Principles of Adult Education

Mar 9th, 2013 | By | Category: Quick Reads

Health and safety trainers who are seeking to improve the effectiveness of their training program should review the following summary of adult learning principles published by the U.S. Occupational, Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) in its 2010 guide, Best Practices for Development, Delivery, and Evaluation of Susan Harwood Training Grants.



The vast majority of students who attend safety and health training sessions are adults who already possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work in their current occupations. The objective of safety and health training is to provide additional knowledge, skills, and attitudes to assist workers in recognizing and taking action to correct hazards in their current work environments.


Principles of Adult Learning

The following are the basic principles of how adults learn, which is directly applicable to safety and health training programs:

  • Adults are voluntary learners: Most adults learn because they want to. They learn best when they have decided they need to learn for a particular reason.
  • Adults learn needed information quickly: Adults need to see that the subject matter and the methods are relevant to their lives and to what they want to learn. They have a right to know why the information is important to them.
  • Adults come with a good deal of life experience that needs to be acknowledged: They should be encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge.
  • Adults need to be treated with respect: They resent an instructor who talks down to them or ignores their ideas and concerns.
  • Adults learn more when they participate in the learning process: Adults need to be involved and actively participating in class.
  • Adults learn best by doing: Adults need to “try-on” and practice what they are learning. They will retain more information when they use and practice their knowledge and skills in class.
  • Adults need to know where they are heading: Learners need “route maps” with clear objectives. Each new piece of information needs to build logically on the last.
  • Adults learn best when new information is reinforced and repeated: Adults need to hear things more than once. They need time to master new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. They need to have this mastery reinforced at every opportunity.
  • Adults learn better when information is presented in different ways: They will learn better when an instructor uses a variety of teaching techniques.


Learning Exchanges

Three kinds of “learning exchanges” should be used during training:

  • Participant-to-Participant: “Participant-to-participant” learning exchange recognizes that participants can learn from one another’s experiences. Participant-to-participant exchanges should be a key feature of the training.
  • Participant-to-Facilitator: Facilitators can learn as much from training sessions as participants do. On many subjects, a group of participants may have more extensive knowledge and experience in certain areas than a facilitator.
  • Facilitator-to-Participant: Classroom learning needs structure. A facilitator’s role is to guide discussions, encourage participation, draw out and/or add information as needed, and highlight key issues and points.


About the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program

The United States Occupational, Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) awards grants to nonprofit organizations on a competitive basis through the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Awards are issued annually based on Congressional appropriation.

The focus of the program is to provide training and education for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces, and to inform workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the OSH Act. Target audiences include underserved, low-literacy, and workers in high-hazard industries. Since 1978, over 1.8 million workers have been trained through this program.

Photograph: Matryoshka Dolls by Michaela Kobyakov, Leonding, Upper Austria, Austria.

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One Comment to “Principles of Adult Education”

  1. Okeibunor Blessing says:

    Greetings. I like your work and will appreciate if i could receive regular Journals on my email box.

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