Adult Learning and Workplace Training – Part 2

SHARE   |   Monday, 14 March 2016   |   By Isang Lekhutile

My last publication centred on the theory of adult learning. The publication this time connects the relationship between adult learning and workplace training. HRD, which encompasses employee training, is a common term used widely by organisations and for me there is a relationship between adult learning and workplace training. Expert training at work incorporated the assumptions of adult learning into their training for effective and efficient training. We train adults at work and to me; the basis of training is guided by adult learning to some extent. Originally used by Alexander Kapp (a German educator) in 1833, andragogy was developed into a theory of adult education by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and was popularised in the US by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: "man-leading") should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: ‘child-leading’). According to Malcolm Knowles, andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, thus andragogy refers to any form of adult learning. Organisations are recognising that a continuously-learning workforce is critical to a strong and vibrant workplace. When introducing learning strategies into the workplace, it is important to base these strategies on a good understanding of adult learning. Adult learning is a complex topic with many theories and approaches.


Organisations must also create a workplace environment that offers and encourages engagement in varied learning opportunities on a continuous and long-term basis. We know that changes in the modern workplace pose challenges for all workers. The knowledge-based economy creates the need for continuous learning and updating of competencies and skills. Adult education finds itself tackling issues of workplace learning alongside fields which often operate with fundamentally different starting points and purposes, yet share equally strong interest and investment in workplace learning. These fields include, at the minimum, human resource development with its focus on developing organisations and individual careers; organisation and management studies with primary interests in understanding and improving organisational performance and culture; professional and vocational education concerned with training individuals; and labour studies oriented to workers’ well-being and collective empowerment. Andragogy urges teachers to base curricula on the learners’ experiences and interests. Every group contains a configuration of idiosyncratic personalities, differing past experiences, current orientations, levels of readiness for learning and individual learning styles.

Thus trainers should be wary of prescribing any standardised approach to facilitating learning. Understanding the six assumptions in andragogy prepares facilitators to create successful training. Effective adult instruction involves placing participants into situations that require them to define concepts and skills and then develop new or additional skills accordingly. As mature individuals with perspectives derived from experiences, values, and insights, adults are typically self-directed learners. Adults prefer to diagnose their own learning needs, set their own learning objectives, access resources to fulfil those objectives, and engage in self-evaluation. In line with Knowles' theory of andragogy, trainers should recognize that the richest resources for learning reside in adult learners themselves; therefore, emphasis in adult education should focus on experiential techniques that tap into the experience of learners, such as group discussion, problem-solving, case methods, simulation exercises, games, and role-play, instead of primarily using transmittal techniques such as lecture (Brookfield, 1986; Knowles et al., 2005). As a result, workplace training must be designed to emphasize these motivations and using a combination of teaching strategies has the greatest impact on training.


So, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me as an organisation?) Training presents a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge base of all employees, but many employers find the development opportunities expensive. A structured training and development programme that incorporates adult learning assumptions and principles ensures that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge. The consistency is particularly relevant for the company's basic policies and procedures. All employees need to be aware of the expectations and procedures within the company. This includes safety, discrimination and administrative tasks. Putting all employees through regular training in these areas ensures that all staff members at least have exposure to the information. Employee training brings all employees to a higher level so they all have similar skills and knowledge. This helps reduce any weak links within the company who rely heavily on others to complete basic work tasks. Providing the necessary training creates an overall knowledgeable staff with employees who can take over for one another as needed, work in teams or work independently without constant help and supervision from others. Despite the potential drawbacks, training and development provides both the company as a whole and the individual employees with benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment. There is need for trainers to appreciate the concept of Adult learning theory for effective training and development of employees in the workplace. In fact, in my view we need adult educators in HR departments to assist in training and development of employees in an organisation.