Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory – Principle 3 - Experience

Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory – Principle 3 – Experience

In this post, you will read about the third of six adult learning principles proposed by Malcolm Knowles in his Adult Learning Theory.


Adults have a greater volume and different quality of life experience than children do. Because of their life experiences, adult learners will bring new ideas, skills, and questions to your adult learning environments. This can be a double-edged sword.

On the positive side, you can tap into  their previous knowledge and experiences to add more meaning and real-world flavor to the content that you provide.

Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory – Principle 3 – Experience by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Author, and Blogger

As a trainer, educator, or facilitator in adult learning events, you can use learners as coaches, experts, leaders, and co-presenters at various points based on their expertise level.

On the negative side, some people may be more challenging or pessimistic about ideas that you present because of their previous learning and knowledge. You can counter the latter by being thoroughly prepared, having a sound understanding of how to deal with different participant behavior, and maintaining a non-defensive posture when questions do arise.

For example, to bring learners together and tap into their expertise, try doing an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the workshop in which learners exchange information and identify what they believe are their strengths and weaknesses related to the topic to be presented. Use this information to pair people in the session so that an exchange of ideas and coaching can occur. This allows more knowledgeable people to feel productive, valued, and important, while those needing information gain a new resource and possibly bond with another learner.

For more information about the Adult Learning Theory, brain-based learning strategies and other important research and strategies for helping propel adult learners to more fruitful learning experiences, get copies of Training Workshop Essentials: Designing, Developing and Delivering Learning Events That Get Results and The Creative Training Idea Books: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning. To get ideas for dealing with various adult learner behaviors, check out People Strategies for Trainers.

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