Adult Learning Principles

Adults learn differently than children. Adults need to know WHY they are learning what they are learning (hence the need for purpose statements and learning objectives). They also need to understand HOW the knowledge will be applied.

Young children are like little blank slates, and they soak up information without needing to know why they are learning something. Adults come to the table with an abundance of existing knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Adults also come with a well-defined worldview, and often fixed beliefs. This means we need to approach the facilitation of new ideas with deep respect and understanding for different perspectives.

As facilitators we need to build on existing knowledge.

Most adults engage in learning because it will lead them towards a specific goal, often but not always job-related. Adults tend to engage in learning for reasons such as personal growth and development (a wellness workshop), personal interest (a pottery class, or guitar lessons), or to achieve a career goal (a new job, or a promotion).

Utilize Pre-Existing Knowledge

Everyone is coming to the table with a wealth of knowledge. The role of the facilitator is to guide the learning process. This includes dissemination of the knowledge and experience already present in the room.

Some people might need some support to see things from a different perspective. We still need to tap into knowledge already present and build on it.

Be Goal-Oriented

Be clear on goals and objectives. When we facilitate, we must begin with the end in mind. We are clear about what we want people to leave the session with. Which means we need to be clear about what we are doing. Learning objectives need to be clear and measurable.

Stephen Covey writes about beginning with the end in mind in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.”


Mutuality is one of our Core Values. Everyone is learning together. Collaboration enhances learning.

Knowledge Application

Adults learn better in an experiential setting–processing and working with the material encourages learning. Consider this: how possible is it for someone to learn computer coding, or watercolour painting by just reading about it? It’s quite ridiculous to think that someone can learn any skill without actually doing the work.

Absorbing the material, and then applying it is a very important part of the learning process.

In Summary

Though this is a large module, the topic of leadership and facilitation goes much deeper than we can cover here. If you choose to take on a leadership role, this will be a long and beautiful journey of both challenge and growth for you. Know that it takes time to integrate this knowledge into practice. You will learn, you will grow, you will screw up, and that’s all part of the process. Learn to be kind and gentle with both yourself and others as you walk this path, while still holding yourself up to a high standard.

Practicing self-compassion is essential for leaders. Offering kindness to ourselves when we make mistakes is important, because we are less apt to be defensive, and more likely to take personal responsibility and grow from difficult experiences.

You will screw up from time to time, because everyone does. No one is perfect. No one. Own your humanity.

Apologize with humility, learn from the experience, and do better next time. Let go of the shame. Because shame will make you angry, defensive, and keep you stuck.

You will work with people who are stronger leaders/facilitators than you are. This is because they have more experience. You will get there too! Don’t expect to do something one or two times and be an expert. It’s just not possible. Work with people who know more than you, learn from them without letting yourself be intimidated,

Just remember that every single human being is on a learning journey. We are constantly evolving. Embrace that.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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