Dorina Reiz
Ontario Tech University


This chapter will discuss the application of learning theories and teaching methods in adult learning. The perspective of the advancement of technology and its integration in all fields of activity, local or global, demands that the workforce be equipped with knowledge transferable to current trends. The concepts of learning and teaching methods suitable for adult learning will be described in the information background. The learning theory that seems to be most appropriate for adult learning, “The Situated Learning,” will be discussed with the role of technology adoption and curriculum perspective along with difficulties the adult learner faces in the pursuit of education. In ending, this chapter will introduce a couple of applications currently used in adult education.


andragogy, principles of learning, situated cognition, social collaboration, learning experience


New perspectives in adult education continue to be driven by forces like the global economy, continuous development of technology, and demographics (Jarvis, 2011). Adult education fills out spaces in most educational institutions to cover the need to reshape and actualize learners into the trending needs. The global forces like the global economy and society demand knowledge and skill. Also, as the population ages, more adults feel determined to add expertise or perfect new skills involving technology and means of collaboration. The digital age and the adoption of Web 2.0 has created an accessible environment for adult education in all formats, from completing primary schooling to advancing careers and adding new skills in tune with the times. Mobile learning has gained a strong adoption among adult learners as technology is used in all fields and domains of activity and personal life management. Participating in synchronous classes and watching pre-recorded content at available times makes learning assimilation easier.

Background Information

Adult education or adult learning is based on individual concepts of personal realization and the need to add more knowledge to self-advance or personal growth. Andragogical methods of teaching (Huang, 2002) or the art of teaching adults draw inspiration from theories such as constructivism, learner builds on existing knowledge, connectivism, by drawing accurate, reliable knowledge using technology, and humanism, the learner-centric style meeting the learner needs.

Andragogy (Knowles, 1970) or self-directed learning involves learners that are adults aiming for independence from some predetermined content of study, using personal experience with the purpose of efficiency and personal growth, task-oriented directing motivation to a successful outcome. Heutagogy, or self-determined learning, is a holistic approach to learning and self-reflection (Blaschke, 2012). The learner can acquire knowledge and assimilate skills and then use creativity to produce a change in new and unpredictable situations and work in a group.

Principles of Learning

Adult learning could rely on most theories of learning conceptually applicable to all levels of learners (Cranton, 2010). Specific principles to adult learning could be applied based on assessment from the perspectives of how the learner views the subject’s importance, teaching format, and subject content. The adult learner has needs and reasons to adopt new learning and could be categorized as 1. Adults have the urge to add knowledge (how learning will happen, why it is essential, what is from the course that it is of quality, where or who is it offering to have a sense of approval and validation (Hagen & Park, 2016; Knowles, 1970)). 2. Self-directed learning is a concept based on the idea that adults are involved in multiple roles in their lives; therefore, they can make education an intrinsic part of their lives and a characteristic of adulthood, referring to needs assessment (Hagen & Park, 2016). 3. Adults have the self-experience benefit (equipped with a wealth of personal and professional experience, the adult learner is a base for new knowledge creation, aiding in learning and retaining knowledge for self or group learning (Knowles, 1970)). 4. Adults possess a readiness to learn (also meaning the desire to learn) concept based on a development schema such as the self-experience benefit. In this case, the learner sees the need to advance to the new schema or develop skills and knowledge to a current and evolved state (Hagen & Park, 2016; Knowles, 1970). 5. Another skill well set in adults is problem-solving (or immediacy of application of knowledge as it is based on the additional load to the schema of self-experience). 6. Lastly, adults are driven by motivation (professional development, life-long learning).

Developing and administering adult education progress can be made by considering perspectives like learner-centric, process geared to need, educator views and teaching style, and the context in which learning is provided to adults (Kiely et al., 2004).

Situated Learning Theory (SLT)

The situated cognition theory is the most suitable learning theory for an adult learning environment introduced by Jean Lave (1991). It implies that learning happens contextually, and, in the process, the theory is inseparable from practical application. Learning also occurs in a community of practice adding the aspect of “Sociocultural Learning” (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Life examples like learning to play music, sports, on-the-job-training, field trips, skill simulation, virtual reality games, food making, food-producing and more.

Curriculum Perspective

In adult education curriculum needs to be integrated with the real-world applications where the learner can fulfill their primary interest to engage in the process of assimilation of knowledge. Referring to the theory of Situated Learning, the curriculum must be geared to companies and business needs for hiring and onboarding talent capable of merging and morphing into the constant demands for change. Role of Technology and Adoption. Over the past decades, technology has evolved significantly. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to operate without today’s tools to access and process information. Young adults born in the era of the Net generation (“Prensky-Keynote Topics,” 2022) use technology intuitively. Learning happens constantly, access to technology is ubiquitous, and resources are available at a fingertip touch. “Digital Natives” learners born in the technology abundant era of “Digital Immigrants” learners who adopted or created technology (terms introduced by Mark Prensky (2001)) learn with technology, think, and work with technology. Technology affords learners visual access to information, spatial skills, discovery ability, speed in switching from one task to another, and quick feedback. Technology permits learners vast connectivity, making them part of a large community with similar interests. It allows learning to become experiential by using gaming experience, working in teams, and being inclusive and social (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005).

Difficulties in Pursuing Adult Learning

While access to a self-directed style of learning and involvement in current trends in technology, the adult learner is typically involved in full-time jobs and life obligations. Time is one of the most challenging commodities to have at hand. Adult learner tends to self-doubt and considers the cost of education a financial burden (Tough, 1979).

The adult learner may be an inexperienced technology user making adoption of knowledge slow or discouraging. The instructor may need to adopt a role focusing on digital literacy specific to the topic (Kobrin et al., 2021). Technology adoption may be an issue for the individuals providing education, such as the educators and the administrators considering new ways of teaching as uneasy, outside comfort level.

Online self-served adult education poses issues related to learners’ isolation. Even the highest level of online presentation of content reduces learners’ ability to engage due to technology constraints. The fundamental role of the educator is the role of a facilitator, causing an issue of resistance among faculties to the dissemination of knowledge online (Rubenson, 2011).

Applications of Theories of Learning in Adult Education

Currently, adult education is viewed as an investment with returns in vocational training going far beyond the traditional formats of instructor lead classes. The success of an individual is all about their ability to morph into a qualified, able participant in the growth and development of an organization. Modern online technologies can afford learners an environment of meaningful engagement to articulate previous knowledge and opinions, reflect on new content, construct new meaning, and collect results. From the beginning of Web 2.0, sources of information and learning have become easily accessible.

Inspired By Informational Technology

Project Management

One of the methods of adult learning and teaching based on the constructivist approach is the popular Agile project management style based on Agile software development born at the end of the nineties (“Agile Software Development,” 2022) as a form of response to unexpected disparities between the fundamental practices of engineering in the face of introducing software engineering and implementing technology. Agile, as defined in English vocabulary as nimble or responsive (Wufka & Ralph, 2015), started as a project management style implemented by software development firms as a need to effectively lead all members of a project in consecutive participation at a project both customers and developers, where changes should be made as they are needed. The end-user is thoroughly involved in the process, and decisions are made as the project dictates a timely. Agile project management style introduced the term Scrum, a software development process(“Agile Software Development,” 2022). The process enlists a project manager with the duty to orchestrate the project by facilitating each initiative or “sprint” necessary tools and information to attain the goals timely and constructively ( Manage Scrum Processes in the Real World, 2015)

Instructional Design

An instructional system design (ISD) model is fundamentally based on Bruner’s theory of constructivism. As Bruner states, “learners are encouraged to discover facts and relationships for themselves” (Jerome Bruner Quote, n.d.). ADDIE is a form of web-based training used in professional development corporate training and provides context for the most necessary needs of the student interested in adopting the learning. The concept introduces a series of essential steps in delivering this type of adult education: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation (Koneru, 2010). As the need for information literacy programmes increases, adult students can advance through web-enabled lectures and tutorials. The concept serves as a needs-based analysis cascading into the next step, where the result of the preceding is the input to the following step. ADDIE requires the instructor to assess learners’ needs and goals, design specific learning objectives and modalities of accessing content, develop content, facilitate access over the web, and evaluate assimilated knowledge (Koneru, 2010). This comprehensive custom learning environment aims to promote adult learners’ adoption of general skills like problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and information skills and gain value in social participation.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

All theories of learning apply to adult learning. Advancements in technology and changes dictated by progress, whether at the local or global level, will demand new or updated skills. Adult learner will be more present on the education scene than before with the availability of online courses. Educators will have to consider the unique characteristics of adult learner as they learn to build on existing knowledge; the learner is selective to what is meaningful and important to them and learns by problem-based approach in direct application to personal relevancy.

Educators’ competency must align to relevant knowledge and practice, create an open environment for communication and participation and be flexible to incorporate the need of the individual learners. Most workplaces will use and fund various forms of education and quality assurance, from onboarding guidance to safety training to upgrade the skills of their employees.


5 Tips to Manage Scrum Processes in the Real World. (2015, March 10). Cprime.

Agile software development. (2022). In Wikipedia.

Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56.

Cranton, P. (2010). Adult Learning and Instruction: Transformative Learning Perspectives. In P. Peterson, E. Baker, & B. McGaw (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition) (Third Edition, pp. 18–24). Elsevier.

Jarvis, P. (2011). Adult education and the changing international scene: Theoretical perspectives. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 20, 37–50.

Jerome Bruner Quote. (n.d.). A-Z Quotes.

Kiely, R., Sandmann, L. R., & Truluck, J. (2004). Adult learning theory and the pursuit of adult degrees. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2004(103), 17–30.

Knowles, M. S. (1970). The Modern Practice of Adult Education; Andragogy versus Pedagogy.

Kobrin, J., Nicole Bullock, P.-G., Gierke, J., & Heil, C. (2021). Adult Educators Adopting Technology in Their Classrooms Through Innovation, Collaboration, and Inquiry. Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, 3(1), 49–54.

Koneru, I. (2010). ADDIE: Designing Web-enabled Information Literacy Instructional Modules. DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 30(3), 23–34.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation (p. 138). Cambridge University Press.

Oblinger, D., & Oblinger, J. L. (Eds.). (2005). Educating the net generation [Electronic resource]. EDUCAUSE.

Prensky-Keynote Topics. (2022, January 30). Marc Prensky–EMPOWERED!

Rubenson, K. (Ed.). (2011). Adult Learning and Education (1st edition). Academic Press.

Tough, A. (n.d.). The Adult’s Learning Projects. A Fresh Approach to Theory and Practice in Adult Learning.

Wufka, M., & Ralph, P. (2015). Explaining Agility with a Process Theory of Change. 2015 Agile Conference, 60–64.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2022 Copyright © 2022 by Dorina Reiz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book