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6 Principles that motivate adults in learning

Adult Learning, also known as “Andragogy“, was pioneered by Malcolm Knowles between the 50’s and the 70’s. He identified six adult learning principles, which state that Adults:

  1. Are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Bring life experiences, and knowledge, to their learning experiences
  3. Are goal oriented
  4. Are relevancy oriented
  5. Are practical
  6. Like to be respected

This knowledge has the power of helping you stay engaged while learning new things/tricks/skills.

Let’s go through the principles one by one:

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

This means adults do things that they have come to believe are important for them, not what others think is important.

How can you use this in your favor? Whenever deciding to acquire a new piece of knowledge, in any form, try drawing a mental picture of how you might use that knowledge.

This is much easier said than done. Many of us are so self-sufficient that we trick ourselves into believing we know “all” there is to know about something, or at least enough to dismiss new material before we have even taken a look at it.

In those cases, I find it very useful to re-frame that overconfidence as an excellent opportunity to find more about other perspectives on the subject, and that way I can make my own ideas stronger. This involves questioning those views and using my ideas, or knowledge, to defeat them, which may, or may not, result in re-evaluating my beliefs, or structuring them better.

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to their learning experiences

As we grow older, we also tend to grow wiser and more experienced. We use this knowledge and experience to relate to the things we are about to learn.

You can use this principle by trying to fit the new knowledge into your own experiences: what would you have done differently?, how could you have benefited from that expertise back when you had those experiences? This will also align with the first principle as this will help you get motivated to learn.

3. Adults are goal oriented

When we are growing up, our learning topics tend to be grouped, hence learning on a subject-oriented manner. As we start entering adulthood, we become more problem-oriented, so we want to learn things that will help us solve specific problems.

That’s why self-development products are so successful: we identify a problem or opportunity for improvement, and we actively want to gain knowledge on how to tackle it.

4. Adults are relevancy-oriented

Adults are most interested in learning matters that are immediately relevant to their life.

But don’t be too quick to discard things that might appear irrelevant to your current situation, or problems. Remember what we mentioned before, about how you can visualize and project yourself facing new issues in the future, and thus get the internal motivation to learn something new in the present, so you can solve problems when they come.

5. Adults are practical

When we’re about to learn something, we want to be pragmatic: we need to know in advance what’s in it for us.

If this information is not given promptly, you can always look for it, or even ask. It truly depends on how you’re doing the learning.

If it’s a non-fiction book, try looking at the conclusions, you might even decide to avoid the book altogether. If it’s a skill-based course, ask to see some of the previous students’ achievements.

6. Adult learners like to be respected

As adults, we value our self-concept, and it’s very easy to dismiss new information if we believe our knowledge and experience are not being respected by whoever is providing the new information.

You can benefit from this principle by internalizing this: no one benefits more than you from learning something new. So if someone struggles communicating something respectfully, or gracefully, try to filter out the message and ignore the form it’s coming in.

Let me know in the comments section if you want me to expand on any of these. I’ll be more than happy to do so.

This post is an extracted adaptation from one of the chapters of my book: Become Super Productive.

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