Understand How Employees Learn

How your employees learn is influenced by both adult learning principles and their individual learning style.


Competency development is based on the principles of adult learning.  Below we summarize how adults learn best. You can help your employees put these principles into action by involving them in the learning process, facilitating action learning, and providing a variety of learning opportunities.

  • Adults must want to learn – People learn more effectively only if they really want to learn/change.
  • Adults learn best by managing their own learning – Involve the employee in their learning – the more decisions people make around their own learning strategies, the more likely they are to be motivated to get the most out of the learning experience.
  • Adults learn in different ways, depending on their background and preferred learning styles– People will benefit from understanding how they learn best.
  • Adults learn by doing – People will learn most effectively through action learning – dealing in real time with a problem that has no preset solution.
  • Adults learn by evaluating their own progress – You should encourage your employees to measure and note their progress on an ongoing basis.
  • Adults learn best by using a variety of learning methods – You should provide your employees with a variety of learning strategies; for example, readings, on-the-job challenges, mentors, coaches, formal learning courses, learning journals, video, assessment tools.


HR Councils’ HR Toolkit identifies the following checklist for a successful employee learning experience, based on adult learning principles:

  • The goals of the employee training or development program are clear
  • The employees are involved in determining the knowledge, skills and abilities to be learned
  • The employees are participating in activities during the learning process
  • The work experiences and knowledge that employees bring to each learning situation are used as a resource
  • A practical and problem-centered approach based on real examples is used
  • New material is connected to the employee’s past learning and work experience
  • The employees are given an opportunity to reinforce what they learn by practicing
  • The learning environment is informal, safe and supportive
  • The individual employee is shown respect


Finally, how an employee learns is influenced by the individual learning style. Learning styles refer to the ways you prefer to approach new information. Each of us learns and processes information in our own ways, in addition to sharing some learning patterns, preferences, and approaches.

You can complete a questionnaire online for a free assessment of your learning style.

Feel free to use this tool with your employees to find out how they best learn and gear your learning activities to their individual styles.