Best Practices for Adult Learners When Designing Professional Development

In order to determine what best practices are for designing Professional Development (PD) for adult learners, I first had to learn about and understand what adult learning principles are.  Looking at Androgyny, defined as the method and practice of teaching adult learners; adult education, there are six basic principles and eight design elements of Andragogy (Park, Sunyoung; Robinson, Petra; and Bates, Reid (2016)).  The tables below explain in detail the six principle and eight design elements based off of Knowles research and findings: 

(Park, Sunyoung; Robinson, Petra; and Bates, Reid (2016)) 
(Park, Sunyoung; Robinson, Petra; and Bates, Reid (2016)) 

From here, it becomes clear that one of the most important principles of adult learning is that new learning has direct meaning and relevance to the learner.  Adults come to educational PD with background knowledge, experiences and their own ideas for how to move forward.  When designing PD for adult learners, giving them the opportunity to interact with the learning outcomes beforehand gives them ownership over their learning and helps it to become a collaborative experience – learner led – versus a top down experience.  This leads me to my question – What are best practices for incorporating adult learning principles into PD? 

Patricia Lawler shares 6 adult learning principles to guide professional developers and each one seems to hit on the idea of best practices when designing, implementing and deciding on PD for adult learners and incorporating adult learning principles.   

  • Create a Climate of Respect –  “…start where the learner is by taking into consideration the characteristics, values, and educational goals the teacher of adults brings to the professional development activity.” 
  • Encourage Active Participation – “Being respectful of their professional expertise by inviting their participation and collaboration encourages learning.” 
  • Build On Experience – “Professional developers working with teachers of adults can take advantage of these factors and build on the experience for positive transfer of learning.” 
  • Employ Collaborative Inquiry  “…collaborative inquiry can be an effective tool for enhancing their motivation for professional development.”  
  • Learn for Action – “To learn for action means to be guided for application, to understand the connections between content and application, and to have opportunities in the professional development setting and afterward to take action on learning.” 
  • Empower the Participants – “If the goals of adult education and professional development are change and growth, then opportunities and strategies that empower the learner are essential.” 

Adult Learning Model for Faculty Development 

“This model incorporates both the principles of adult learning and well-grounded adult education program-planning concepts. The four stages of the model—preplanning, planning, delivery, and follow-up—are interrelated and dynamic. At each stage, we ask how the activities and proposed learning objectives are compatible with the adult learning principles. (Lawler, Patricia A. 2003) 

It is important to note how the Adult Learning Model takes into account that at each stage – preplanning, planning, delivery and follow up – the person creating the adult learning program makes sure the learning will be meaningful and relevant to the participant. 

The image below touches on educational strategies for adult learners.  I see this as a checklist to evaluate if educational strategies are being incorporated in the PD being designed.   

Dustin, Emily (2017, July 12)

Overall, the answer to my question of what best practices are for creating adult learner PD would be practices that take into account information obtained about what participants are wanting and how what is being taught will directly and positively provide growth and change in real time for desired outcomes.  That is a tall order and the very first best practice would be direct communication with the participants to find out more.  Sheryl Chard says it beautifully in the video below as she reiterates how important it is that PD focuses heavily on what the audience is wanting and needing as well as PD being a professional learning community having discussions and learning from each other.  “Let’s make Professional Development the home ground of collective inquiry, shared expertise and inspired conversation among professionals.” ~ Sheryl Chard

Chard, Sheryl (2014)

Resources: 

Chard, Sheryl (2014). No More Bad Coffee: Professional Development That Honors Teachers.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiW0s6_83dw 

Dustin, Emily (2017, July 12) Challenges, Opportunities, and Growth: Understanding Adult Learners. Retrieved from https://motivislearning.com/insights/supporting-adult-learners-through-challenges-and-opportunities/ 

Lawler, Patricia A (2003). EBSCO. Teachers as Adult Learners: A New Perspective. 

Park, Sunyoung; Robinson, Petra; and Bates, Reid (2016). “Adult Learning Principles and Processes and Their Relationships with Learner Satisfaction: Validation of the Andragogy in Practice Inventory (API) in the Jordanian Context,” Adult Education Research Conference. https://newprairiepress.org/aerc/2016/ papers/28 

3 Replies to “Best Practices for Adult Learners When Designing Professional Development”

  1. I love your statement that reads: “When designing PD for adult learners, giving them the opportunity to interact with the learning outcomes beforehand gives them ownership over their learning and helps it to become a collaborative experience – learner led – versus a top down experience”. Each individual/teacher has different experiences and knowledge then the next and when you allow opportunities for collaboration you begin to see more inspirational learning among teachers. My favorite professional development opportunities come from having conversations with other educators on what is working well for them and being able to build onto each other’s experiences. I appreciated the adult learning principles you shared as well as the amazing TedTalk video that I have now sent to all my educator friends. Thank you for taking the time to dig deeper into this concept and for sharing your research!

  2. Re-imagine teaching as a professional practice… experiential learning… Where are these schools Christine? Thank you for putting this information together to help remind us what it is like to learn from each other and how we can transform learning for our ourselves as well as for our students. The resources that you shared are going to be added to my bag of knowledge when I develop PD for my district. I especially like the checklist and Patricia Lawler’s Adult Learning Principles.

  3. Christine,

    I really appreciated hearing your take-aways as well as, the learning process design for adults and the strategies checklist. I could see those being effective and efficient ways to reflect on PD plans. I agree that having conversations and collaboration have helped me tremendously in my classroom. Thanks for this informative blog post!

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