Resources - Education and Training

Adult Learning Tips

It is very important to understand and integrate the principles of adult learning in training employees. In order to implement more effective and efficient methods, attention must be given to the employee population itself, and how it is that these individuals learn and respond to information. This includes, not only specific information on how adults learn, but also more recent research on the most effective teaching methods for different age groups.

The employee population is evolving.

  • Age, ethnicity, culture, and social climate all influence the changing workforce
  • These changes require new ways of thinking about employee training

Traditional training is less and less effective for today's employees.

  • Most training is still done in lecture format
  • Lectures are not appropriate for adult learners today
  • Adults are more likely to forget lecture material than material gained through experience

Training should be headed in new directions.

  • Personal experience, group support, and mentoring are preferred over lectures
  • Group experiences are useful, in that they allow learners to assist each other in understanding material
  • Learners want to know how what they learn will be applied to workplace

Reference:  Kowalski, K. M. and C. Vaught.  2002.  Principles of adult learning: Application for mine trainers.  NIOSH Information Circular 9463, pp. 3-8.

Tip 1: Developing a Curriculum

When planning training classes, it is beneficial to use a check-list that highlights the major points to be considered in the lesson. This check-list will allow you to organize your questions and goals in developing a curriculum for your training classes.

Five Main Points

Clear goals

  • What is the point of the training?
  • What are the expected outcomes of the training?
  • Example: The point of the training could be to increase safety and prevention of accidents in the workplace. You should also clarify this for the trainees.


  • What content will support the stated goals?
  • Example: If the goal is “to increase individual safety behavior around power sources at the mine site,” what information should you present to reach that goal?

Appropriate delivery mechanism

  • How should you present material?
  • Example: Teaching methods that draw on the knowledge of older workers in class and generate discussions with younger workers may be a very successful way to transfer knowledge, but that notion should be put to the test under given circumstances.


  • How will you know if trainees have learned the content?
  • How will you know if the learning goal was achieved?
  • Example: A simulation might be used to teach employees critical escape skills.  For these types of skills, a mastery of at least 90% of the exercise content is a reasonable standard. If an individual achieves the 90%, the goal has been met.


  • What kind of an intervention should you plan or implement to provide additional support for the trainee?
  • Example: If lack of understanding persists after having received initial instruction on a task, you should provide additional information, experience, discussion, etc. Remediation instruction should continue until the trainee displays mastery of the task or information.

Tip 2: Understanding Principles of Adult Learning

Understanding adult learning principles is the key to developing successful training procedures that engage trainees and facilitate learning. It is helpful to make a list of the characteristics of adult learning preferences in order to tailor your training methods to the needs of the trainees. By understanding these principles, you will find that the training will be more beneficial to the trainees and the organization.

Concepts you can practice:

  • Dialogue – interaction between learners and instructors.
  • Supportive atmosphere – a comfortable environment facilitates learning along with a nurturing instructor; acknowledged support outside of the learning environment (management, available resources) is also helpful.
  • Encouragement of cooperative communication – clear opportunities for discussion between learners and instructors and learners amongst each other.

Adults respond best to learning that is:

  • Active
  • Experience-based
  • Recognizing the learner as an expert
  • Independent
  • Real-life centered
  • Task-centered
  • Problem-centered
  • Solution-driven
  • Skill-seeking
  • Self-directing
  • Internally and externally motivated

Practice is important in motor learning

  • How the practice is done makes a large difference.
    • In the short-run: practicing skills in separate but concentrated blocks (e.g., learning to install a roof bolt as one block in a sequence of blocks) leads to better performance during practice than integrating one skill after another (e.g., performing the whole task of roof bolting).
    • But in the long-run: integrated practice (practicing the whole task) leads to better learning than block learning.
  • People are often poor assessors of what they have learned. This can lead to serious consequences with a critical task. You would be wise to incorporate evaluation into the lesson.

Tip 3: Applying Principles

You can apply adult learning principles to many different types of skills in many different contexts. This includes routine and non-routine skills. Examples below describe a non-routine skill - the application of the principles to teaching employees how to correctly use their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and a routine skill - the inspection and care procedure for an SCBA

Example 1: Learning principles applied to a non-routine skill: SCBA donning

Problem:  Difficulty in the use of emergency breathing equipment (SCBA).

Consequences:  Problematic escape in the case of an emergency.

Solution:  Hands-on training with the equipment. A simplified procedure, known as the “3+3” method for putting on SCBAs, was developed by using a logical sequence of three steps that must be completed to isolate a worker’s lungs and three additional steps that prepare a worker for evacuating the workplace.

Application of adult learning principles in this method:

  • Hands-on learning
  • Task-centered learning  
  • Skill-seeking learning

Example 2: Encouraging compliance with inspection and care procedures for SCBAs.

Problem:  Concerns that workers do not adhere to inspection and care procedures of their SCBAs.

Consequences:  Unreliable SCBAs could compromise the safety of workers in an emergency situation.

Solution:  Researchers developed a training package to teach employees how to conduct routine inspections of their SCBAs, to care for them properly between inspections, and to reinforce the relationship between inspection and care and performance of the apparatus when it must be used.

Application of adult learning principles in this method:

  • Experience-based learning
  • Task-centered learning

Source: Adapted from NIOSH Mining Safety and Health Topic Principles of Adult Learning: Tips for Trainers

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