“I am still learning.”

This is a quote from Roman philosopher Seneca, who is believed to have written these words when he was 70 years old.

Learning is a continuous process without an expiration date. Today, many professionals are upskilled to acquire new skills, abilities and develop their strengths. Organizations put an equal amount of effort into employee development.

To drive excellence at work, it’s important to encourage employees to keep learning, regardless of age. This is where adult learning comes into the picture.

  1. Malcolm Knowles’ Principles Of ‘Andragogy’

  2. Adult Learning Principles

  3. Cognitive Learning Theory For Adults

  4. Challenges In Adult Learning

  5. Harappa 10 on 10 program

Malcolm Knowles’ Principles Of ‘Andragogy’


Adult learning principles are based on Malcolm Knowles’ term ‘andragogy’. This word of  Greek origin essentially means “to lead adults” (man). It’s rooted in the concept of lifelong learning and self-directed, autonomous learning for adults.


There are six assumptions that direct the principles of andragogy:

  • Need to know

  • Foundation

  • Self-concept

  • Readiness

  • Orientation

  • Motivation

Each of these assumptions focuses on how adults want to learn what’s directly related to their line of business, or skills that align with their work or personal lives. The principles of adult learning have been developed on the basis of these six assumptions. 

Adult Learning Principles

If you want to keep growing and become better at something, picking up new skills—or refining existing skills—is the way to go. Adult learning is not a new concept, but it’s only now gaining momentum among professionals.

For instance, if you feel your team will benefit from training in skills like communication, problem-solving and decision-making, you can incorporate a learning and development strategy.

Adult learners have specific characteristics that differentiate them from young learners. Some of these are a motivation to learn, willingness to seek knowledge and determination to be their best selves. Adult learning principles are:

  1. Self-Directed

Self-directed learning is the cornerstone of the adult learning theory. It means that adults are taking the initiative to learn, develop new skills, set their own goals, overcome challenges to learning as well as identifying new opportunities. Employees may be keen to learn if given the opportunity. For this, you have to provide the right setup for them to take up the challenge. It’s about collaborating on setting new goals for personal and team development.


  1. Willingness To Learn

Adult learners display a willingness to learn, making them the right candidates for mastery in critical, behavioral and cognitive skills. For instance, communication and decision-making are essential in the workplace. The way leaders guide their teams to success largely depends on how well they can communicate their expectations. You can maximize your employees’ willingness to learn as a means of improving their performance in a high-powered work environment.


  1. Skill Development

You can cultivate an environment of learning in the workplace by focusing on skill development. Whether it’s improving leadership or cognitive skills, employees can unleash their potential and achieve excellence in various fields with continuous learning. Focusing the organization’s efforts on skill development is beneficial for both you and your employees. Not only will it teach them how to build a compelling personal brand but also overcome individual and team challenges.


  1. Motivation To Learn

In a professional setting, everyone wants to give their best, achieve their goals and contribute where they can. This drive to perform is also what fuels their motivation to learn. With your feedback, employees will find it easier to embark on their learning journey. If an employee feels they need to improve in certain areas—be it negotiating with stakeholders or teamwork—they’ll be motivated to take necessary steps with encouragement.


  1. Experiences And Knowledge

Adult learners have years of experience and knowledge that sets them apart from young learners. If they’re taking the initiative to learn something, they’ll be bringing their own goals, perspectives and outlook to the cohort. If you, as management, are setting up a system of learning, you can create an environment that leverages each learner’s existing knowledge base. The best way is to encourage self-directed, self-paced learning for their development.


  1. Goal-Oriented Learning

When adults engage in learning and development, most have specific goals in mind. It could be to improve their work performance, maximize workplace impact or be better professionals. Goal-oriented learning leads to high-impact results. Employees may want to equip themselves with strong foundational skills to tackle varied situations—whether it’s interacting with clients or customers, leading large teams or dealing with setbacks.


  1. Problem-Solving

Effort employees invest in trying to develop, refine and enhance skills is more often than not an attempt to solve a perceived problem. Maybe they feel they need training on how to speak to clients or how to write a business report, or perhaps they want to learn how to lead effectively or communicate with impact. These learners then go in with complete awareness of how learning can help them further their careers.

Adult learning principles are based on willingness and a motivation to learn. You can build a culture of growth in your organization by leveraging individual strengths. This investment in creating a high-performing team means you can achieve your goals with limited hurdles and roadblocks. There may still be setbacks, but your employees will have the right tools to overcome any and all challenges. 

Cognitive Learning Theory For Adults


Cognitive learning is the mental process of acquiring and interpreting new knowledge. It defines the brain’s capacity to learn, retain and comprehend information. Not only does it improve memorization and problem-solving but also instills a passion for long-term learning.

Cognitive learning theory is relevant in adult learning because cognitive skills like thinking critically or defining problems can impact productivity. In the workplace, cognitive learning will improve your employees’ problem-solving skills and critical thinking ability.

The theory is a helpful means to understand how employees can benefit from developing their cognitive ability. Some of these benefits are:

  • Learn new things based on existing knowledge and experience

  • Effective problem-solving skills to solve complex problems

  • Develop the confidence to tackle challenges head-on

  • Encourages lifelong learning for adults as they can apply their knowledge—and see results

  • Improves perception, observation and critical thinking abilities

How adults learn is vastly different from young learners and their approach to learning. In the workplace, encouraging a learning environment sets the pace for how teams will perform. To help employees reach their full potential, it’s important to give them a platform to make progress. However, this doesn’t mean that adult learning is without its hurdles.  

Challenges In Adult Learning


From external responsibilities and pressures to personal roadblocks (like lack of confidence or willingness to learn), adult learning has its set of challenges.

  1. Responsibilities Outside Of Learning

Each member of your organization will come with different responsibilities, goals and expectations. For collective learning, not only will you have to align everyone’s goals but also explain why there’s a need to learn. Some employees may feel like they don’t need to learn a particular skill because they’re short on time. Others may feel it’s not required. What you can do is create a plan that takes these challenges into account. As much as you would pay attention to work getting done, learning and development require an equal amount of attention.


  1. Different Levels Of Confidence 

More often than not, it’s an employee’s confidence level that affects their approach to learning. They can feel out of place in a class, especially if there are younger learners present. This can lead to a reluctance to join a class because they don’t want to feel out of place. They may think now they’ve started working, there’s no need to learn anymore. This is where you have to encourage them and offer a different perspective.


  1. Unclear Purpose

When there’s a lack of clear purpose, adults may not be too keen to learn. If you simply push them into an online course, they probably won’t understand why they need it. It’s important to give them some context or background as to how the course can help them perform better. This also explains why adult learning is usually goal-oriented. Knowing how acquiring new skills can help them in their career—or even their personal lives—can motivate them to learn.

Challenges to adult learning can be overcome with the right mix of courses to teach your employees the skills they need to achieve excellence. 

Harappa 10 on 10 program


The Harappa 10 on 10 Program has been curated to help you instill the confidence to realize the full potential of your employees. You can create a high-impact workplace with higher productivity with Harappa’s structured program.

Our program features three stages—Activate, Cultivate and Elevate—that define skill-based learning with live masterclasses and observed feedback. Some of the key programs are the Women Leadership Program, Manager Excellence Program and Communication Excellence Program. Discover how these in-demand programs can help you help your employees maximize their skills.  

Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as Must-Have Skills For Leadership, The Evolution Of The Hero’s Journey & The Importance Of Women’s Leadership which will help organizations tap into their employee's potential.

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