Adult Learning Style Preferences

Adult Learning StyleWhat Is Learning Style?

Learning Style is a composite of the cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment.

Learning Style Preferences

Learning Style Preferences are preferred methods of learning for an individual. Most adult learners develop a learning preference that is based on previous learning experiences. An assessment of the learner’s learning style is an essential step prior to implementing training because it will help determine which instructional strategies will best meet the needs of the learner thereby making the training effective. The most frequently used method of classifying adult learning styles is in describing visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

Visual Learners

Visual learners gain knowledge best by seeing or reading what you’re trying to teach. Visual learners need to read, see, watch and observe information. Their eyes are the key to learning. They would rather read than be read to. Text, Pictures and images help them understand ideas and information better than oral explanations. If a visual learner is to master a skill, written instructions must be provided. Visual learners will read and follow the directions as they work and their learning is further enhanced with pictures and images. Visual learners account for approximately 65% of adult learners.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners gain knowledge best by listening. They need to hear information. Their ears are the key to learning. Auditory learners prefer to hear the message or instruction being given. Adults with this learning style remember oral instructions well and prefer someone else read the directions to them while they do the physical work or task. These adult learners prefer to have someone talk them through a process, rather than reading about it first. Auditory learners account for approximately 30% of adult learners.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners gain knowledge best by touching, moving, and doing. These learners need to interact with information. Their hands and bodies are the key to learning. They want to sense the position and movement of the skill or task. These adult learners generally do not like lecture or discussion classes, but prefer those that allow them to perform a hands-on task. These adult learners do well learning a physical skill when there are materials available for hands-on practice. Kinesthetic learners account for approximately 5% of adult learners.

The Implications of Adult Learning Theory on Instructional Design for Workplace Training

AndragogyAdult learning theory primarily focuses on how adults learn. It is founded on the assumptions that adult learners concentrate more on the processes rather than contents. This is because adults bring in real life experiences to the learning environment. Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913-1997) had a significant influence on the field of adult education. He was determined to discuss the fact that adults learn differently than children and thus bringing in the concept of andragogy (Knowles, 1984).

Andragogy, as defined by Malcolm S. Knowles (1984), is a theory based on the psychological definition of adult, which states that people become adults psychologically when they arrive at a self-concept of being responsible for their own lives, of being self-directing.

Basing andragogy on six assumptions about the adult learner, Knowles distinguished andragogy, or the art and science of helping adults learn, from other areas of education, especially pedagogy, the art and science of helping children learn.

The six assumptions underlying andragogy, as theorized by Knowles, are 1) self-concept, 2) experience, 3) readiness to learn depends on need, 4) problem centered focus, 5) internal motivation, and 6) adults need to know why they need to know something (as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007):

1)    Self concept.  Self concept refers to an adult becoming more self-directed and independent as he/she matures.  Adults typically want to choose what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn.  This assumption means that educators can provide more choices for learners, such as allowing them to design their own tests, and/or providing a collaborative learning environment that foster mutual respect.

2)    Experience.  Adult learners have a wealth of life experiences that they bring with them into new learning experiences. Because of this, they are able to contribute richness to class discussions and are considered valuable resources for learning from and with each other.  Some of the experiences, though, may cause misinformation or biases related to the new learning and must be clarified so as not to cause a barrier to the new learning.

3)    Readiness to learn depends on need.  Whether or not an adult is ready to learn depends on what they need to know in order to deal with life situations.  Life situations that compel adults to learn include such things as learning to care for a child who has been diagnosed with a disease, or learning to cook healthy meals to prevent health risks.

4)    Problem centered focus.  Adults need to see the immediate application of learning.  Therefore, they seek learning opportunities that will enable them to solve problems.

5)    Internal motivation.  Adults will seek learning opportunities due to some external motivators, but the more potent motivators (self-esteem, better quality of life, self-actualization, etc.) are internal.

6)    Adults need to know why they need to learn something.  Adults need to know what’s in it for them – how this new knowledge will solve a problem or be immediately applied.

An effective training program takes into consideration the principles of adult learning. When designing a training program, instructional designers understand that it is important for adults to know why they are in the training and to be able to apply the training to real life situations.

It is also important for adult learners to exercise their own personal decisions in the course of the activity.  Participants should be asked to volunteer to share their ideas or their reactions. Another thing to consider is that adults have already experienced so much of life and that these experiences should be respected and recognized as an important resource to be used in the activity. In a training program, the previous experiences of the participants can be used to enrich their ideas.  New skills or knowledge taught in the training can be related to their previous experiences.

Adults also come into training because they want to learn, which means that the training should be designed to include an activity that would encourage the participants to actively participate in the training program, such as role-playing and hands-on activities.

Adult learners find meaning in what they learn if they know that it can help them become a better person, thus a training program that tries to teach participants technical skills should do so in such a way that participants feel that it is an important life skill, and when training for skills like communication, conflict management or teamwork, the orientation of the activity should always be geared towards enriching the quality of interpersonal relationships.

Finally, adults are internally motivated to learn.  Because of this, the training facilitator should explain to the participants the importance of the training and what it will do for them in the long term. Recognizing their ideas, affirming their opinions and letting them share and be listened to are great motivators.

Adult learning styles should also be taken into consideration when designing training. Adult learning styles are a composite of the cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment.  Included in this definition are perceptual modalities, information processing styles, and personality patterns.

Kolb & Fry’s Learning Style Inventory theorizes that adult learners develop preferences for different learning styles in the same way that they develop any other sort of style, i.e. – management, leadership, negotiating etc.  The four predominant styles are:

  • Active experimentation (simulations, case study, homework). If this if the preferred style of the learner then she is an Activist – what’s new? I’m game for anything.
  • Reflective observation (logs, journals, brainstorming).  If this if the preferred style of the learner then he is a Reflector – I’d like time to think about this.
  • Abstract conceptualization (lecture, papers, analogies).  If this if the preferred style of the learner then she is a Theorist – How does this relate to that?
  • Concrete experience (laboratories, field work, observations). If this if the preferred style of the learner then he is a Pragmatist – How can I apply this in practice?

Adult learning style preferences are the preferred method of learning for the individual adult. These preferences include visual learners who gain knowledge best by seeing or reading what you’re trying to teach; auditory learners who gain knowledge best by listening; and kinesthetic learners who gain knowledge best by touching, moving, and doing.

Through awareness of adult learning theory, andragogy, adult learning principles, and adult learning styles, instructional designers can develop a myriad of learning (and teaching) methods that will enable employees to work to their fullest potential.  Adult learning principles can help us understand our own learning styles or tendencies.  We can use this information to develop alternate learning styles so that we can take control of any learning situation.


Knowles, M. S. & Associates. (1984).  Andragogy in Action.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007).  Learning in adulthood:  A comprehensive guide  (3rd ed.).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Instructional Design Templates

The following templates are sample documents that already have some details of the instructional design process in place. These templates can be adapted to meet the needs of your training. Once the templates are completed, you can edit, save and manage the result as a Microsoft Word document.

Project Description-Goal and Timeline Template (.DOC)

This template includes a brief executive summary in a business format that clarifies your project to organizational members. These may be staff members within the organization who are not aware of your project or its scope. You may need these individuals and their support. This template includes:

  • A project title
  • Organizational need that identifies the performance problem and why training is an appropriate solutionPreview of the learners template document
  • A written statement of the instructional goal for this project.
  • Project description
  • A project timeline that lists a projected completion date for each step of the instructional design process

Instructional Analysis Template (.DOC)

This template includes information about the subject training and the learners. It includes: includes:

  • A learner and context analysis that 1) is thorough, 2) is based on direct information, and 3) uses the information gathered to prescribe training activities
  • A task analysis that is 1) accurate, 2) complete, 3) arranged in a hierarchical (outlined) format, and 4) is based on outside research, and lists sources of information used.
  • A  list of instructional goals (for the overall training topic and for each main task).


Instructional Plan Template (.DOC)

This template includes a design document or “blueprint” for the training program that

  • Clearly describes the sequence of training activities,
  • Classifies each activity as one of the “events of instruction”,
  • Is coherent and congruent,
  • Labels the instructional approaches and media to be used, and
  • Is clearly consistent with the relevant foundation theories.

Instructor Guide Sample Template (.DOC)

This template provides the format and lists the required information for an instructor-led training. Use the template as a starting point for developing your guide.

Formative Evaluation TemplateFormative Evaluation Checklist for Evaluator (.DOC), and Formative Evaluation Form for Evaluator (.DOC)

This template will require you to select three reviewers for triangulation. It includes:

  • A description of the reviewers and methods used to gather information from them. Enough specific comments and suggestions from a triangulated set of reviewers.
  • A summary of the comments and suggestions that 1) references the comments and suggestions by page number, and 2) clearly indicates your decisions about incorporating the suggestions.
  • The “raw data” from the reviewers is to be kept in your project binder.
  • Each reviewer should be asked to answer the following questions about your project:
  • Are the instructional materials appropriate for the identified learning outcome?
  • Are the instructional materials sequenced and clustered in a logical manner?
  • Are the instructional materials and instructor’s guide clear and easily understood?
  • Is the time frame allocated for each instructional activity reasonable?
  • Are the evaluation tools appropriate to measure learning outcome?


What is a Task Analysis?

The ADDIE Instructional Design Model: Discussion of the Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate Phases

This video discusses the events that take place during the Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate phases of the ADDIE Instructional Design Model.  For more information on the ADDIE Model, please click the following link:

The Analyze Phase of the ADDIE Instructional Design Model


This video provides a brief overview of the Analysis Phase of the ADDIE Instructional Design Model.  Click here to learn more about conducting an instructional analysis

Workplace Training and Development

The workplace is progressively becoming a place where organizations can foster, enhance, and encourage the potential and capabilities of employees.  One way in which organizations foster these talents is by implementing training and development programs with the goal of preparing employees to better meet the challenges of today’s competitive workplace.  However, unless training programs are carefully designed and developed, such programs are unlikely to meet the demands of the competitive workforce as well as the needs of the employees and the needs of the organization.

Designing a Training Program

When designing a training program, it is important to keep in mind that the goal of training is for the employees to acquire new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes (KSA).   A good training program must be detailed enough to meet the goals of the organization with comprehensible specifications of the purpose and goals of the training program.  Any effective training program must have specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART) goals in which a clear definition of the goals is communicated to the employees (learners).  The employees’ needs are determined in the context of the nature of work.  It is also very important for the management to define the goals of the training program to make sure that the training program is aligned to the organizational values.  The content of the training program as well as the learner activity, which is central to communicating the course content, is very necessary and should be determined prior to the start of the course.   

Training Evaluation

The success of a training program is not entirely dependent on organization and the content of training, but rather, on the execution and follow up after the training.  This is where evaluation of the success of the training program comes in.  It is imperative that management obtains  feedback for the training from the participants (employees).

By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development

HRD Is Essential to an Organization’s Overall Corporate Strategy

Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) refers to the future aspirations and plans of the organization with regard to human capital. SHRM includes efforts on behalf of the management that employ a course of action for the recruitment and professional development of human capital and the alignment of worker interests with strategic organizational objectives.

Expectations from Human Capital

It is essential for an organization to bring together its fundamental business activities and objectives with its expectations from human capital in order to realize an integrated plan for training requirements. One way to accomplish an increase in performance levels on the whole is through  entrustment and empowerment at subordinate levels. Therefore, a necessity for SHRM is an extremely qualified and empowered group of individuals focusing on the training needs of the entire organization.

An organization’s operation depends on the capability of its employees to think and perform. To assure success, organizations have been persistent in developing and their human capital. The need to continuously develop human capital made human resource development one of the main focuses of research and investment by the corporate world in order to enhance competency and stay abreast of the rapid changes in the environment.

Delivering and Implementing Effective, Efficient, and Appealing Training Processes

The human resource development (HRD) department of an organization also places its focus on training and development in the creation and sustenance of the required skills, knowledge, and attitudes (SKA) that help in the achievement of the organization’s strategic objectives. HRD may be described as bringing out the best out of every worker through systematic instruction and continued professional development and thus creating synergies at every level of the organization.

The responsibility of the HRD department is to deliver and implement effective, efficient, and appealing training processes. In order to accomplish this, the HRD professional must comprehend the intellectual aptitudes of the organization’s workforce together with the  appropriateness of a specific training course.  By conducting an instructional analysis, the HRD professional is able to define what learners must be able to do once they have completed the training.  An instructional analysis ensures that the course will:

  • Incorporate all information and steps that learners will need to know
  • Leave out information and steps that learners already know
  • Leave out information and steps that learners don’t need to know

The more accurate the instructional analysis, the easier the training will be for the learners.  Some employees need a great deal of support or encouragement when using new skills or applying new knowledge. Others must relearn skills in a safe environment. HRD professionals and managers can work together to facilitate individual development thereby building strengths and managing weaknesses. Their efforts improve performance and assure that the cost of learning new skills gives the organization a return on investment (ROI).


HRD needs to be a component of an organization’s overall corporate strategy (SHRM) to ensure the quality of its human capital, which can be greatly enhanced through the effective, efficient, and appealing training it delivers and implements.

By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development

The Instructional Design Process

Instructional Development or Instructional Design (ID) is training design. ID is associated with the systematic approach of analyzing human performance problems, identifying the underlying causes of those problems or gaps in performance, choosing solutions that address performance gaps, and implementing interventions such as training, performance support tools, organizational restructure, and employee reward programs.

According to Gilley, Eggland, and Gilley (1989), the instructional design process consists of seven interrelated phases with each phase serving as a basis for the others. The seven phases are philosophy of teaching and learning; organizational, performance, and needs analysis; feedback; program design; program development; evaluation; and accountability.

The Seven Phases of Instructional Design

Instructional Development or Instructional Design (ID) is training design. ID is associated with the systematic approach of analyzing human performance problems, identifying the underlying causes of those problems or gaps in performance, choosing solutions that address performance gaps, and implementing interventions such as training, performance support tools, organizational restructure, and employee reward programs.

So that instructional designers can perform their jobs effectively with the available information, they adopt models of the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) process. The ISD process is a systematic approach to teaching. It considers the environment in which learners are expected to perform, characteristics of the learners, and characteristics of the learning environment that could impact the effectiveness of the instruction. ISD is also a series of steps that explore the purpose and delivery method of the instruction and facilitate its effectiveness through formative evaluation and careful implementation. The IDS method helps ensure that the instruction will actually be able to solve an identified problem or achieve a desired organizational goal.

According to Gilly, Eggland, and Gilley (1989), the instructional design process consists of seven interrelated phases with each phase serving as a basis for the others. The seven phases are philosophy of teaching and learning; organizational, performance, and needs analysis; feedback; program design; program development; evaluation; and accountability.

Phase 1: Philosophy of teaching and learning

Phase 1 includes the identification of the instructional designer’s own personal training style and the learning styles of participants to assure that the most appropriate training style will be used for a diverse group of learners.

Phase 2: Organizational, performance, and needs analysis

When you wish to improve organizational performance or resolve a problem that has been observed or brought to the attention of members of an organization, a performance analysis is warranted. The initiative behind a performance analysis is to review the system, recognize a need, assemble an evaluation (measurement instrument) that identifies the objective, choose the intervention, and then develop content and context that will close or significantly narrow the gap between the need and the objective.

Phase 3: Feedback

The feedback process ensures that the chosen intervention will be supported and promoted by others in the organization. The feedback process helps build necessary and influential partnerships within the organization, improving the operation of Human Resource Development (HRD) and securing the future of learning in the organization.

Phase 4: Program design

The design phase is based on the information discovered in the needs analysis phase and should include learner characteristics, knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSA) requirements, causes of the performance deficiencies, and task analysis.

Phase 5: Program development

During the program development phase, the designed intervention is translated into actual training materials and strategies. The out puts for this phase include lesson plans, instructional strategies, instructional media, and learner materials.

Phase 6: Evaluation

The purpose of this phase is to determine if the program accomplished its objectives in helping participants develop adequate KSAs used to improve their performance or to implement appropriate organizational changes. Each intervention should be evaluated to determine whether the appropriate design was used, the instructional designer developed the intervention properly, and the intervention was implemented appropriately.

Phase 7: Accountability

During the accountability phase, instructional designers use the information gathered in the evaluation phase to implement necessary changes. The learner, the organization, the manager, the instructional designer, and the facilitator are held accountable for their actions during this phase.


Gilley, J., Eggland, S., and Gilley, A. M. (1989). Principles of human resource development. New York, NY: Basic Books.