How Adults Learn

According to Minneapolis training experts Ron and Susan Zemke, adults learn for a purpose. They wrote, "Adults tend to have a problem-centered orientation to learning." So when designing an education program they suggest you keep in mind the following:

  • Adult learners tend to prefer single concept, single-theory courses that focus heavily on the application of the concept to relevant problems. This tendency increases with age.
  • Adults need to be able to integrate new ideas with what they already know if they are going to keep — and use — the new information. Information that has little "conceptual overlap" with what already is known is acquired slowly.
  • Information that conflicts sharply with what is already held to be true, and thus forces a reevaluation of the old material, is integrated more slowly.
  • Adults prefer self-directed and self-designed learning projects to group-learning experiences led by a professional, and they desire to control the pace and start/stop time.


Zemke R, Zemke S. 30 things we know for sure about adult learning. Training Magazine, June 1981. Reprinted with permission.