The last two or three decades have seen an expansion of organizations involvement in the development of the existing workplace through various training interventions. As a result organizations are being pushed to increase their involvement in development of workplace learning. The United States face a dramatic shortage in the number of skilled workers in the workplace. Organizations are spending millions of dollars to secure a competitive advantage through training and development programs. One example of this is companies’ effort to hire and retain skilled technical staff amid an industry-wide shortage of skilled trade’s workers. Some companies opted for an ambitious and novel solution: starting their own internal colleges or training centers from scratch.

Creating a learning culture is imperative in today’s workplace; however, organizations continuously struggle with achieving such a culture. As organizations become flatter, individuals must become more self-sufficient in solving problems on their own and taking the initiative to acquire skills and knowledge to perform effectively (Kienzl, G. 2008). Subsequently, organizations must give an account for adult learners. All workplace training should be provided with the basis of understanding the way adults learn and the factors influencing the learning process. One basic assumption of adult learning theory is that adults engage in learning for personal reasons and that learning adds value to their bottom line in some way. Adult learning in the workplace is far different from children learning in a classroom and therefore, requires a more in depth understanding of both adult learning motivators and the learning process in the context of organizations.


What does this mean to the Adult Learner in the Workplace?

Workplace learning must involve learning from experience and engagement in a group form of learning. Sharing knowledge and solving complex problems requires personal interaction and application of new information. Changes in the modern workplace poses many challenges for all workers, as the requirement for worker competence and expertise changes, the need for organizations to establish an environment of continuous professional growth and for the individual to assume a larger role in their own learning process becomes paramount to leveraging a competitive advantage (Ellinger, A. D. , 2005). Organizations must also create a workplace environment that offers and encourages engagement in varied learning opportunities on a continuous and long-term basis. As organizations continue to seek new methods and approaches to learning in the workplace, the employee as an adult learner must not be overlooked. Adult learners need a reason for engaging in learning and motivation to learn. Effective learning organizations will define the reason and provide the appropriate motivation.


Issues and Barriers to Adult Learners in the Workplace

The workplace provides excellent opportunities for learning and continuous professional development. However, many workplace settings also throw up considerable obstacles to learning. The net result of this can be stagnation. Instead of employees becoming more knowledgeable, more skilled, and more confident over time, they can become more disillusioned, more stale and more disaffected by forms of work that are unstimulating, unchallenging and thus unrewarding. Therefore, much is to be gained by identifying issues and barriers to adult learners in the workplace. There are numerous barriers to learning in the workplace. However, the following are a couple of common barriers to adult learners in the workplace.


A culture which does not value learning

A culture which does not value learning can manifest itself in a number of ways, but most commonly it appears in employees everyday attitudes of ‘just get the job done’. There may be a defensive culture which discourages people from looking at situations in a new way or thinking outside the box. A culture such as this can lead to people not trying anything new; thus, learning opportunities become very restricted. Where such a culture exists it must be eradicated in order to foster creativity and forward thinking.


Making learning individualized in a group setting

Allow enough time for individual learning and group learning throughout any workplace learning intervention. Many adult learners learn best using a combination of team work exercises, on the job training exercises, and individual reflective learning exercises. Encourage groups to speak and to hear differences of opinion. Members of groups that are able to openly disagree function at a higher level than groups that cannot disagree (Baldwin, D. 2005). Disagreement is essential for developing a high functioning group; it also helps adult learners feel that their individual voices are being heard. Provide different options for learners to demonstrate knowledge transfer. For example, providing exercises for visual learners and kinesthetic learners.


Using formative assessments that measure progress along with feedback

Thornton and Rupp (2004) defined assessment as “a method of evaluating performance in a set of assessment techniques at least one of which is a simulation” (p. 319). A common practice in assessing job progress in the workplace is the use of qualitative and quantitative assessments. To make assessment more appropriate for use with adult learners in the workplace future research, as done in other fields, should continually focus on how to improve the construct validity of assessments being constructed through design and development. Formative assessments help differentiate instruction and thus improve learner’s achievement within organizations. When assessing adult learners in the workplace; often, the opportunity to assess an individual or small group can be immediate.


Lack of time

In an article by Skillsoft 54% of management trainees cited that it was a lack of time that prevented them from improving their management skills. In today’s fast paced working environment and the concept of doing more with less, time is a valuable commodity. Adult learners are very time conscience; thus, making them accountable and responsible for the content of the learning. Therefore, learning that is directly related to a specific issue or current business need will have far more impact on the bottom line and organizations performance.


Many learners are learning in a language that is not their first language

English as a second Language (ESL) is a fact in many large organizations concerning adult learners. When providing a suitable intervention in development and design this fact must be addressed appropriately. Some ESL learners may have difficulties when assessing programs, concentrating and learning the material in a program. All adult learners bring their own backgrounds, cultures, and experiences to the learning. Often times ESL learners are from outside the United States and the role of the learner is to take notes and memorize them. Teachers, facilitators, and trainers are authority figures whom are rarely questioned. Differences between American culture and majority ESL learners cultures in conjunction with differences in cognitive and language patterns, places a heavy burden on adult learners and facilitators alike. 



Lastly, adult learners are a diverse group who strive toward differing goals and must be given proper motivation to learn. The overarching theme reflects the centrality of a belief system in mind that adult centered learning organizations have a culture in which flexibility, individuation, and adult centered learning drive organizational practice. Curriculum is designed to meet individual needs of adult learners. Organizations use prior learning assessments to honor and credit the learning which previously took place and to help plan new learning. As organizations continue to seek new methods and approaches to learning in the workplace, the employee as an adult learner must not be overlooked. Organizations must continue to provide the reason and appropriate motivation for learning.

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