5 important characteristics of adult learners.

Generally, the unique traits of adults affect their motivation and ability to learn. These attributes include autonomy, self-confidence, multitasking, maturity, and solid decision-making. Also, some character traits like being practical, purposeful, experienced, etc play a key role in the learning ability of these learners.

This phenomenon makes it essential for instructors to know the relationship between adults’ characteristics and learning ability. The understanding of this principle will enable educators to create successful courses. It will also enable you to teach this age group in an effective way.

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Who Are Adult Learners?

It is generally believed that adult learners are learners who are over the age of 25. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that these learners constitute about half of all students enrolled in higher education. With the current availability of various trainings like conferences, online learning, and hands-on job training adults can increase their knowledge with ease. They can also enhance their skills on the job without being on a college campus.

Course creators and professionals in the education sector need to understand the motive behind their learning and how they learn. By acquiring this knowledge, you will create content that aligns with their characters.

Characteristics of Adult Learners



Adults are better at multitasking and are more selfish with their time than younger learners. This feature is because they need to juggle various things like family, health and job together. Thus, training that acknowledges the preciousness of their time and experience will be most suitable for them. In other words, training that considers the traits of adults will stick the most. It will also be relevant and impactful to them.

Some of the characteristics of adult learners to consider before creating a course for them are:

Less flexible thinking

Adults exhibit less flexible thinking and so are quite reluctant to change. This trait is due to the increase in rigidity of their thinking due to their life experiences. This feature makes it vital for you to explain the importance of some specific changes. You should also explain the benefits of the changes to them.

Also, linking new ideas to their existing beliefs and opinions is beneficial.  It will help adults to start their learning process and optimize their learning.


Generally, adults showcase a sense of control and autonomy. As a result of this trait, they hold themselves accountable for their lives and decision making. Thus, they take responsibility for their achievements or failures at learning. 

This attribute makes it imperative for their training to allow for a peer relationship with the instructor. It should allow for self-assessment, many options and choices while offering subtle support.

This property is why an adult learner will be less enthusiastic in great prescriptive and forced learning events. Adult learners will most appreciate a course that provides choices on how, when, and what they learn.

Use personal experiences

Adults often use their life experiences to color and give context to their opportunities. This is because they have lots of experience and existing frameworks that are concrete to them.

Due to this characteristic, they learn better by linking past experiences with new ones. Also, they tend to trust new concepts more when dependent on knowledge gained in the past.

The importance of past experiences to adults makes it possible for course designers and trainers tools like role-playing, simulations and testing out specific topics useful. These tools will serve to respect their past experiences and recognize them as individuals. 

Appreciation for community

Adults exhibit autonomy in choosing relevant learning experiences. At the same time, they crave community while on the journey. This feature makes them to always be on the lookout for training that features an active learning community. This feature helps them interact and discuss issues and questions among co-students.

With training that supports an active community, adult learners get to share, discuss, and practice new skills in a safe space. In all, this feature results in a better learning experience.

Slower learning but more knowledgeable

Generally, ageing tends to affect learning in a negative way. Due to this phenomenon, adults usually learn slower than younger learners. All the same, they exhibit a great wealth of knowledge and experience, which deepens with time.

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Tips for Enhancing the Learning Ability of Adults

Below are some tips that can further help to improve an adult’s learning ability.


Since adults often seek education by free will, they have the necessary motivation to fuel their learning. Their in-built motivation for learning makes it essential for you as an educator to challenge them. With this feature, they tend to find the material stimulating. At the same time, you should avoid being too challenging as this may reduce their motivation.


It would help if you gave adult learners feedback on their learning journey. This attribute helps them know how they’re doing. In all, it enables them to feel more confident while understanding what needs to improve.

Make sure you are encouraging when offering feedback. You should also work with these learners to create an action plan that will further improve their learning.

Many commitments

The course you create for adults should support their various commitments. In other words, their courses should be flexible enough to make room for their busy schedules. 

Higher expectations

A course that comes with applicable information will be best for adult students. This attribute is due to their high expectation for instant outcomes from the study they enroll for. Thus, it is vital to create an informative course that will boost their existing skills.

As a course designer, you should find out what adult learners’ expectations are from the beginning. At the same time, you should clearly state your course objectives. This property will enable them to know if your course will be a good fit for them or not.


Be ready to become a better instructional designer with the explanation of the cognitive and social characteristics of adult learners in this article. You will know and create the right course content and structure that will be perfect for adult learners.

In other words, the subject covered in this article endows you with knowledge of gaining the motivation of these learners. You will also know how to gain their drive to make them enthusiastic learners.

About The Author

Daren Nadav

Daren Nadav

Daren Nadav is the Co Founder of CourseForMe, which is a leading platform to find the best courses available online and delivers inspiring content related to eLearning. Daren holds a B.A in Economics and business management.

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