Adult Learning: Learning For The Matured

Do you want to know more about adult learning? You have come to the right place. Gaining new skills and knowledge is not restricted to children of school age. As such, adult learning should not be seen as abnormal.

As you grow older, you will often discover that there is a lot more knowledge out there for you to acquire.

Also, adult learning is different from normal early childhood learning. This is because as an adult, your brain is already developed, and it is harder to learn new things compared to a child.

However, becoming better puts an onus on adults to keep learning. Moreso, if you put your heart into it, there is always a means.

This article explains the concept of adult learning, its characteristics, challenges, and the methods involved in adult learning. Kindly read along.

Definition Of Adult Learning

It is simply defined as a process in which adults acquire new knowledge, skills, values, or attitudes through a systematic or self-educating process.

It is also known as adult education and can be any form of learning by adults that goes beyond the traditional school setting.

Adult learners are not aiming to be literate; rather, they are proactively giving themselves to personal development.

Types of Adult Learning

Adult learning or education can be divided into three major types;

1. Formal adult education

This type of adult learning operates in a traditional school setting where the teacher does most of the lecturing in a classroom while the students listen.

Curriculums, teaching aids, assignments, and projects are tools used to help learners acquire more knowledge. Lastly, this form of learning comes with a certificate.

2. Non-formal adult education

Most non-formal learning institutions do not guarantee certification to their students. An example is online courses.

In some informal settings, the students are like apprentices and they tend to learn new skills by following their teachers’ actions.

An example of non-formal education includes practical vocational studies and workplace training.

3. Informal adult education

This form of adult learning goes beyond the walls of any institution. An adult will always learn from his or her experiences as well as the experiences of other people.

The environment can also be a form of educational insight for adults. Most adults often learn from the people around them in their places of work, families, and close associates.

Adult Learning Theories

It is very important to understand the concept of adult learning and there is no better way to do that than to know the logic behind it. Let’s take a look at adult learning theories.

1. Theory Of Education

Eduard Lindeman was the first scholar to share a detailed opinion on adult learning. He mentioned in his theory of education that education is a life-long process.

This simply means that the environment is subject to change and this requires people to constantly adapt to that change by learning and updating their skills, knowledge, and experiences.

He also felt that adult learning is beyond gaining new skills, but developing themselves and adult learning should be seen as a tool for people to find purpose outside the normal work life.

Improving society was another goal of adult education to Lindeman, who felt conduct and cultural knowledge should be enhanced through adult learning.

3. Andragogy

Another concept developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1968 was andragogy. This adult learning theory outlines the characteristics of adult learners and why they are different from children.

His principles simply explained that adult learners are very different from children because of their level of experience and maturity which will always affect how they learn.

Knowles in his theory acknowledged that andragogy is the art and science of getting adults to learn by building on their characteristics which include using their experiences to create new knowledge. This makes learning more effective.

Andragogy encourages lots of hands-on projects and experience as well as fewer instructions so they can use their knowledge to handle things on their own.

Key Assumptions In Andragogy

1. Adult learner experience

Using experience to learn makes it even more effective. This is because experience can be shared among others including students and teachers.

2. Self-Concept

Adult learners are said to be more dependent than children who would always need the guidance of their teachers. The presence of a teacher during the adult learning process is less influential compared to the learning process of children.

3. Motivation to learn

Adults are more motivated to learn than children. This is because adults see it as a means of self-development which has its advantages, unlike children who see it as an obligation based on external factors like parents and society.

4. Learning orientation

It is easier for adult learners to enjoy learning when it is based on their experiences. Adult learning also requires practical classes with everyday life experiences which aim to solve daily problems.

The theory and concepts of adult learning explain why it is quite different from other forms of learning, and this will bring us to the characteristics of adult learners.

What Are The Characteristics of Adult Learners?

Adult learners have some characteristics which are peculiar to them. Some of them include:

1. Goal-oriented

Adult learners are goal chasers. By embarking on a learning process, they have a goal and an ambition to achieve. They tend to be more focused because they have a goal to accomplish.

2. Independence

Adult learners are very independent and self-reliant. They like to retain a level of control over the knowledge they aim to acquire. Furthermore, they do not like to be restricted and this is because adults like having choices.

3. Result oriented

Just as they are goal-oriented, adults are also keen on getting the right results. These sets of results are short-term objectives that are used to achieve a long-term goal.

4. Learning style

Adults prefer a practical learning style to a theoretical learning style where the teacher does a lot of talking.

Practical lessons help adult learners to apply their experiences and put them into practice.

5. Responsibilities

Unlike younger learners who do not have any responsibilities, most adult learners have personal affairs to tackle.

Family, work, raising kids, and community service will always be a factor for adults when it comes to allocating time for learning. Not only are they responsible for others in their immediate circle, but they are also responsible for themselves.

7. Physical challenges and limitations

As an adult advances in years, there is a chance that the body may not be as active as it used to be and this can affect the learning process. This ranges from difficulties in reading small fonts and computer screens to having a short attention span when learning is ongoing.

What Are The Challenges of Adult Learning?

As beneficial and productive as adult learning is, it comes with its challenges. Part of the learning process involves understanding these challenges and overcoming them. Some of the challenges include;

1. Dwindling Motivation

Adults have many responsibilities, and the need to learn is often a result of necessity.

A high percentage of adult learners are learning to improve their career ranking or job prospect. For example, obtaining a master’s degree for a work promotion.

Sometimes, responsibilities may weigh them down and discourage them from going further in their learning.

2. Time Constraints

There is always a need to carry out different tasks in adult life. Such activities could involve attending to families, friends, or work commitments. Amidst all these, adult learning can be difficult.

It gets more challenging when the education is class-bound and not flexible. In this situation, learning might become the least priority in an adult’s life. This challenge is easily overcome by opting for flexible learning, like part-time, online, or distance learning.

3. Financial Constraints

This is always an issue in every adult’s mind when it comes to formal or non-formal adult education. After considering the bills and feeding, adult education might feel like an extravagant expense.

For example, pursuing a postgraduate degree is very expensive, and with other financial responsibilities, a person can procrastinate the need to obtain one and eventually give up the idea.

This challenge is quite difficult to overcome, yet there are solutions. For a relevant education to one’s career, an individual can ask the employer for education sponsorship.

One can also opt for the cheapest learning option with a budget or seek scholarships.

4. Societal Stereotype

In some societies, education (formal) is seen as a thing for only the younger generation. This makes it difficult for the older generation to seek education, especially at the basic level.

In other words, societal stereotype is a form of discrimination and can negatively affect the motivation to learn among adults.

The main avenue for addressing this challenge is societal sensitization on adult education. This sensitization can be achieved by the government, NGOs, and private institutions.

5. Anxiety and Undue Pressure

Many adults seek out education to boost their careers which often pressurizes them.

Adults have a higher likelihood of worrying about their educational outcomes than children. They also understand the sacrifice they are making, in terms of finance and time, so they want a positive outcome. This pressure can result in anxiety.

Returning to school after several years can also be hard for an adult. It may not be easy when the individual learns with the younger generation. It can also result in undue pressure and anxiety.

This challenge can be tackled by counseling and opting for less-difficult learning options like distance or online learning.

Methods of Adult Learning

Adults learn differently from children, and they are often autonomous with broader viewpoints on different issues.

Regardless of the point of view and directness to learning, every adult has a style of processing information. These styles have resulted in different learning methods.

1. Visual Learning

It entails learning and obtaining information from images. These images could be PowerPoints, graphs, flipcharts, graphics, and videos. Adult learners that use this method can make connections and predictions in visual or spatial relationships.

2. Auditory Learning

It entails learning by hearing information. About 30% of adults are auditory learners, and they can retain up to 75% of anything they hear. This learning involves utilizing traditional classroom learning, lectures, speeches, and podcasts.

3. Kinaesthetic Learning

It involves learning by carrying out a task. This method extends beyond hearing and visualizing information, to experience it hands-on. In addition, It involves practical or experimental training, augmented or virtual reality training, and work experience.

4. Interpersonal Learning

This learning method involves the processing of information through discussions and conversations. It helps merge learning with memory and is beneficial for extrovert learners. Lastly, in-person discussions, small and large group conversations foster interpersonal learning.

4. Intrapersonal or Self-directed Learning

It involves a quiet reflection and understanding of new information. Self-directed learning thrives through individual assignments and tasks involving evaluations and reports. 


Why should you return to school as an adult?

Adult learning will enable you to stay relevant in any career. The labor industry is rapidly advancing with new knowledge, skills, and innovation.

Therefore, the lack of appropriate education might result in the loss of jobs because of your irrelevance to the industry.

What degree can you pursue as an adult?

You can pursue a bachelor, master, or doctorate degree, or a professional course in human resource management, customer relationship, ICT, or any other course for that matter.

When can you start adult learning?

You can start at any convenient time, but prioritizing is necessary. Also, it would be best if you did not commence when you have other pressing needs that will take the bulk of your time. Start adult learning when you can appropriately allocate time to education.


Learning is a continuous process. In every aspect of our lives, we learn something new or different. Therefore, age should not be a limitation to learning.

Furthermore, you need to increase your knowledge to advance and remain relevant in your career, workplace, and society.

Additionally, if you are considering an adult school, you may enroll in the university or seek special adult learning centers.

Finally, you can take advantage of online courses. Check this article on the best online learning platform to start.

I hope you got value. Thank you for reading.