10 Adult Learning Theories To Follow For Employee Training

As any business owner knows, employee training is essential for ensuring that your staff has the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. There are a number of different adult learning theories that can be used to guide employee training, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

In order to choose the best approach for your business, it is important to understand the key concepts of each theory. This will help your employee training be more successful and cut down on learning fatigue.

Theories of learning for employee training

Below, we’ll discuss 10 learning theories for adult learning. Let’s get started!

1. Behavioral learning theory

Behaviorism is a theory of psychology that emphasizes the role of environmental factors in regulating behavior. In its simplest form, behavioral learning theory states that all behavior is learned through classical or operant conditioning.

The implication for employee training is that adult learners can be taught new skills and knowledge through reinforcement and rewards. When designing training programs, therefore, it’s important to consider how best to structure activities and materials in order to maximize learning.

Additionally, it’s important to provide opportunities for practice and feedback so that employees can learn from their mistakes and reinforce desired behaviors. By understanding and applying the principles of behaviorist learning theory, businesses can ensure that their employees are better equipped to meet the demands of the workplace.

2. Cognitivism

Cognitive learning theory posits that humans learn by constructing mental models of the world around them. This process of learning is often effortful and requires active engagement with new information.

When applied to employee training, cognitive learning theory suggests that adults are more likely to learn new information if they are actively engaged in the learning process.
This may mean providing employees with opportunities to practice new skills, giving them feedback on their performance, and encouraging them to reflect on their own learning. By taking an active role in their own learning, employees can develop a better understanding of the material and be more likely to apply it in their work.

3. Constructivism

Constructivism is a theory of learning that emphasizes the role of the learner in creating meaning. This theory has its roots in the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who argued that humans are not born with an innate understanding of the world but rather construct their own knowledge through experience.

This theory contrasts with traditional views of learning, which emphasize the role of the teacher in imparting knowledge to the learner. In a constructivist approach to employee training, the trainer acts more as a coach, and trainees are viewed as active participants in the learning process who bring their own prior knowledge and background to bear on the material being learned.

The focus is on fostering interactive and collaborative learning experiences that allow employees to draw on their own expertise to construct new understanding. This approach has been shown to be particularly effective in employee training programs that seek to develop complex skills such as problem-solving and decision-making.

4. Social learning theory

Many people are familiar with the concept of learning through observation. For example, parents often teach their children how to behave by setting an example. This same principle can be applied to employee training in the workplace. Social learning theory is the idea that people can learn by observing others.

This theory can be used to create more effective training programs for adults. When employees see other members of their team succeeding, they will be more likely to model that behavior.

In addition, social learning theory can help to explain why some employees resist change. If an individual sees other people struggling with a new task, they may be less likely to want to try it themselves. However, if they see someone else succeeding, they may be more motivated to give it a try. By understanding social learning theory, trainers can create more effective and engaging employee training programs.

5. Microlearning theory

The microlearning theory was first proposed by Dr. Allen Rodgers in 2002. It posits that the best way to learn is in small, manageable chunks. The microlearning theory suggests that we need to break down large tasks into smaller ones in order to effectively learn and remember the material.

This theory has been applied to a variety of different fields, including education and employee training. When it comes to employee training, microlearning can be an effective way to help adults learn new skills. By breaking down the material into small, manageable pieces, employees can better absorb and retain the information.

Additionally, microlearning can be delivered in short bursts, which fits well with the busy schedules of most adults. As a result, microlearning is a flexible and effective way to train adult employees.

For more information on microlearning theory, check out this guide.

10 adult learning theories

6. Adult learning theory

Adult learning theory is based on the idea that adults learn differently than children. Unlike children, who are mostly receptive to new information, adults tend to be more critical and analytical in their approach to learning. As a result, adult learning theory emphasizes the importance of active participation and hands-on experience in the learning process.

This means that adult employees are more likely to benefit from training that is interactive and relevant to their work. For example, rather than simply lecturing employees on new company policies, it would be more effective to provide opportunities for employees to discuss the policy and its implications for their work.

In addition, adult learning theory stresses the importance of providing feedback and support during the learning process. This can help to ensure that employees feel confident in their ability to apply new knowledge and skills to their work. Ultimately, by taking into account the unique needs of adult learners, companies can create training programs that are more effective and engaging for employees.

7. Information processing theory

Information processing theory is a cognitive theory that proposes that the human mind learns and remembers information by processing it in stages.

The first stage, known as encoding, involves attending to and perceiving new information. The second stage, known as storage, involves mentally storing the information for later retrieval. The final stage, known as retrieval, involves accessing the stored information from memory and using it.

This theory can be applied to employee training in a number of ways. For instance, employees can be taught to encode new information by paying attention to it and breaking it down into smaller chunks. They can also be taught to store information by grouping it together in a meaningful way and using mnemonic devices.

Finally, they can be taught to retrieve information by practicing retrieval cues and organizing information in a way that makes retrieval easier. By understanding and applying these concepts, employees can become more efficient learners and better able to remember the training they receive.

8. Learning curve theory

The learning curve theory is the process of continuous learning that an individual experiences when acquiring new skills. The theory is based on the idea that there is a direct relationship between the amount of time spent on a task and the level of proficiency that is achieved. In other words, the more times a person performs a task, the faster they will be able to complete it.

The learning curve theory can be applied to adult employee training in a number of ways. First, it can help to identify how long it will take for employees to learn new skills. Second, it can be used to monitor employee progress and identify areas where additional training may be needed. Finally, the learning curve theory can help to determine the most effective method of delivering training content.

An LMS can play a key role in monitoring employee progress and providing feedback on performance. By tracking employee activity and recording data on training progress, an LMS can help you ensure that employees are receiving the information they need to improve their skills.


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9. Connectivism

Connectivism is a theory of learning that emphasizes the role of connective knowledge in the process of learning. The theory was first proposed by George Siemens, and it has since been used to explain how adults learn best.

Connectivism posits that adults learn best when they are able to connect with others who have similar experiences and knowledge. This type of connective learning can take place online or offline, but it is typically facilitated by technology. In the context of employee training, connectivism learning theory can be used to create programs that allow employees to connect with each other and share their knowledge.

For example, a company might create an online forum where employees can post questions and receive answers from their peers. Or, use social media to create groups where employees can share resources and advice. By using connectivism learning theory to design employee training programs, companies can create learning experiences that are more engaging and effective.

10. Experiential learning theory

Experiential learning theory states that people learn best by doing. This hands-on approach to learning is often used in training programs for adults, as it can be an effective way to help employees retain new information and skills.

In order for experiential learning to be successful, however, it’s important that there’s someone available to supervise and mentor employees as they’re working. This ensures that employees are able to receive feedback and guidance as needed and that they have the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any confusion.

When done correctly, experiential learning can be an excellent way to help adults learn new information and skills.

Choosing your theory of learning

As you’ve seen, there are a variety of adult learning theories that can be applied to employee training. The most important thing is to find a theory that best fits the needs of your company and your employees.

For example, behaviorism might be a good choice for training that involves mostly new or inexperienced employees. On the other hand, cognitive learning theory might be better suited for more experienced employees who need to understand complex concepts.

Ultimately, the best theory to follow for employee training will vary depending on the situation. However, by taking the time to identify the best theory for each situation, companies can ensure that their employees are receiving the most effective training possible.

About the author

Scott Winstead is the founder of MyElearningWorld.com, where he has covered eLearning, instructional design, and remote work for the better part of a decade.

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