discussion methods, case studies, problem-solving exercises) that tap into the accumulated knowledge and skills of the learners and techniques such as simulation exercises and field experiences that provide learners with experiences from which they can learn by analyzing them. A rich, adult-focused instructional approach takes into account the experiences and knowledge that adults bring to the session. It then expands upon and refines this prior knowledge by connecting it to new learning, making the instruction relevant to important issues and tasks in the adults’ lives.

In discussing what all learners have in common, Robert F. Mager (1992) stated that the more you know about participants, the better you can tailor instruction to meet their needs. He provided the following list of key points concerning experience:

  • Everyone comes to the learning situation with a lifetime of experience, regardless of age.
  • The lifetime experiences of each learner are different from those of others.
  • Lifetime experiences also includes misconceptions, biases, prejudices, and preferences. In other words, some of what people think they know is actually wrong.

It is also important to recognize that the experience that adults possess is significantly different in quality from that of youths:

  • Few youths have had the experience of being full-time workers, spouses, parents, voting citizens, organizational leaders, or other adult roles. Accordingly, adults have a different perspective on experience: it is their chief source of self-identity.
  • To youths, experience is something that happens to them, whereas adults define themselves in terms of their unique experiences.
  • An adult’s experience is who he or she is. So if an adult’s experience is not respected and valued, it cannot be used as a resource for learning. Adults experience this omission as a rejection of their experience and as a rejection of them as persons, which negatively affects learning.

Few individuals prefer to just sit back and listen to a teacher or trainer go on and on about the topic. The effective instructor keeps this point in mind and designs learning experiences that actively involve adults with various levels of experience in the instructional process. This entails practice activities such as discussion, hands-on work, or projects for each of the concepts that the instructor wants the participants to master.

Concentration is also an important issue. Humans can only consciously think about one thing at a time. It is essential to provide learning environments that help learners concentrate on their learning tasks. Contents, formats, and sequences must be interesting to compete with other attention-demanding thoughts and environmental intrusions (McLagen 1978).

Boud, Keogh, and Walker (1985) found that adults have a broader base of experience to which new ideas and skills can be attached; furthermore, a broader experience base allows adults to incorporate new ideas and skills with much richer and fuller meaning than do youths. The more clearly defined the relationship between the old and the new (through discussion and reflection), the deeper and more permanent the learning will be. For example:

  • On-the-job training, small group discussions, case study work, or even computer-based training all embrace the concept that participation helps increase involvement in the learning process and retention of the knowledge.

Information that goes into the participant’s memory will likely be remembered if learners practice remembering the information soon after they process it. Therefore, it is important to provide opportunities in the session for review and remembering by means of activities like written summaries, application exercises, and discussions (Zemke and Zemke 1995).

Studies show that over a period of three days, learning retention is as follows:

  • 10% of what you read.
  • 20% of what you hear.
  • 30% of what you see.
  • 50% of what you see and hear.
  • 70% of what you say.
  • 90% of what you say as you do (e.g., orally work out a problem) (Pike 1989).

The ultimate educator knows that experience is a rich resource for adult learning and therefore actively involves adults in the learning process.

Principle 3: Appeal. Appeal is the power of attracting or arousing interest. Adult learners are motivated to learn when they have a need to know. They want to know how the instruction will help them and often ask themselves the following questions:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why do I need this information?
  • How will I benefit from it?
  • How can I make use of it in a practical, real way?
  • How will it help me be a better person or professional?

Training and development expert Robert F. Mager (1992) brings this point home with his first two rules of training:

  • Rule #1: Training is appropriate only when two conditions are present:
    • There is something that one or more people do not know how to do.
    • They need to be able to do it.
  • Rule #2: If they already know how, more training won’t help.

Adult orientation to learning is centered on life or work. Therefore, the appropriate frameworks for organizing adult learning are life and/or work-related situations, not academic or theoretical subjects. Meaningful learning can be intrinsically motivating.

The key to using adult’s “natural” motivation to learn is tapping into their most teachable moments: those points in their lives when they believe they need to learn something new or different (Zemke & Zemke 1995).

Sometimes, adults enter the learning environment with little interest or motivation. Many genuinely want to improve their job performance or to learn new knowledge and skills in order to move up the career ladder. Their motivation can diminish if the instructor fails to direct and encourage this or other interests and motivations.

Trainers can help learners develop an early and appropriate “mental set” for learning programs by overviewing the course objectives, describing upcoming activities, and helping them see the future advantages of the instruction to them and their work (McLagen 1978). Introductory exercises early in the session can help establish the mental set. For example, an exercise titled “hopes and fears” allows participates the opportunity to express their learning goals and concerns. In this exercise, participants are instructed to write down on tear sheets their hopes (goals and desires) and fears (concerns and specific issues about the instructional session), individually or in small groups. The instructor then uses this information to ensure that instructional objectives are on the mark and that the instructor is sensitive to individual participants.

Motivation can be improved and channeled by the instructor who provides clear instructional goals and learning activities that encourage and support strong learner interest. To best capitalizeon this high level of learner interest, the instructor should explore ways by which the needs of each learner can be incorporated into the training sessions. This would include:

  • The use of challenging and exciting learning experiences.
  • Learning activities that are self-paced and tailored to individual rates of learning.

Five Ways to Squelch Motivation

  • Have little personal contact.
  • Get participants in a passive mood and keep them there.
  • Assume the class will apply what is taught; do not bother with examples.
  • Be alert to criticize.
  • Make them feel stupid for asking questions in class (Pike 1992

Studies show that part of an adult’s preparation to learn is determining the benefits of the learning, as well as the disadvantages of not learning. Allen Tough (1972) found that adults would expend considerable time and energy exploring the benefits of learning something, and what the costs would be of not learning it before they would be willing to invest time and energy in learning it.

Therefore, a key principle in adult learning is that the ultimate educator needs to develop an appeal, a “need to know” in the learners-to make a case for the value in their life performance of learning what is offered. At the minimum, this case should be made through testimony from the experience of the instructor or a successful practitioner; at the maximum, by providing real or simulated experiences through which the learners experience the benefits of knowing and the costs of not knowing.

Principle 4: Respect. The word respect here is defined as “esteem.” The instructor of adults must show deferential regard for the learner by acknowledging an adult learner’s experience and creating a climate in the learning setting that conveys respect.

People are more open to learning if they feel respected. If they feel that they are being talked down to, patronized, or otherwise denigrated, their energy is diverted from learning to dealing with these feelings. The following suggestions are offered as ways in which the instructor can help foster a comfortable, productive learning climate through the attitude that he or she projects:

  • Show respect for the learner’s individuality and experience.
  • Be sensitive to the language you use so that learners are not inadvertently offended.
  • Be open to different perspectives.
  • Adopt a caring attitude and show it.
  • Treat the learners as individuals rather than as a group of people who are all alike.
  • Support all learner comments by acknowledging the “rightness” that is in each comment and each person.
  • Take the learning process seriously because it is serious and important (McLagen 1978).

Establish a learning climate of:

  • Mutual respect.
  • Collaboration rather than competition.
  • Support rather than judgment.
  • Mutual trust.
  • Fun.

Adult learners respond to reinforcements. Although adult learners are usually self-directed, they do need to receive reinforcement. Most people are like dry sponges waiting for a drop of appreciation. Instructors should take every opportunity to demonstrate appreciation in the classroom.

Sullivan, Wircenski, Arnold, and Sarkees (1990) write that the need for positive feedback is a characteristic of the adult learner. Like most learners, adults prefer to know how their efforts measure up when compared with the objectives of the instructional program. Adults have a tendency to “vote with their feet”; that is, if they find the program to be a negative experience, they will find some reason to drop out of the program before its completion.

The ultimate educator honors adult learners’ individuality and experience and creates a safe, respectful, and participant-centered environment for learning to take place.

Principle 5: Novel Styles. The last principle refers to individual or novel styles that characterize learners. Novel styles are defined as different, unique learning styles and preferences. Generally, most adults prefer to be treated as individuals who are unique and have particular differences. The instructor must keep in mind that although adults have common characteristics as learners, adults also have individual differences and most adults have preferred methods for learning. Adult learners respond better when new material is presented through a variety of instructional methods, appealing to their different learning preferences.

No matter how well planned a program is, individual differences among participants often make it necessary to make some adjustments during the program. Flexibility can be incorporated into programs, but such flexibility must be grounded in an understanding of how learners may differ. When developing an instructional program, the instructor must take into consideration the novel styles of learning that each adult brings to the session. The following section discusses a variety of approaches to learning style.

Learning Style

Most adult learners have developed a preference for learning that is rooted in childhood learning patterns. To understand and address adult learners, it is important to understand differences in children’s development and learning. As children develop, their ability to process information is affected by their own individual strengths and weaknesses and the environment in which they grow and learn. Individual differences in children’s interests, aptitudes, abilities, and achievement can be quite pronounced. For example, some children have an especially strong auditory memory that enables them to remember what they hear with little effort, while others may be less skilled. This can be seen in differences in following verbal directions given by a teacher or coach, or in the ability to learn the words to a new song. Some children have an especially keen eye for noticing detail in pictures or a design in a pattern. This can be seen in differences in speed in recognizing letters of the alphabet or understanding principles of geometry. Some children are very talented artists from the first moment they are given crayons or other tools to draw, while others develop such a skill through structured learning opportunities at school and at home.

Behavioral characteristics can also affect learning in children. Children may have a short attention span or be easily distracted by sounds or movement around them, while others can stay with a task for a lengthy period of time, regardless of what might be going on around them. Some children appear more “emotionally mature,” which can translate into greater patience, ability to cooperate, or a higher tolerance for frustration, while others become upset quickly if a task is frustrating. Some children have a “need to move” or be more active than is typical for their age group; others simply have more stamina, and so on.

In addition, stimulation and opportunity can affect ability and achievement. If a child is deprived of opportunities to move, explore, touch, grasp, and/or interact with sound and speech, long-term learning ability is diminished. Furthermore, without opportunities to use once learned skills, the ability to perform tasks is often lost and must be relearned.

It must be emphasized that adult learning theory is based in the notion that we are not “just teaching grown-up children.” It must be recognized that a person’s aptitudes and abilities are shaped by individual differences and early learning experiences and continue to be influenced by experience and training throughout adulthood. In fact, many adults seek jobs that consistently give them opportunities to display special talents and rely upon their preferred learning style.


(Portions of the following section were excerpted with modification from National District Attorneys Advocacy Center, Train the Trainers Workshop, 1999.)

In adult learning theory, several approaches to learning style have been developed and are prominently used in training and educational programs. These include learning styles based on the senses that are involved in processing information; theories of intelligence, including emotional intelligence and “multiple intelligences”; and preferences for learning conditions, i.e., the environment in which learning takes place. In order to provide a framework for a discussion on adult learning style differences, each of these approaches is briefly discussed.

Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Differing aptitudes, abilities, and experiences have caused individuals to develop a preference for sending and receiving information through one sense over another. Most often people prefer auditory or visual input; however, some people have a preference for kinesthetic learning, i.e. learning that involves movement. A preference for one type of learning over another may be seen in the following ways:

  • Visual learners prefer, enjoy, or require: Graphic illustrations such as bar graphs or crosstabs to explain data; color codes to highlight salient information; maps to find their way on the subway or while driving in a new city; written material to study new concepts; wall charts that display points to be remembered; written outlines; drawings or designs to illustrate overhead presentations; sitting “up close” in a presentation in order to see the presenter’s face, gestures, or visuals; taking notes during a lecture; instructors to repeat verbal directions.
  • Auditory learners prefer, enjoy, or require: A verbal presentation of new information, such as a lecture; group discussions to hear other points of view or practices; fast-paced verbal exchanges of ideas; a good joke or story that they can repeat for others; verbal cues or pneumonic devices to help them remember information; music at the beginning or during transitions in a training setting; words to accompany a cartoon; oral reports of working groups.
  • Kinesthetic learners prefer, enjoy, or require: Movement, such as rocking or shaking a leg during a lecture; hands-on experience to learn a task; gestures while making a point; role play exercises over discussion groups; shaking hands when meeting or greeting people; trying new things without a lengthy explanation of the activity; frequent breaks; regular opportunities to change seating or room arrangement; “just doing it” rather than talking about it.

While it is thought that people have developed a preference for or have greater skill in processing one type of input over others, most people simultaneously process information through multiple senses. In fact, the retention of learned material is enhanced if the learner is asked to process information using more than one sense. Presentations that are multisensory (using visual and auditory components) in combination with interactive activities will increase learning and retention for most adults.


(Portions of the following section were excerpted with modification from National District Attorneys Advocacy Center, Train the Trainers Workshop, 1999.)

Intelligence has long been considered a key factor in predicting and evaluating learning. Educators have developed a variety of teaching strategies to accommodate varying levels of intelligence, most of which have been based on a traditional Western approach to intelligence. Theories of adult intelligence have evolved considerably in recent decades. The traditional constructs of IQ (intelligence quotient) derived from verbal and nonverbal intelligence have been expanded to include EQ (emotional quotient, suggesting that emotional maturity and ability contribute significantly to achievement), as well as theories of “multiple intelligences.” Howard Gardner (1982), a proponent of “multiple intelligences” theory, suggests that educators do people a disservice by thinking of intelligence levels in traditionally narrow dimensions that relate most significantly to academic achievement. Gardner proposes seven broader dimensions of intelligences:

  • Verbal and linguistic. Ability to deal with words and language, both written and spoken.
  • Logical and mathematical. Ability to do inductive and deductive thinking, numbers, abstract patterns, and reasoning ability.
  • Musical. Ability to recognize tonal patterns, pitch, melody, rhythms, and tone.
  • Kinesthetic. Ability to use the body skillfully.
  • Visual and spatial. Ability to observe and process visual stimuli and visualize or create visual images.
  • Interpersonal. Ability to develop and maintain relationships and understand, communicate, and work with other people.
  • Intrapersonal. Understanding of self and one’s own feelings, values, and purpose.

Many instructors have found applications for this new way of defining intelligence or aptitude. In general, the instructors have utilized this theory to support the notion that instruction should entail far more than a verbal/linguistic presentation of ideas, and include experiential opportunities that enable people with varying types of “intelligence” to be successful.

Learning Environment Conditions Affect Learning

The physical environment in which instruction takes place and the structure of the activities in the course can also affect learning positively or negatively. People react differently to such factors as room temperature, arrangement of the room (e.g., closeness of seats), time of day (early morning versus late in the day), brightness of the lighting, and sound (e.g., noise distractions from nearby construction or talking among participants). In addition, adults differ with regard to whether they prefer to work alone or in groups. Sharon Fisher (1989) has combined all of these factors to depict the various types of preferences that adults may have when they enter the learning environment:

Adult Preferences Regarding a Learning Environment

Physical Factors

Emotional Factors

Learning Factors

Learning Setting:

Noise Level
Time of Day

Social Needs:

Learn Alone
Learn with Others

Learning Styles:






An instructor must recognize that adults’ preferences in these areas may affect their responsiveness in the session. Efforts should be made to accommodate differences by providing a variety of learning activities in which participants may feel comfortable.

The ultimate educator delivers instruction in a stimulating, rich, and diverse environment through a variety of instructional methods to appeal to adult participants’ learning styles and preferences.

The Ultimate Educator Is an Adult Learning Expert!

Adult learning theory is grounded in the notion that adults are in charge of and need to be active participants in their learning. Adults bring a wide range of experiences and perspectives to any instructional setting, and are most likely to be motivated when they see a connection between the learning objectives and activities and their own work or life. Adults also bring preferences for how they learn as well as varying aptitudes and abilities. Ultimate educators provide opportunities for adults to use what they already know and apply what they are learning in the instructional setting.


Edmunds, C., K. Lowe, M. Murray, and A. Seymour. 1999. The Ultimate Educator. National Victim Assistance Academy (Advanced). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.

Gardner, H. 1982. Art, Mind and Brain. New York: Basic Books.

Klatt, B. 1999. The Ultimate Training Workshop Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Leading Successful Workshops & Training Programs. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Knowles, M. 1973. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

Lorge, I. 1947. Effective Methods in Adult Education: Report of the Southern Regional Workshop for Agricultural Extension Specialists. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State College.

Mager, R. F. 1992. What Every Manager Should Know about Training. Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Company.

McLagen, P. A. 1978. Helping Others Learn: Designing Programs for Adults. MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

National District Attorneys Advocacy Center. 1999. Train the Trainers Workshop. Columbia, SC.

Pike, R. W. 1989. Creative Training Techniques Handbook. Minneapolis, MN: Lakewood Books.

Tough, A. 1972. Adult Learning Projects. Ontario: Institute for Studies in Education.

Zemke, R. and S. Zemke. June 1995. “Adult Learning What Do We Know for Sure?” Training.


By L. Dee Fink
Reprinted with permission of the University of Oklahoma Instructional Development Program, July 19, 1999


Many college teachers today want to move past passive learning to active learning, to find better ways of engaging students in the learning process. But many teachers feel a need for help in imagining what to do, in or out of class, that would constitute a meaningful set of active learning activities.

The model below offers a way of conceptualizing the learning process in a way that may assist teachers in identifying meaningful forms of active learning.

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Explanation of the Components

This model suggests that all learning activities involve some kind of experience or some kind of dialogue. The two main kinds of dialogue are “Dialogue with Self” and “Dialogue with Others.” The two main kinds of experience are “Observing” and “Doing.”

Dialogue with Self:

This is what happens when a learner thinks reflectively about a topic, i.e., they ask themselves what they think or should think, what they feel about the topic, etc. This is “thinking about my own thinking,” but it addresses a broader array of questions than just cognitive concerns. A teacher can ask students, on a small scale, to keep a journal for a course, or, on a larger scale, to develop a learning portfolio. In either case, students could write about what they are learning, how they are learning, what role this knowledge or learning plays in their own life, how this makes them feel, etc.

Dialogue with Others:

This can and does come in many forms. In traditional teaching, when students read a textbook or listen to a lecture, they are “listening to” another person (teacher, book author). This can perhaps be viewed as “partial dialogue” but it is limited because there is no back-and-forth exchange. A much more dynamic and active form of dialogue occurs when a teacher creates an intense small group discussion on a topic. Sometimes teachers can also find creative ways to involve students in dialogue situations with people other than students (e.g., practitioners, experts), either in class or outside of class. Whoever the dialogue is with, it might be done live, in writing, or by email.


This occurs whenever a learner watches or listens to someone else “Doing” something that is related to what they are learning about. This might be such things as observing one’s teacher do something (e.g., “This is how I critique a novel.”), listening to other professionals perform (e.g., musicians), or observing the phenomena being studied (natural, social, or cultural). The act of observing may be “direct” or “vicarious.” A direct observation means the learner is observing the real action, directly; a vicarious observation is observing a simulation of the real action. For example, a direct observation of poverty might be for the learner to actually go to where low income people are living and working, and spend some time observing life there. A vicarious or indirect observation of the same topic might be to watch a movie involving poor people or to read stories written by or about them.


This refers to any learning activity where the learner actually does something: design a reservoir dam (engineering), conduct a high school band (music education), design and/or conduct an experiment (natural and social sciences), critique an argument or piece of writing (the humanities), investigate local historical resources(history), make an oral presentation (communication), etc.

Again, “Doing” may be direct or vicarious. Case studies, role-playing and simulation activities offer ways of vicariously engaging students in the “Doing” process. To take one example mentioned above, if one is trying to learn how to conduct a high school band, direct “Doing” would be to actually go to a high school and direct the students there. A vicarious “Doing” for the same purpose would be to simulate this by having the student conduct a band composed of fellow college students who were acting like (i.e., role playing) high school students. Or, in business courses, doing case studies is, in essence, a simulation of the decision making process that many courses are aimed at teaching.

Implementing This Model of Active Learning

So, what can a teacher do who wants to use this model to incorporate more active learning into his/her teaching? I would recommend the following three suggestions, each of which involves a more advanced use of active learning.

  1. Expand the Kinds of Learning Experiences You Create.

The most traditional teaching consists of little more than having students read a text and listen to a lecture, a very limited and limiting form of Dialogue with Others. Consider using more dynamic forms of Dialogue with Others and the other three modes of learning. For example:

    • Create small groups of students and have them make a decision or answer a focused question periodically,
    • Find ways for students to engage in authentic dialogue with people other than fellow classmates who know something about the subject (on the web, by email, or live),
    • Have students keep a journal or build a “learning portfolio” about their own thoughts, learning, feelings, etc.,
    • Find ways of helping students observe (directly or vicariously) the subject or action they are trying to learn, and/or
    • Find ways to allow students to actually do (directly, or vicariously with case studies, simulation or role play) that which they need to learn to do.
  1. Take Advantage of the “Power of Interaction.”

Each of the four modes of learning has its own value, and just using more of them should add variety and thereby be more interesting for the learner. However, when properly connected, the various learning activities can have an impact that is more than additive or cumulative; they can be interactive and thereby multiply the educational impact.

For example, if students write their own thoughts on a topic (Dialogue with Self) before they engage in small group discussion (Dialogue with Others), the group discussion should be richer and more engaging. If they can do both of these and then observe the phenomena or action (Observation), the observation should be richer and again more engaging. Then, if this is followed by having the students engage in the action itself (Doing), they will have a better sense of what they need to do and what they need to learn during doing. Finally if, after Doing, the learners process this experience by writing about it (Dialogue with Self) and/or discussing it with others (Dialogue with Others), this will add further insight. Such a sequence of learning activities will give the teacher and learners the advantage of the Power of Interaction.

Alternatively, advocates of Problem-Based Learning would suggest that a teacher start with “Doing” by posing a real problem for students to work on, and then having students consult with each other (Dialogue with Others) on how best to proceed in order to find a solution to the problem. The learners will likely use a variety of learning options, including Dialogue with Self and Observing.

  1. Create a Dialectic Between Experience and Dialogue.

One refinement of the Interaction Principle described above is simply to create a dialectic between the two principle components of this Model of Active Learning: Experience and Dialogue. New experiences (whether of Doing or Observing) have the potential to give learners a new perspective on what is true (beliefs) and/or what is good (values) in the world. Dialogue (whether with Self or with Others) has the potential to help learners construct the many possible meanings of experience and the insights that come from them. A teacher who can creatively set up a dialectic of learning activities in which students move back and forth between having rich new experiences and engaging in deep, meaningful dialogue, can maximize the likelihood that the learners will experience significant and meaningful learning.


Excerpts from Lion F. Gardiner’s Article “Why We Must Change: The Research Evidence”
Thought & Action, Spring, 1998. Excerpted by Doug Madden.
Sponsored by HCC Faculty Development, Prof. Gardiner was a guest speaker at HCC, August of 1998.


Lion Gardiner’s article is fairly long and not appropriate for posting (with permission) here. It contains, however, a number of salient points about how students learn and the rather ineffective job American education is doing in addressing their needs as learners. He writes:

… we find a substantial body of evidence that clearly demonstrates a crisis of educational quality in our nation’s colleges and universities.

This crisis should evoke a serious and determined response from the entire professorate. But rather, … we too often find complacency within our ranks. We seem to turn a blind eye to the quality of our educational processes and results. The busyness of daily routine and the seeming rightness of the familiar obscures the need to change.

What makes Gardiner’s article very credible and powerful are the myriad studies and associated data he presents. Some excerpts:

  • “We know that a strong relationship exists between students’ formal operational ability and their success in their courses.

Critical thinking is a form of higher-order cognition that society requires and faculty esteem. …

We urge our students to think critically and give them activities we believe will help them to learn how. Yet, 30 years of research show us that most of our students hold epistemological assumptions that prevent them from understanding and, therefore, engaging in critical thinking.”

  • “… the relationship between [students’] active involvement and effective learning is so strong that ‘the effectiveness of any educational policy or practice is directly related to the capacity of that policy to increase involvement in learning.’

Active involvement includes frequent student-faculty interaction, both in and outside of class.”

  • “For tens of thousands of students in a large national study, specific curricular design had little effect on most of 22 general education outcomes examined. The types or breadth of courses, specific courses available, or relative flexibility to choose among courses had little impact on these outcomes. On the other hand, a core curriculum had salutary effects on many developmental outcomes. …

These curricula, where students took, in common, interdisciplinary general education courses, represented less than 2 percent of the hundreds of curricula in the study.”

  • “One national study has revealed that only 35 percent of faculty strongly emphasize their institution’s curricular goals. Only 12 percent utilize feedback from their earlier students, and 8 percent use the viewpoints of experts in instruction. The conclusion: ‘The faculty interviewed seemed to teach as they had been taught …'”
  • “Faculty in another national study ‘overwhelmingly’ said developing effective thinking was their primary educational purpose, but most of the 4,000 course goals they submitted related to teaching concepts in their disciplines, rather than developing the intellectual skills they said were so important.”
  • “… involving students in discussion fosters retention of information, application of knowledge to new situations, and development of higher-order thinking skills — and discussions do this much better than lectures do. …

… Yet 70 to 90 percent of professors use the traditional lecture as their primary instructional strategy.”

  • “In a study of 155 class sessions at four different institutions, questioning of students comprised 0.2 percent to 9.2 percent of class time.”
  • “… in most courses, transmission of facts from teacher to students and discussion that requires only the recall of facts are the dominant class activities, regardless of discipline, the number of weeks into the semester, or size of institution.

In one study, 89.3 percent of questions asked by the faculty required only recall to answer, not comprehension of concepts. …

In only 0.3 percent to 2.5 percent of class time were students required to use the much more complex skill of evaluation.”

  • “The median cognitive level in classes of 15 or fewer students was analysis. In classes of 16 to 45 students the median was comprehension. In large classes of 46 to 300 students the median intellectual activity was recall.”
  • “If students are not thinking during lectures, what are they doing? Their attention drifts after only 10 to 20 minutes. They are listening, asking or responding to questions, or taking notes only half of the time. Up to 15 percent of their time is spent fantasizing.”
  • “Only 14 percent of 745 research university students said they had ever been formally taught how to study, in high school or in college.”
  • “… how much course content do students retain? Studies sometimes find rare high values where students retain 50 percent of the content, but values of 20 percent or less are common.”
  • “Although engineering students used memorized formulas successfully to solve physics problems, there were ‘widespread misconceptions’ when they were required to provide ‘coherent verbal descriptions of abstract concepts’ inherent in the problems.

After watching their teachers work 1,000 problems in class and solving another 3,000 themselves outside class, ‘after four years, engineering students showed negligible improvement in problem-solving skills.”

  • “The 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey of 26,000 native-born Americans discovered major deficiencies in two- and four-year college graduates’ ability to work with text and numbers in straightforward, pre-college tasks such as understanding the meaning of newspaper articles, using bus timetables, and calculating prices of supermarket items.”
  • “Only 17 percent of 1,700 faculty respondents at a research university said they use essay tests. These same respondents claimed only 13 percent of their questions required problem-solving.”
  • “… numerous studies demonstrate widespread cheating among students on classroom tests, possibly involving 40 to 90 percent of all students. …

One-third of students [in a national study of 6,165 respondents] with A’s and B+’s cheated, as did two-thirds of 6,000 students at ‘highly selective’ colleges.”

  • “For well over a decade we have been warned that if we do not put our academic house in order, others … will step in to do so. They have begun to do this. We must act quickly.”



The Keirsey Temperament and Character tests resemble the Meyers-Briggs test. They can be taken on line and scored immediately. The temperament and character types are explained. There is also a short list of careers aligned with the character types. Architect, for example, is aligned with rational, teacher is aligned with idealist, etc. Students will enjoy taking the tests and learning about themselves from the scores they receive. The scores can also be used by instructors at the beginning of courses to learn about students and better plan instructional strategies, emphases, and individualized responses.

The Keirsey Temperament Questionnaire:

Students (and instructors) can complete this questionnaire (the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II) on line and have it scored immediately. Bar graph scores indicate whether they are more attentive or expressive, introspective or observant, tender or tough, and probing or scheduled.

The Keirsey Character Questionnaire:

Students (and instructors) can complete this questionnaire (the Keirsey Character Sorter II) on line and have it scored immediately. Bar graph scores indicate the degrees to which they are idealist, rational, guardian, and artisan. Part of the questionnaire reveals temperament tendencies — reserved, expressive, prober, scheduler.



By Dr. Jon H. Blumhardt, Director, Honolulu Community College Educational Media Center.
All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.



The information that follows was developed for students taking online courses and for instructors developing such courses. The material can, however, be adapted to all courses and various modes of instruction.

Current research into personality styles suggests that because each of us has an individual personality, we also have a “learning style” associated with that personality, a unique way in which we

  • perceive the world around us,
  • gather information about that world,
  • process this information, and
  • make decisions about it.

Some instructors use the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which is based on the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, to give students an opportunity to look at their “temperament” and “learning style”, but sometimes also to provide the instructors themselves with an opportunity to develop “multi-learning paths” so that their method of instruction — and the way in which they structure their courses, doesn’t get in the way of students’ learning………

Some of you learners are probably saying…..

  • let’s get to the bottom line…
  • what do I have to know….
  • what do I have to do…and
  • what’s the shortest amount of time I need to invest…
  • in order to pass this course….at the level I want
  • and then leave me alone and I’ll get back with you if I need questions answered

Others of you need to….

  • process information through interaction with others…
  • need and desire personal contact and
  • discussion with other learners, and with the instructor…
  • dialog and process the information of the course, and…
  • develop social relationships,
  • which help you to pass the course.

With an internet course, eyeball-to-eyeball contact and interaction… like you’d find in a regular college classroom is just not there, because the learning and interaction isn’t occurring in physical space, but cyberspace….and for some learners…this different methodology of learning may be difficult to use…we are trying our best, however to accommodate all types of learners….so that each of you canSUCCEED!For students who need and desire personal and social interaction…some instructors will use E-mail and chat sessions for real time discussions…

After you’ve take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, look inside the four-letter code for the following sub-combinations of letters. See if the learning style definitions posted here correspond to your own preferred style of learning. This will hopefully help you move through a course in a way that works best for you.

SP Learning Style

SP combinations hunger for action and for having the freedom to act. This group is the least represented in institutions of higher learning and tends to have the lowest correlation between academic ability and grade point average, yet represent 38% of the students in schools which require compulsory attendance. SP’s need physical involvement and hands-on experience. They learns from media presentations and love to be entertained. They tends to rebel against close supervision and see instructions as something to outwit. They enjoy dialog with others to report progress, but do not want to be part of a democratic or consensus process. They seeks constant change of pace and variety. Pencil and paper work is deadly. Verbal and visual work are far more appealing. Lectures, Socratic questioning, workbooks, answer-the-questions-at-the-back-of the book all leave SP’s disinterested.


SP’s will probably want to know and understand all of the details of a course presented in a clear, logical, and precise manner so they can make sense of it. They should use the suggested due dates for work submission requirements to not fall behind.

SJ Learning Style

SJ’s hunger for belonging to a group. Responsibility, dependability, duty, and service are words associated with SJ students. Since about 2/3’s of teachers are SJ’s, SJ students can readily relate to this traditional classroom. SJ’s usually want to please the teacher. The values of the teacher are accepted without question as good values. They generally have good study habits, doing homework as assigned. Learning their lessons as directed are seen as worthwhile. SJ’s do well with workbooks. They like and need structure and do best when lessons are presented sequentially in increments that make sense. They do not thrive on long-term independent projects. They do not always enjoy group discussions. They thrives on stability and learns well from traditional instructional technology, including demonstration.


SJ’s probably want to know and understand all of the details of a course presented in a clear, logical, and precise manner so they can make sense of it. An SJ has an independent mind and wants to make decisions as they see fit and as things fit into what they learn. They need to keep in mind that everything needs to be turned in for grading before the end of the course.

NT Learning Style

NT’s hunger for competency. They must know all they should know, and their lists of “should knows” are endless. Building, architecting, inventing, and commanding describe NT learners. NT’s look for whatever will enable them to understand, explain, predict, and control. They tend to collect rules and principles that give structure to their cognitive worlds. They enjoy tracking ideas of others and developing their own ideas. They are intellectually curious and technically oriented. They tends to be an independent learners and like to pursue inspirations, tracking down information until the desire for learning is satisfied.


NT’s will probably want to know and understand the global picture of the course before any of the details make sense. They need to scan the modules first, then come back and fill in the gaps. Logic and thought are their keys. If you are an NT and see something that doesn’t make sense, E-mail the instructor…let him or her know how they can make the course materials clearer.

NF Learning Style

NF’s hunger for an ever-increasing “sense of self.” The search for self begins early in life and becomes a life-long quest. The NF wants to be him or herself as well as be somebody. Within this group are found the charismatic, the emphatic, the dramatic, and the idealist, seeking ever to establish an identity to feel complete and undivided. NF’s have a built-in desire to communicate in a personal way with others. They are hypersensitive to hostility and conflict and thrive on recognition, caring, personal attention, two-way exchanges, and recognition of emotional attitudes. They enjoy interaction, work well in democratically run classrooms, participate enthusiastically in group discussions. They may be shy if introverted. Cooperation rather than competition is key. They prefer to focus on subjects that have a people orientation and are apt to choose liberal arts over the sciences or technology.


NF’s will probably want to know and understand the global picture of a course before any of the details make sense. They need to scan the modules first, then come back and fill in the gaps. Because they have emotional attachements to the social milleau of the course and are inclined to form personal relationships, they should use the e-mail list of fellow students and mail them. As always, the instructors are available to help.

The Silver-Hansen-Strong Learning Styles Inventory

In addition to the Keirsey analysis, there is also the Silver-Hansen-Strong Learning Styles Inventory. It is also based on the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator which uses a similar approach to its division of the types into four learning styles, but it uses a somewhat different model.

ST (sensate-thinking)

SF (sensate-feeling)

NT (intuitive-thinking)

NF (intuitive-feeling)

While the NT and NF designators remain the same as in the Keirsey Temperament Model, it is interesting to note that instead of SP and SJ, ST and SF are used.

ST Learning Style: The key word is “directive”. Key terms associated with this type of learning style are: practical, matter-of-fact, work oriented, concept development, knowledge/skill, advance organizer. ST learners are lead, guided or managed by a teacher, aide, or programmed instruction, in sequential steps, in an organized way, to achieve individual or group goals determined by the instructor.

SF Learning Style: The key word associated with this learning style “interactive”. Key terms are: sympathetic, friendly, group harmony, cooperative learning, jigsaw, group investigation. SF learners need to be involved in face-to-face communication in interdependent and collaborative ways to achieve a common goal or outcome determined by themselves or by the instructor.

NT Learning Style: The key word associated with this learning style “thinking”. Key terms are: logical, ingenious, curious, inquiry, concept attainment, concept formation. NT learners actively process or mediate learning variables, frame hypotheses, experiment, seek solutions, or critique products to achieve individual or group goals established by themselves or by the instructor.



By Lea Edwards, Interventions for Health Promotion, Chapter 9, Health Education, 1981

The following are only a few assumptions about learning that tend to be recognized throughout education literature as fundamental to the planning of an education program. These assumptions came from the general field of educational philosophy.

Assumptions About Learning


  1. Persons at all ages have the potential to learn, with some learning faster than others. Age may or may not affect a person’s speed of learning, and individuals vary in way they like to learn.
  2. The individual experiencing a change process, such as a new learning situation, is likely to feel stress and confusion. Some anxiety often increases motivation to learn, but too much anxiety may cause fatigue, inability to concentrate, resentments, and other barriers to leaning. Learning is more comfortable and effective when the environmental conditions support open exchange, sharing of opinions, and problem-solving strategies. The atmosphere should foster trust and acceptance of different ideas and values.
  3. In the classroom the instructor facilitates learning by incorporating students’ experience, observations of others, and personal ideas and feelings. Exposure to varied behavior models and attitudes helps learners to clarify actions and beliefs that will aid in meeting their own learning goals.
  4. The depth of long-term learning may depend on the extent to which learners try to analyze, clarify, or articulate their experiences to others in their family, work or social groups. The depth of learning increases when new concepts and skills are useful in meeting current needs or problems. This allows for immediate application of the theory to a practical situation.
  5. An educational program may only provide one step in an individual’s progress toward acquiring new behaviors. The adoption of a new behavior depends on many factors. Some conditions predispose and individual to take a particular action, such as former knowledge and attitudes. Availability and access to resources, such as exercise or practice facilities, may enable a person to carry out new plans of actions. Other environmental conditions and family characteristics help to reinforce or hinder behavior changes.
  6. Learning improves when the learner is an active participant in the educational process. When selecting among several teaching methods, it is best to choose the method that allows the learning to become most involved. Using varied methods of teaching helps the learner maintain interest and may help to reinforce concepts without being repetitious.

In recent years teachers have found that many principles of adult learning also apply to children and adolescents. For example, adults and children prefer learning experiences that are participatory; they learn faster when new concepts are useful in their present as well as future lives. The roles of an educator for the young and elderly person is to assess the audience’s interest, current skills, and aims. This information then guides the structuring of a learning atmosphere and selection of methods most satisfying and effective for the learners.

Ten Principles of Learning


  1. We learn to do by doing.
  2. We learn to do what we do and not something else.
  3. Without readiness, learning is inefficient and may be harmful.
  4. Without motivation there can be no learning at all.
  5. For effective learning, responses must be immediately reinforced.
  6. Meaningful content is better learned and longer retained than less meaningful content.
  7. For the greatest amount of transfer learning, responses should be learned in the way they are going to be used.
  8. One’s response will vary according to how one perceives the situation.
  9. An individuals responses will vary according to the learning atmosphere.
  10. One does the only thing one can do given the physical inheritance, background, and present acting forces.



Cognitive Domain

The cognitive domain is knowledge or mind based. It has three practical instructional levels including fact, understanding, and application. The fact level is a single concept and uses verbs like define, identify, and list. The understanding level puts two or more concepts together. Typical verbs for this level include describe, compare andcontrast. The application level puts two or more concepts together to form something new. Typical verbs at this level include explain, apply, and analyze. Delivery in this domain is typically a lecture/presentation and the evaluation will be subjective and objective test items.

Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain is skill based. The student will produce a product. The three practical instructional levels include imitation, practice, and habit. The psychomotor domain is steeped in a demonstrationdelivery and the first level, imitation, will simply be a return of the demonstration under the watchful eye of the instructor. The practice level will be a proficiency building experience that may be conducted by the student without direct oversight of the instructor. The habit level is reached when the student can perform the skill in twice the time that it takes the instructor or an expert to perform. The delivery is demonstration and proficiency building in nature. The evaluation will be a performance or skill test. The content that is needed to be known to do the skill is cognitive and should be treated accordingly.

If you are unable to choose between cognitive and psychomotor, ask yourself the following:

  • Is speed a factor?
  • Is equipment other than four walls of a classroom and an overhead projector necessary?
  • Are you going to grade the activity in some way other than a paper/pencil test?

If you answer “yes” to any one of these three questions, the learning domain should be psychomotor.

If you are still undecided and this is an occupational area, select psychomotor because that is the predominant occupational program domain.

Affective Domain

The affective domain is based upon behavioral aspects and may be labeled as beliefs. The three levels in the domain are awareness, distinction, and integration. The verbs for this domain are generally limited to words like display, exhibit, and accept and these apply at all levels. The first two levels are really cognitive; integration is behavioral and requires the learner to evaluate and synthesize. The content in this domain will usually involve discussions. The testing in the first two levels will be cognitive, whereas the third level will require an affective checklist.


From “Getting the Most out of Your AIDS/HIV Trainings”
East Bay AIDS Education Training Center

Adapted from: California Nurses Association, AIDS Train the Trainer Program for Health Care Providers (1988)

“Treat Learners Like Adults”

  • Adults are people with years of experience and a wealth of information. Focus on the strengths learners bring to the classroom, not just gaps in their knowledge. Provide opportunities for dialogue within the group. Tap their experience as a major source of enrichment to the class. Remember that you, the teacher, do not need to have all the answers, as long as you know where to go or who to call to get the answers. Students can be resources to you and to each other.
  • Adults have established values, beliefs and opinions. Demonstrate respect for differing beliefs, religions, value systems and lifestyles. Let your learners know that they are entitled to their values, beliefs and opinions, but that everyone in the room may not share their beliefs. Allow debate and challenge of ideas.
  • Adults are people whose style and pace of learning has probably changed. Use a variety of teaching strategies such as small group problem solving and discussion. Use auditory, visual, tactile and participatory teaching methods. Reaction time and speed of learning may be slow, but the ability to learn is not impaired by age. Most adults prefer teaching methods other than lecture.
  • Adults relate new knowledge and information to previously learned information and experiences. Assess the specific learning needs of your audience before your class or at the beginning of the class. Present single concepts and focus on application of concepts to relevant practical situations. Summarize frequently to increase retention and recall. Material outside of the context of participants’ experiences and knowledge becomes meaningless.
  • Adults are people with bodies influenced by gravity. Plan frequent breaks, even if they are 2-minute “stretch” breaks. During a lecture, a short break every 45-60 minutes is sufficient. In more interactive teaching situations, breaks can be spaced 60-90 minutes apart.
  • Adults have pride. Support the students as individuals. Self-esteem and ego are at risk in a classroom environment that is not perceived as safe or supportive. People will not ask questions or participate in learning if they are afraid of being put down or ridiculed. Allow people to admit confusion, ignorance, fears, biases and different opinions. Acknowledge or thank students for their responses and questions. Treat all questions and comments with respect. Avoid saying “I just covered that” when someone asks a repetitive question. Remember, the only foolish question is the unasked question.
  • Adults have a deep need to be self-directing. Engage the students in a process of mutual inquiry. Avoid merely transmitting knowledge or expecting total agreement. Don’t “spoon-feed” the participants.
  • Individual differences among people increase with age. Take into account differences in style, time, types and pace of learning. Use auditory, visual, tactile and participatory teaching methods.
  • Adults tend to have a problem-centered orientation to learning. Emphasize how learning can be applied in a practical setting. Use case studies, problem solving groups, and participatory activities to enhance learning. Adults generally want to immediately apply new information or skills to current problems or situations.

Note: New information and skills must be relevant and meaningful to the concerns and desires of the students. Know what the needs are of individuals in your class. Students do not wish to learn what they will never use. The learning environment must by physically and psychologically comfortable.


To gain a better understanding of yourself as a learner, you need to evaluate the way you prefer to learn or process information. By doing so, you will be able to develop strategies which will enhance your learning potential. The following evaluation is a short, quick way of assessing your learning style. No studies have validated this inventory. Its main benefit is to get you to think about yourself, to consider learning alternatives; not to rigidly classify you.

This 24 item survey is not timed. Answer each question as honestly as you can.

NOTE! This page will not work with AOL’s browser. Please use IE or Netscape version 4 or better.

Instructions: Click on the appropriate button after each statement. After answering all questions, click on the Determine Style button below.





1. Can remember more about a subject through the lecture method with information, explanations and discussion.

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2. Prefer information to be presented the use of visual aids.

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3. Like to write things down or to take notes for visual review.

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4. Prefer to make posters, physical models, or actual practice and some activities in class.

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5. Require explanations of diagrams, graphs, or visual directions.

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6. Enjoy working with my hands or making things.

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7. Am skillful with and enjoy developing and making graphs and charts.

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8. Can tell if sounds match when presented with pairs of sounds.

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9. Remember best by writing things down several times.

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10. Can understand and follow directions on maps.

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11. Do better at academic subjects by listening to lectures and tapes as opposed to reading a textbook.

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12. Play with coins or keys in pockets.

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13. Learn to spell better by repeating the words out loud than by writing the word on papers.

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14. Can better understand a news article by reading about it in the paper than by listening to the radio.

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15. Chew gum, smoke, or snack during studies.

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16. Feel the best way to remember is to picture it in your head.

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17. Learn spelling by tracing the letters with my fingers.

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18. Would rather listen to a good lecture or speech than read about the same material in a textbook.

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19. Am good at working and solving jigsaw puzzles and mazes.

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20. Play with objects in hands during learning period.

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21. Remember more by listening to the news on the radio rather than reading about it in the newspaper.

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22. Obtain information on an interesting subject by reading relevant materials.

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23. Feel very comfortable touching others, hugging, handshaking, etc.

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24. Follow oral directions better than written ones.

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After answering each question, click on the button below.


If you are an AUDITORY learner, you may wish to use tapes. Tape lectures to help you fill in the gaps in your notes. But do listen and take notes, reviewing notes frequently. Sit in the lecture hall or classroom where you can hear well. After you have read something, summarize it and recite it aloud.

If your are a VISUAL learner, then by all means be sure that you look at all study materials. Use charts, maps, filmstrips, notes and flashcards. Practice visualizing or picturing words/concepts in your head. Write out everything for frequent and quick visual review.

If you are a TACTILE learner, trace words as you are saying them. Facts that must be learned should be written several times. Keep a supply of scratch paper for this purpose. Taking and keeping lecture notes will be very important. Make study sheets.

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