Definition of Terms.

Learning: is concerned within increase in knowledge or a higher degree of an existing skill.  Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience. Learning can be defined as the act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge or skills.

Development:  It involves those activities that prepare an employee for future responsibilities.

Self-directed learning focuses on the process by which adults take control of their own learning, in particular how they set their own learning goals, locate appropriate resources, decide on which learning methods to use and evaluate their progress.


There are many different theories of how people learn. What follows is a variety of them, and it is useful to consider their application to how your trainees learn and also how you teach in educational programs.  It is interesting to think about your own particular way of learning and to recognize that everyone does not learn the way you do.

1.      Andragogy

2.      Reinforcement theory

3.      Experiential Learning

4.      Information Processing Theory

5.      Characteristics of Adults as Learners (CAL) model

6.      Cognitive theory

7.      Cybernetics and information


Knowles’ theory of Andragogy is an attempt to develop a theory specifically for adult learning.  He emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions.  Adult learning programs must accommodate this fundamental aspect.

Then they should be treated as adults.  He taught that adult learning was special in a number of ways. For example:

  • Adult learners bring a great deal of experience to the learning environment. Educators can use this as a resource.
  • Adults expect to have a high degree of influence on what they are to be educated for, and how they are to be educated.
  • The active participation of learners should be encouraged in designing and implementing educational programs.
  • Adults need to be able to see applications for new learning.
  • Adult learners expect to have a high degree of influence on how learning will be evaluated.

Adults expect their responses to be acted upon when asked for feedback on the progress of the program.

Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning:

  • Adults need to know why they need to learn something
  • Adults need to learn experientially,
  • Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and Adults are relevancy oriented (problem centered Adults are practical and problem-solvers
  • Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.
  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults have accumulated life experiences

Andragogy means that instruction for adults needs to focus more on the process and less on the content being taught. Strategies such as case studies, role-playing, simulations, and self-evaluations are most useful. Instructors adopt a role of facilitator or resource rather than lecturer or grader.

Andragogy applies to any form of adult learning and has been used extensively in the design of organizational training programs (especially for “soft skill” domains such as management development).

  • There is a need to explain why specific things are being taught (e.g., certain commands, functions, operations, etc.)
  • Instruction should be task-oriented instead of memorization — learning activities should be in the context of common tasks to be performed.
  • Instruction should take into account the wide range of different backgrounds of learners; learning materials and activities should allow for different levels/types of previous experience with computers.
  • Since adults are self-directed, instruction should allow learners to discover things for themselves, providing guidance and help when mistakes are made.



The behaviourist school of psychology, notably by B.F. Skinner earlier this century, developed this theory.  Skinner believed that behaviour is a function of its consequences. The learner will repeat the desired behaviour if positive reinforcement (a pleasant consequence) follows the behaviour.

Positive reinforcement, or ‘rewards’ can include verbal reinforcement such as ‘Thats great’ or ‘You’re certainly on the right track’ through to more tangible rewards such as a certificate at the end of the course or promotion to a higher level in an organisation.

Negative reinforcement also strengthens behaviour and refers to a situation when a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the bahaviour. Punishment, on the other hand, weakens behaviour because a negative condition is introduced or experienced as a consequence of the behaviour and teaches the individual not to repeat the behaviour, which was negatively reinforced. A set of conditions is created which are designed to eliminate behaviour. Punishment is widely used in everyday life although it only works for a short time and often only when the punishing agency is present.


This involves a four-stage learning process with a model that is often referred to in describing experiential learning. The process can begin at any of the stages and is continuous, i.e. there is no limit to the number of cycles you can make in a learning situation. This theory asserts that without reflection we would simply continue to repeat our mistakes. The experiential learning cycle:

People learn in four ways with the likelihood of developing one mode of learning more than another. As shown above, learning is:

  • Through concrete experience
  • Through observation and reflection
  • Through abstract conceptualisation
  • Through active experimentation

Adult education is seen as “a continuing process of evaluating experiences”.   The belief that adult teaching should be grounded in adults’ experiences, and that these experiences represent a valuable resource, is currently cited as crucial. Almost every textbook on adult education practice affirms the importance of experiential methods such as games, simulations, case studies, psychodrama and role-play.

Qualities of experiential learning:

  • Personal involvement;
  • Learner-initiated;
  • Evaluated by learner; and,
  • Pervasive effects on learner.

Experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. All human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning. This includes:

  1. Setting a positive climate for learning;
  2. Clarifying the purposes of the learner(s);
  3. Organizing and making available learning resources;
  4. Balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning;
  5. Sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating.

Learning is facilitated when:

  • The student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction;
  • It is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems; and,
  • Self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success.

Also to be emphasized is the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change.


A person interested in becoming rich might seek out books or classes on economics, investment, great financiers, banking, etc. Such an individual would perceive (and learn) any information provided on this subject in a much different fashion than a person who is assigned a reading or class.


  1. Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is relevant to the personal interests of the student;
  2. Learning which is threatening to the self (e.g., new attitudes or perspectives) are more easily assimilated when external threats are at a minimum;

George A. Miller has provided two theoretical ideas that are fundamental to cognitive psychology and the information-processing framework.

The first concept is “chunking” and the capacity of short-term memory. This is the idea that short-term memory can only hold 5-9 chunks of information, where a chunk is any meaningful unit. A chunk could refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people’s faces. The concept of chunking and the limited capacity of short-term memory became a basic element of all subsequent theories of memory.

The second concept is TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit).  It is suggested that TOTE should replace the stimulus-response as the basic unit of behavior. In a TOTE unit, a goal is tested to see if it has been achieved and if not an operation is performed to achieve the goal; this cycle of test-operate is repeated until the goal is eventually achieved or abandoned.


Information processing theory has become a general theory of human cognition; the phenomenon of chunking has been verified at all levels of cognitive processing.

The classic example of a TOTE is a plan for hammering a nail. The Exit Test is whether the nail is flush with the surface. If the nail sticks up, then the hammer is tested to see if it is up (otherwise it is raised) and the hammer is allowed to hit the nail.


  1. Short-term memory (or attention span) is limited to seven chunks of information.
  2. Planning (in the form of TOTE units) is a fundamental cognitive process.
  3. Behavior is hierarchically organized (e.g., chunks, TOTE units).



The CAL model consists of two classes of variables:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Situational characteristics.

Personal characteristics include: aging, life phases, and developmental stages. These three dimensions have different characteristics as far as lifelong learning is concerned. Aging results in the deterioration of certain sensory-motor abilities (e.g., eyesight, hearing, reaction time) while intelligence abilities (e.g., decision-making skills, reasoning, vocabulary) tend to improve. Life phases and developmental stages (e.g., marriage, job changes, retirement) involve a series of plateaus and transitions, which may or may not be directly related to age.

Situational characteristics consist of part-time versus full-time learning, and voluntary versus compulsory learning. The administration of learning (i.e., schedules, locations, procedures) is strongly affected by the first variable; the second pertains to the self-directed, problem-centered nature of most adult learning.


The CAL model is intended to provide guidelines for adult education programs. There is no known research to support the model.


This describes the way in which people learn to recognise and define problems and experiment to find solutions.

If, according, to this theory, people can discover things for themselves, they are likely to retain the skill and knowledge and use it when required.  The cognitive theory is the basis for discovery; self managed learning or “do-it-yourself’ process.  It provides the rationale for workshop, participative and case study training and these help people to won solutions, rather than something they have been forced to accept by the trainer.



These suggest feedback can control people’s performance in the same way that a thermostat controls a heating system.  A learner reacts to cues of stimuli, which, if they are established by means of skills, can be used as the basis for training programmes.  If a task can be divided into a number of small parts, each with its own cue or stimuli, the learning of each part can be accelerated by ensuring that trainees concentrate on one easily assimilated piece at a time.


Adult learning theories assert the following principles on learning.  To them learning adults learn well when the following happen:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  1. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
  2. Adult learning programs should capitalize on the experience of participants.
  3. Adult learning programs should adapt to the aging limitations of the participants.
  • Adults should be challenged to move to increasingly advanced stages of personal development.
  • Adults should have as much choice as possible in the availability and organization of learning programs.
  1. Working to address a current, real-world problem
  2. They are highly vest in solving the current problem
  3. They actually apply new materials and information and
  • Exchange ongoing feedback around their experiences

In addition, adults often learn best from experience, rather than from extensive note taking and memorization.

What Motivates Adult Learners?

Adults typically, have different motivations for learning than children.

  • To make or maintain social relationships
  • To meet external expectations–the boss says you have to upgrade skill X to keep your job
  • Learn to better serve others — managers often learn basic First Aid to protect their employees
  • Professional advancement
  • Escape or stimulation
  • Pure interest

Instructors should be aware of the possible motivations behind their students’ enrollment. Then they can better shape the instructional materials.

What Are the Barriers to Adult Learning?

Adults have different barriers than children on their way to learning. Some of these potential barriers might include:

  • Many other responsibilities (families, careers, social commitments)
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money
  • Lack of child care
  • Scheduling problems
  • Transportation problems
  • Insufficient confidence
  • Having to learn, if told by boss, but not interested or ready

The horizontal part of the curve is called the learning plateau.  It is found where the learners appear to mark time, due to tiredness, boredom or a difficult area of learning.

The learning plateau has been explained as follows: –

  1. The trainee is temporarily discouraged by the increasing difficulty of the task; he/she has lost motivation
  2. The trainee has acquired some incorrect responses during the first part of the learning programme, which he/she must lose if further progress is to be made.
  3. The trainee wishes to look back at the material learned so far and discover its significance.
  4. In the case of manual training, the task may include some difficult perceptions or stimulus-response associations.

When a plateau occurs, ensure you reinforce the learning.  You may remove the plateau by carefully analysing the learning material and a method devised which anticipates the learner’s difficulties instead of leaving the individual to solve them. Skills analysis before training is undertaken helps eliminate this problem.

Group Dynamics in Adult Learning.

Motivation and Learning Styles

Adults engage in continual education for various reasons. Our unique motivations help us stay focused and stick with a topic until we solve the current problem and gather enough information to complete our current task.

There are three subgroups to categorize motivational styles.

  1. Goal-oriented learners use education to accomplish clear-cut objectives.
  2. Activity-oriented (social) learners take part mainly because of the social contact.
  3. Learning-oriented learners seek knowledge for its own sake. Such learners are avid readers and have been since childhood…. and they choose jobs and make other decisions in life in terms of the potential for growth, which they offer.

Adults learn because of

  1. An increase in self-esteem,
  2. A sense of pleasing and impressing others, and
  3. Certain pleasures or satisfactions.

Recognizing the learner’s unique motivational styles can also help us identify the types of educational products and problems that will satisfy our needs. For instance, self-study programs are not going to motivate `activity-oriented’ learners unless the program contains some element of interaction. The more social the situation the better.

As certain things motivate, others discourage. Few things are more de-motivating than fear. Learning is, after all, a very emotional process. We must see, feel, and do. Fear, anxiety, and anger are emotional factors that negatively affect learning.

Also, who likes learning something boring? If we don’t care about a topic, we’re less likely to stick with it and continue to learn. Even when we’re interested in learning a topic, we’re sometimes more motivated to play with the equipment or to daydream. We can get easily distracted from the task at hand and become more motivated to do something else perhaps not on task.

The big issues are relevancy and immediacy. Information has to be relevant to our current wants and needs, and it must feel useful to us.

Learning Styles

This approach to learning emphasizes the fact that individuals perceive and process information in very different ways. This implies that how much individuals learn has more to do with whether the educational experience is geared toward their particular style of learning than whether or not they are “smart.” In fact, educators should not ask, “Is this student smart?” but rather “How is this student smart?”

The concept of learning styles is rooted in the classification of psychological types. The learning styles theory is based on research demonstrating that, as the result of heredity, upbringing, and current environmental demands, different individuals have a tendency to both perceive and process information differently.

The different ways of doing so are generally classified as:

  1. Concrete and abstract perceivers–Concrete perceivers absorb information through direct experience, by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling. Abstract perceivers, however, take in information through analysis, observation, and thinking.
  2. Active and reflective processors–Active processors make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information. Reflective processors make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it.

Instructors and trainers must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving.

Instruction: Teachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom, such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and even talking.

Assessment: Teachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles.

Learning and Organizations

The term “Learning Organization” is applied to companies operating in turbulent environments that require transformation in working methods and which in order to facilitate the introduction of new systems train and develop their employees on a continuous basis.  A “learning organization” is one that continually improves by rapidly creating and refining the capabilities required for future success.  A learning organization is one that is continually expanding to create its future.  It is an organization, which facilitates the learning of all its members and continually transforms itself.  Such an organization is skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Learning organizations are good at doing the following:-

  1. Systematic problem solving which rests on the philosophy and methods of the quality movement. Such relies on the scientific method rather than guesswork, insists on data rather than assumptions and uses simple statistical tools e.g. histograms, cause and effect diagrams etc
  2. Experimentation – systematic search for and testing of new knowledge. Continuous improvement programmes Kaizen are an important feature in a learning organization. Kaizen system is a form of quality circle based on a cycle of “planning, doing, checking & action.
  3. Learning from past experience – learning organization review their success and failures, assess them systematically and record the lessons learned in a way that employees find open and accessible. This is termed the Santayana principle.
  4. Learning from others – this involves looking outside one’s immediate environment to gain a new perspective. This process has been called sis “steal ideas shamelessly” Another acceptable word is benchmarking – a disciplined process of identifying best practice organisation and analysing the extent to which what they are doing can be transferred, with suitable modifications, to one’s own environment.
  5. Transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization by sending people with new expertise, or by education & training programmes.

A learning organization is characterized by the following:

  1. Shared Vision – enabling the organization to identify, respond to and benefit from future opportunities
  2. Enabling structure – facilitates learning
  3. Supportive Culture – encourages challenges to the status quo and questioning of assumptions and established ways of doing things.
  4. Empowering management – managers genuinely believe that devolved decision-making and better team working result in improved performance.
  5. Motivated workforce – wants to learn continuously.
  6. Enhanced learning – processes & policies exist to encourage learning.

Single-Loop learning (SLL) is the learning necessary for an employee to be able to apply existing methods to the completion of a job.  SLL involves the setting of standards and the investigation of deviations from targets.  Double-loop learning challenges and redefines the basic requirement of the job and how it should be undertaken.  DLL means questioning whether the standards and objectives are appropriate in the first instance.

SLL organizations define the “governing variables i.e. what they expect to achieve in terms of targets and standards; they then monitor and review achievements, and take corrective action as necessary, thus completing the loop-DLL occurs when the monitoring process initiates action to redefine the governing variables to meet the new situation, which may be imposed by the external environment.

SLL is appropriate for routine, repetitive issues.  DLL is more relevant for complex, non-programmable issues.  DLL questions why the problem occurred in the first place, and tackles its root cause rather than simply addressing its surface symptoms, as happens as SLL.

Creating a learning organization is difficult, for a number of reasons:

  1. Employees at all levels within the organization must want to learn. Establishment of a learning organization is a bottom-up process that may not fit in with the culture of a pre-existing bureaucratic and hierarchical system.
  2. Inadequate information gathering and internal communication systems.
  3. Organisational politics that might impede widespread acceptance of the idea.
  4. Top management might not be genuinely committed to the idea.
  5. Certain employees may be unable to learn.
  6. Implementation requires careful planning.



Self-managed or self-directed learning means that individuals take responsibility for satisfying their own learning needs to improve performance, to support the achievement of career aspirations, or to enhance their employability, within and beyond their present organization.  Encouraged self-managed learning is that people learn and retain more if they find things out for themselves.  But they may still need to be helped to identify what they should look for.


Four-stage Approach to Self-Managed Learning

  1. Self-assessment
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Action Planning
  4. Monitoring & Review


  1. Self-Assessment – based on analysis by individuals of their work and life situation.
  2. Diagnosis – derived from the analysis of learning needs and priorities.
  3. Action planning to identify objectives, help and hindrances, resources required (including people) and time scales.
  4. Monitoring and Review to assess progress in achieving action plans.


Self-Managed learning can be carried out as follows:-

  • Identify the individuals learning styles
  • Review how far their learning is encouraged or restricted by their learning style.
  • Review their core learning skills and consider how to use them effectively.
  • Review the work and other experiences
  • Look for potential helpers in the self-development process:
  • Managers, colleagues, trainers or mentors.
  • Draw up learning objectives and a plan of action – a personal development plan or learning contract.
  • Set aside some time each day to answer the question “What did you learn today?”


The organization can encourage self-managed learning by ensuring that learners:


  1. Define for themselves, with whatever guidance they may require, what they need to know to perform their job effectively;
  2. Are given guidance on where they can get the material or information that will help them to learn;
  3. Prepare a learning plan & programme as part of a learning contract.
  4. Prepare a personal development plan.


This is carried out by individuals with guidance, encouragement & help from their managers as required.  A personal development plan sets out the action people propose to take to learn and to develop them.  They take responsibility for formulating and implementing the plan but they may receive support from the organization and their managers in doing so.


Personal development planning aims to promote learning and to provide people with the knowledge and portfolio of transferable skills that will help to progress their careers.


The Overall Process

Personal development plans can be created as an outcome of a development or assessment centre.  The most common approach is to include personal development planning as a key part of performance and development management processes.  The 4 stages in preparing a personal development plan are: –

  1. Assess current situation
  2. Set goals
  3. Plan action
  4. Implement

Identifying Development Needs and Wants

Development needs and wants are identified in performance management processes by individuals, on their own or working in conjunction with their managers.  This will include reviewing performance against agreed plans and assessing competence requirements and the capacity of people to achieve them.

Individuals can make their own assessment of their personal development needs to get more satisfaction from their work, to advance their careers and to increase their employability.

Set Goals

Set goals under such headings as; improving performance in the current job, improving or acquiring skills, extending relevant knowledge, developing specified areas of competence, moving across or upwards in the organization, preparing for changes in the current role.

Development needs can be met using a wide variety of activities.  Such activities include:-

  • Seeing what others do (Best practice)
  • Project work
  • Adopting a role model (Mentor)
  • Involvement in other work areas
  • Planned use of internal training media (interactive video programmes/ learning library)
  • Input to policy formulation
  • Increased professionalism on the job
  • Involvement in the community
  • Coaching Others
  • Training Courses
  • Guided reading
  • Special assignments
  • Action learning
  • Distance learning


The action plan sets out what needs to be done and how it will be done under headings

  • Development needs
  • Outcomes expected (learning objectives)
  • Development activities to meet the needs
  • Responsibility for development – what individuals will do and what support they will require from their manager, the HR department or other people.
  • Timing – when the learning activity is expected to start & be completed.
  • Outcome what development activities have taken place and how effective were.

Responsibility for Personal Development Planning

Individuals are primarily responsible for progressing the plan and for ensuring that they play their part in implementing it.  However, people will need encouragement, guidance and support.

Managers, team leaders and individuals all need to learn about personal development planning.  They should be involved in deciding how the planning process will work and what their roles will be.  The benefits to them should be understood and accepted.

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