Training – How Adults Learn Differently From Kids

When you were in grade school, your learning was essentially a passive process where you had to rely on others – whether that was a teacher or parent or schoolbook.

Fast forward several years to the workplace when you need to acquire new knowledge, skills or attitudes. The old way of learning just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Adults have experience to call upon and use as a context in learning. As a result, they learn better when they’re actively involved.

These differences are crucial for a trainer in the workplace to understand. The fastest way to fail is to treat adults like they are kids in a classroom. A professional trainer knows how to leverage adult learning principles to make learning/training more productive for adults.

So let’s look at the differences between kid learning and adult learning and what that means for a trainer:


Kids: rely on others to decide what’s to be learned

Adults: decide for themselves what they want to learn

The Trainer therefore is not responsible for the participant’s learning, but rather provides and directs the flow of information, allowing the participants choose what they will learn.


Kids: accept information at face value

Adults: question information, need to validate

The Trainer provides opportunities to test or practice or experience learnings and is prepared to answer questions.


Kids: expect learned information will be useful in the future

Adults: expect information to be useful now

The Trainer shows how the information or skill has relevance and real-world applications for participants.


Kids: are clean slates with little or no experience

Adults: are full slates with lots of experience

The Trainer draws upon and builds on participants’ knowledge and experience.


Kids: have limited ability to be a resource to classmates

Adults: significant ability to serve as resource to others

The Trainer allows, encourages and facilitates break-out sessions and exercises for group discussions, interactions, and team dynamics.


Kids: are content-centered

Adults: are process- or problem-centered

The Trainer facilitates exercises, games and activities to help participants solve a problem or understand a process.


Kids: are passively involved in learning

Adults: are actively involved in learning

The Trainer resists “dumping” information on the group, but rather partners with participants in a collaborative effort to achieve desired outcomes.


Kids: learn best in an authoritative environment

Adults: learn best in a collaborative environment

The Trainer is responsible for the best environment for learning.


Kids: are motivated by external rewards: grades, advancement, avoidance of punishment

Adults: are motivated internally: self-esteem, curiosity, love of learning, self-improvement

The Trainer employs active, participative methods to engage the participants, keep their interest, and enhance the likelihood that they will learn, retain, and use new information and skills.