14 Laws of Adult Learning: Best practice for trainers

By Anne Sexton - Last update

Get Daily news and updates directly to your Email

Thinking of organising a training activity or game? Every trainer should know the 14 laws or principles, devised by Sivasailam ‘Thiagi’ Thiagarajan. Thiagarajan is the world’s foremost authority on interactive learning. These laws are particularly relevant to adult learners.

1. Law of previous experience

New learning should be linked to (and build upon) the experiences of the learner. Therefore, check the entry level of the participants. Remind yourself that adults bring a variety of rich experiences to the training session. Design activities to ensure easy adjustments to fit different entry levels as well as to incorporate relevant experiences.

2. Law of relevance

Effective learning is relevant to the learner’s life as well as work. Use simulations and role plays to increase the link between the learning situation and the real world. After a training activity, debrief the participants. You should also discuss strategies for applying what they learned in the game to their real-world context.

3. Law of self-direction

Most adults are self-directed learners. Therefore, don’t force everyone to participate in every activity. Identify training objectives and let participants select among different resources and activities to learn at their own pace and according to their personal preferences. Involve participants in setting training goals and selecting appropriate types of learning activities.

4. Law of expectations

Learners’ reactions to a training session are shaped by their expectations related to the content area, training format and fellow participants, as well as the trainer. Some learners are anxious about mathematical concepts and skills. Encourage them with intriguing puzzles and short-cut techniques. Other learners feel uncomfortable about making fools of themselves in public while playing games. Establish ground rules that reward risk-taking among participants. In addition, demonstrate non-judgmental behavior by applauding participants for their effort.

5. Law of self image

Adult learners have definite notions about what type of learners they are. These notions interfere with or enhance their learning. Reassure participants about their ability to learn new concepts and skills. Furthermore,. motivate them to attempt challenging tasks. Ensure frequent and early successes by making initial tasks simple and by progressing in small steps. However, avoid patronizing participants with simple, trivial tasks. Incorporate learning tasks at different levels of difficulty in your activities.

6. Law of multiple criteria

Adult learners use a variety of standards to judge their learning experiences and accomplishments. Therefore, you should encourage participants to choose personal standards and scoring systems. Provide different ways to “win” in your activities. In simulations and role-plays, keep scores related to different criteria. During debriefing, discuss alternative criteria for measuring participants’ performance.

7. Law of alignment

Adult learners require the training objectives, content and activities, as well as assessment techniques to be aligned to each other. Create a training situation that closely resembles the job situation. Teach and test for the same content, using similar strategies. In addition, make sure that the scoring system used in your training activities rewards the mastery of the training objectives.

8. Law of active learning

Active responding produces more effective learning than passive listening or reading. Therefore, intersperse lectures and reading assignments with active-learning episodes such as quizzes and puzzles. Provide participants with ample opportunities to respond by asking questions, encouraging them to ask questions, answering their questions, and questioning their answers.

9. Law of practice and feedback

Learners cannot master skills without repeated practice as well as relevant feedback. Don’t confuse understanding a procedure with ability to perform it. Therefore, you should invest ample time in conducting activities that provide repeated practice and feedback. Make sure that the training activities incorporate immediate and useful feedback from peers and experts. You should also use rating scales, checklists, and other devices to ensure that the feedback is objective and useful.

10. Law of individual differences

Different people learn in different ways. As a result, you need training activities that accommodate a variety of learning styles. Make sure that participants can respond by writing, speaking, drawing, or acting out. Encourage and permit participants to learn individually, in pairs, and in teams.

11. Law of learning domains

Different types of learning require different types of strategies. Learn to recognize different types of training content as well as their objectives. Don’t use the same type of activity to teach different types of training. Use suitable designs to help participants achieve different training objectives related to concepts, procedures, and principles.

12. Law of response level

Learners master skills and knowledge at the level at which they are required to respond during the learning process. Therefore, if your training activity requires participants to talk about a procedure, don’t assume that they will be able to apply it in their workplace. If you want participants to solve workplace problems, the learning activity should require them to solve problems. Avoid trivial, closed questions with rote-memory answers in your training games. Challenge participants with authentic problems that require innovative solutions.

13.Law of reinforcement

Participants learn to repeat behaviors that are rewarded. Therefore, make sure that training activities provide several opportunities for earning rewards. Require participants to make frequent decisions and responses. During the initial stages of training, reward even partially-correct answers.

14. Law of emotional learning

Events that are accompanied by intense emotions result in long-lasting learning. Use training games, simulations, and role plays that add emotional elements to learning. However, make sure that emotions don’t become too intense and interfere with learning. Make sure that participants don’t learn dysfunctional behaviors because of intense emotions. You should also debrief participants after emotional activities to reflect on their feelings and learn from their reactions.

Reprinted from Thiagi Gameletter. Copyright © 2009 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

Anne Sexton

Dealing with Time Robbers: Being effective in busy environments
Top 5 principles for effective meetings


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We'd love to send you the latest news and articles about evening classes, further learning and adult education by email. We'll always treat your personal details with the utmost care and will never sell them to other companies for marketing purposes.

Comments and Reviews Policy