Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing

Undergraduate Resources

Adult Learning Principles and Teaching Implications

M.S. Knowles outlines five principles of adult learning, which have a number of implications in teaching.

Adult learning is problem centered with a need for immediate application of knowledge.

  • Feedback should be basis for sharing information
  • Use neutral description not judgement-laden rhetoric
  • Feedback is the amount of information a learner can use, not the amount a preceptor wants to give
  • Provide feedback about learner’s behaviour not personal characteristics
  • Provide feedback on seen or heard observations rather than assumptions and inferences

Adult learning is related to an adult’s readiness to learn, which is associated with life stage and tasks.

  • Attempt to integrate new concepts and ideas with learner’s established beliefs, values and attitudes
  • Try to sequence information as opposed to chunks
  • Be sensitive to learner’s concurrent responsibilities
  • Avoid speaking in an authoritarian manner

Adults have experiences that serve as learning resources.

  • Try to determine background knowledge and skills; recognize present abilities and build on them
  • Relate current learning to appropriate past experiences
  • Share your work experiences with learner

Adults become increasingly independent and self-directed as they age.

  • Involve people in all phases of learning process such as development of learning objectives
  • Respect differences in learner’s values, beliefs and interpretations

Internal not external pressures more often motivate adult learners.

  • Promote feelings of adequacy, competency and security through positive reinforcement
  • Provide a safe, open interpersonal environment
  • Minimize environmental variables that restrict learning opportunities


Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: from pedagogy to andragogy. NY: Cambridge Books.”Preceptor: A Nurse’s Guide to Mentoring,” F.A. Davis 2001

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