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Sedona Staff Leverages Adult Learning Theory

By Melissa Singer April 8, 2019

Curriculum designers, e-learning developers, and classroom trainers at Sedona Learning Solutions are not only passionate about what they do, but they are students of adult education principles as well! Our designers, developers, and trainers come from diverse backgrounds, have extensive experience in clinical environments, and study the most effective means of training your unique adult learners.

While many learning systems have emerged, that which is most relevant to our work was suggested by American educator and theorist, Malcolm Shepherd Knowles.  In 1984, Knowles shared his 4 principles for designing effective educational experiences for the adult learner. Knowles’ educational theory focuses on the learning transaction from the perspective of the learner directly. Adults, he observed, learn differently from children. His approach to andragogy, education for adults (as opposed to pedagogy, education for children) addresses the unique needs of the adult student so that education may be enhanced and information processed, understood, and built upon for future use and learning.

Knowles’ original principles are as follows:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
  3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

Because these principles are not content-based, they can effectively be applied to any number of topics that require adult understanding and adoption. Further, these principles are effective not only in academic study, but also in adult corporate, medical, and other organizational training experiences.

As Sedona Learning Solutions staff members develop materials and prepare lessons for clinicians and medical staff members, we do so understanding that the primary goal of our work is to ensure that the information is delivered in such as way as the learner, (whether provider, nurse, radiology tech, or unit secretary, etc.) will value and understand the information. To do this, we begin with a discussion of the audience’s composition and needs.  We talk with administrators, managers, facility trainers, and the students themselves, in many cases.

As we design the materials including e-learning modules, curriculum, deliverables, and more, we work again with those who know the learners best and focus on creating interactive experiences that include relevant scenarios and situations that interest the adult learner so the learner will not only relate to the provided experience, but will also see the value in learning the material. For medical staff, of course, this is critical. Learners must be able to see the value in the information presented as the volume of information offered daily is staggering.

Finally, we ensure that the information is such that it is not only valuable and consumable, but engaging. We present scenarios in our education that afford learners the opportunity to engage with the material, to explore the content, to solve problems, and to enjoy successes. When this process is complete the retention rate for the material is arguably higher as the learner has processed the material in multiple ways and experienced the victory of understanding new facts and processes, solving a puzzle, and perhaps documenting successfully so that a patient’s condition can be successfully recorded or healing medications ordered.

The process used above serves both the basis of design and the foundation of the e-learning and classroom experience. In all cases, throughout our lessons, we proceed with Knowles’ principles in mind and work to ensure that your learners are valued, engaged, and successful as they absorb information that will enhance their work with your patients.


Source: Knowles, Malcolm S., et al. The Adult Learner : The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, Routledge, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/lib/apollolib/detail.action?docID=232125.