Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for
online learning design, AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159.
Characteristics of Adult Learners with Implications for
Online Learning Design
State of Connecticut
Milford, CT USA
The online educational environment is increasingly being
used by adults and should be designed based on the needs of
adult learners. This article discusses andragogy, an important
adult learning theory, and reviews three other adult learning
theories: self-directed learning, experiential learning, and
transformational learning. During this discussion, the
theories are examined for the ways in which they may be
applied to the design of online learning environments. In
addition, the characteristics of adult learners are examined,
and an analysis of how these characteristics influence the
design of an online learning environment is presented.
Recommendations follow regarding how to design an online
classroom environment while considering the application of
adult learning theories.
The adult learner and the manner in which he or she learns best have been
questioned and researched since the 1920s, when adult education became a
professional field of practice (Merriam, 2001). Today, several theories and
models attempt to explain adult learning. One of the most well known
theories is Malcolm S. Knowles’ learning theory of andragogy, the art and
science of helping adults learn. Andragogy is a learning theory that is
designed to address the particular needs of adults, and it is based on the idea
that there are significant differences in learning characteristics between
children and adults (Knowles, 1980).
Association for the Advancement of Computing In Education Journal, 16(2)
This article presents a framework for integrating adult learning theories with
recommendations for designing an online environment to meet the needs of
adult students. This article introduces the characteristics of adult learners.
Following this discussion, the conc