was a busy Monday morning, when I decided to board the metro to reach office, while onboard, I noticed a young kid who was constantly pestering his mom trying to know and understand the various letters and words written on the billboard and the hoardings at the  subsequent stations. Well this reminded me of my childhood days and how as children we want to know fact master everything!!

So what happens to our curiosity levels with the passage of time. Do we stop becoming less curious when we reach adulthood or is it that the curiosity probably takes a backseat and we start becoming prey to “materialism”, “competition” and the so called rat race?

Well in my opinion it’s just that we as adults start looking at things differently and so is the case with learning. We now frame our own objectives for learning, we like to value and use our experiences to learn and we expect more involvement in the complete learning process All these factors contribute to different learning styles, which we have knowingly or unknowingly developed as adults. Here in this blog, let us see what are the various learning style for adult learners.

 What are learning styles?

Learning styles are the different or various ways in which individuals interpret, organize, process, absorb and retain information

Behavioral scientists have spent a considerable amount of time to investigate and explore about the various learning styles that exist among the adults, and it was Malcolm Knowles who said that adult learners have distinct and unique characteristics.

In the 1970s and 80s, he developed five assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that differentiate them from child learners and also about four principles that he says should be applied to adult learning.He also coined the term ‘Andragogy’,  which describes the science of helping the adults to learn.

Knowles’ Five Assumptions of Adult Learners

As a person matures or grows by age, his/her self-concept moves from one of being dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. 

They like to have control over their own learning content and process.They need to have the freedom to learn in own ways and they expect guidance and support to the learning process.

Role of Experience

As a person matures he/she is able to accumulate real-life experiences that act as a catalyst for learning. Adults should be given the opportunity to use their existing knowledge and experience, which they can apply to new learning experiences

 Readiness to Learn

 Adults are ready to learn when they see something they want to know or when they feel to build or improve their skills and become proficient at, or when they experience something that connects with their life situations. They become ready to learn things to cope effectively with real-life situations

 Orientation to Learn

 Adults need to know why they need to learn something before they are engaging in the learning process. Adults are most interested in learning about subjects that are relevant to their lives, than factual knowledge or information. They prefer to engage in problem-centered, rather than subject-centered learning. Adults are motivated to learn topics that will help them perform tasks they face in their real-life situations.

 Motivation to Learn

 As a person matures the motivation to learn should be driven by internal motivation. Some examples for the internal motivators are

  •  1.Increase in job satisfaction
  •  2.Improved self-esteem
  •  3.Better quality of life
  •  4.Personal growth and development.

Now let us see Knowles’ four Principles of Andragogy. These principles take the inspiration from his own assumptions (stated above) of Adult Learners

 1.Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

 2.Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.

 3.Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.

 4.Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

With several researchers and behavior scientists contributing their findings too, now there are many established learning styles and one such very popular learning style is VARK learning style.VARK learning style was formed by Neil Fleming.

Let’s see the VARK learning style in detail.


Some learners are visual, they rely more on pictures, diagrams, graphs, and infographic learn the concepts and new things. For them reading long facts may not help them to understand the concepts. For example, a graphical representation of information may be more easy for them to understand than written lengthy facts. Visual learners account for approximately 65% of adult learners.

To engage them, use color, diagrams, photographs etc to break up the factual information in a meaningful way.


 Aural learners need to hear something so that it can be processed by their brain for better understanding and learning. These are the kind of learners who will be influenced by pod casts, audio seminars etc

 Reading and Writing Learners

 Reading and writing learners prefer to take in the information displayed as words. Learning materials that are primarily text-based are strongly preferred by these learners.


 Some learners “learn by doing”, and require movements to be integrated as a part of their learning. For them learning from reading the books or watching a video may not bring much sense unless they are able to learn with some actions involved in it.

 In this blog, I have used the VARK learning style approach, one can also refer to other learning styles like Kolb’s model and the Jungian learning styles too.

 At my company (being in the business of online learning for the past half a decade) we lay a lot of emphasis on understanding adult learning styles so that the instructional design can follow the a learning style which matches the learners. Imagine giving a visual learner, reading and writing learner’s content or vice would be undoubtedly disastrous

To sum up adult learners enjoy the freedom of the learning process as well as want to take the ownership of learning. They like to engage in problem-centered learning, rather than subject-centered learning.

 This drives my thought of suggesting e-learning specifically micro learning and gamification of e-learning as the best strategies for adult learning, as these newer trends are able to match the requirements of the adult learners, like giving them the flexibility to learn at their convenience, empowering them with decision making and above all giving them a complete control of how and what they want to learn.