Adult Learning Challenges in the Workplace

  • Ezra
  • May 18th, 2021

Workers are expected to learn new skills and adapt to technological developments, but what adult learning challenges do we typically face when trying to fulfil this need at work? Ezra discusses some of the biggest hurdles when it comes to adult learning in a professional environment.

Untitled design (2)

People that embark on traditional career paths will usually expect to study in college, graduate, then enter the workforce. The learning process is usually front-loaded at the beginning of our lives, and we gradually build on those skills as we work in our desired industry.

However, the reality is quite far from that expectation.

These days, there are many workplace challenges that force us to learn new skills that we never expected to need. In addition, technological developments have made it necessary for us to constantly refresh our skills in order to adapt to the latest advancements. As such, the idea of adult learning can seem strange at first, but it’s an important consideration to keep in mind.

How do we define adult learning?

Simply put, adult learning is distinct from child learning because it involves sustained self-educating activities instead of mainly listening to a teacher or lecturer. It usually involves any form of traditional schooling, but also extends to any self-teaching practices, online study, and self-help guides.

Adult education mainly differs from child learning because it requires the adult to be willing to take responsibility for the learning. Unlike mandatory education where children are expected to attend school and listen to their teachers, adult learning is usually something that the individual must pursue on their own. They must also find the motivation to do so as they are usually not compelled to do so.

Adult vs childhood learning

One of the biggest differentiators is that adults must find their own motivations for learning new skills. Unlike children who listen to their parents and teachers, an adult must be self-driven if they want to learn new skills. There are also a number of other barriers to keep in mind such as:

  • Financial implications of studying a topic or joining a course
  • Setting aside enough time to study
  • Getting into the right mindset to study and learn new skills
  • Finding flexible options that suit your availability

These are some of the most common challenges that adult learners face. Adults may find it more difficult to learn new skills not because they are unwilling to, but because they hold many different responsibilities which often prevents them from undertaking their studies and exploring new topics in their own time.

Adult learning preconceptions

As children, our concept of identity development can be in constant flux. We may face an identity crisis multiple times through adolescence out of a need to redefine ourselves based on our experiences, preferences, and those around us. However, we generally have a well-defined path through life that is maintained by encouragement from our parents and peers.

However, as we enter the next stages of our life, we tend to take on more of our own responsibilities. As such, we have fewer figures in our life in which we can look towards to help build our identity and define who we are. This is when we turn to learn to help us reframe the parameters by which we define ourselves. Just like in our adolescence, we need a safe space where we can set aside responsibilities and commitments in order to grow, mature, and develop our identity for years to come.

The theory, in practice

Adult learning simply refers to the educating of adults. However, learning as a concept itself is surprisingly complex, hence why there are many unique theories and principles that can be applied to adult learning.

For example, it is said that the experience of adult learners helps them pick up new concepts due to past experiences. This is why adults that have a technical background find it much easier to learn how to use new technologies more efficiently than people that have little experience in the subject.

In addition, adults are much more accepting of learning new skills if it’s immediately required of them. This is why employees that train to fill a certain role in the workplace find it much easier if they’re expected to fill that role sooner than later, as opposed to potentially needing those skills at an undetermined point in the future.

Long-term learning potential

Adults tend to find it easier to learn new skills if they’re given opportunities to become lifelong learners. This can be explored in the workplace as well. It’s possible for employers to encourage their staff to develop open mentalities that enable self-driven learning at a much more efficient pace.

Developing long-term learning potential in the workplace can involve:

  • Teaching juniors to test one’s knowledge and pass on what they’ve learned
  • Surrounding oneself with other drive learners
  • Reading more regularly and staying up-to-date with educational topics
  • Utilizing those skills on a regular basis to ensure they aren’t forgotten
  • Experimenting with different learning techniques

Appetite and motivation

In addition to developing long-term learning potential, it’s also important to understand how you can develop a bigger appetite for learning and how to become more self-driven to learn.

This can include:

  • Learning about different roles within the workplace that you can apply your skills to
  • Finding an employer that encourages learning new skills
  • Approaching your employer about learning opportunities
  • Setting aside time to study new subjects and skills
  • Creating a space that allows you to set aside other commitments while you learn
  • Starting new projects and identifying opportunities for career advancement

Learning as a cultural value

Instilling appropriate values into the company leadership team is one of the best ways to facilitate a learning-driven culture at work. Good leadership coaching has the power to help someone identify ways to learn new skills, but it can also be helpful to establish a safe space where adult learners can let go of their responsibilities for a while in order to explore new concepts and ideas.

Employing technology such as a coaching app within your organization can often (incorrectly) be seen in a similar light to teaching or conventional training. But instead of directing people on what to learn and how to learn it, coaches instead provide a little push in the right direction to help people grasp the concept of adult learning which ultimately helps to drive their appetite for learning and unlock long-term learning potential.

Related Articles