Applying Principles of Adult Learning to Teacher Professional Learning Programs

ISTE Coaching Standard 4 provides three benchmarks for technology coaches to conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning. My focus is on performance indicator b: Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning and assessment.

My Question

How can adult learning principles be used to create a system of professional learning about educational technology that meets teachers’ needs?

My Resolution

Andragogy (adult learning) theory, as studied, practiced, and presented by Malcolm Knowles, “uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic (traditional lecturing or teacher “knows all” model), and also recognises [sic] more equality between the teacher and learner” (Australian Catholic University 2016). The Australian Catholic University’s webpage for staff professional development (PD) offers a wealth of resources for understanding and applying Knowles’ six principles of adult learning.

Recently, members of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) Collaboratory wrote a series of blog posts “during a [virtual] round table discussion centered on the topics of professional development, personalized learning, and the role virtual collaboration plays in connecting educators” (Center for Teaching Quality 2016). The posts in this series echo Knowles’ principles and give practical advice that is useful for anyone planning teacher PD.

Another CTQ blog post, “Building VLCs? Start with the why.” by Brianna Crowley, involves teachers being self-aware and mindful of principles of adult learning when thinking about how to plan and implement PD for themselves that will take place mostly, if not completely online. Teachers who work in schools that have not yet adopted a district- or school-wide PD approach based on principles of adult learning will benefit from learning about how they can become self aware and mindful of these principles when designing their own independent professional learning, if only to avoid non-mandatory PD that does not implement principles of adult learning. For example, in the paper “Transforming Professional Learning,” CTQ mentions Digital Promise’s Educator Micro-credentials, “an innovative system of micro-credentials to recognize educators for the skills they learn throughout their careers in order to craft powerful learning experiences for their students” (Digital Promise 2016). Digital Promise boasts their micro-credentials to be competency-based, on-demand, personalized, and shareable—qualities that align with principles of adult learning (Digital Promise 2016).

On the eLearning Industry website, in the article “9 Tips To Apply Adult Learning Theory to eLearning,” Christopher Pappas presents ideas for how Knowles’ theories and principles can be used “to help eLearning professionals create more meaningful learning experiences for adult learners” (Pappas 2014).  The eLearning Industry website also features a fantastic Adult Learning Theory infographic:

The Adult Learning Theory Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

The ideal situation is for a school or district to formally adopt the use of principles of adult learning to inform its PD efforts. However, that is not always the case. Therefore, it’s a good idea for teachers (and people who are planning teacher PD) to become familiar with adult learning theories and use those principles when choosing and planning both onsite and virtual PD experiences.

Works Cited

  1. Australian Catholic University. (2016). Knowles six principles of adult learning. Retrieved from
  2. Berry, B. (2016, October). Transforming professional learning. Retrieved from
  3. Center for Teaching Quality. (2016). How do teachers (really) learn? Retrieved from
  4. Crowley, B. (2016, May 11). Building VLCs? Start with the why. Retrieved from
  5. Digital Promise. (2016). Educator micro-credentials. Retrieved from
  6. Moore, R. (2015, December 19). What we learned and what administrators can do. Retrieved from
  7. Pappas, C. (2014, October 02). 9 tips to apply adult learning theory to eLearning. Retrieved from

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