Training adults requires a unique approach that is different from how we were taught in our primary education.

In order to create a compelling training course for adult learners, one needs to consider the set of motivators that drives an adult to retain (and later apply) lessons learned from a course—be it in a traditional or eLearning format.

Let’s look at a few motivators in adult learning as well as how you can tie them in with your next training course.


Adults are pragmatic thinkers, which is to say that they judge the truth of theories and beliefs in terms of their success in practical application. Basically, this means that thought is a tool for problem solving, prediction making, and application to real-life situations. In a way, Pragmatism helps adults make responsible decisions with positive outcomes.

Think about this in a training context. You can encourage pragmatism in your trainings by allowing trainees to apply a theory or lesson they’ve just been taught using branched scenarios. This allows them to test the truth and validity of the lesson and at the same time see how their application plays out in a seemingly real-life situation.

For example: In our sales orientation training course, we encouraged pragmatism by letting trainees apply lessons in a sales call simulation as part of the course. Using branched scenarios, learners were able to see how their decisions impacted the call and, in turn, the “customer” on the other end.

Intrinsic Motivation

Another factor to consider for adult training is intrinsic motivation, or the motivation that is sought out for the pure satisfaction of the behavior itself. In general, adult learners are curious beings that enjoy taking meaning from experiences, specifically when it is relevant to their values and perspectives.

Intrinsic motivation in training can be earned through teaching highly relevant lessons with real-life application illustrated. So, for example, if you were trying to train a team on relatively dull subject matter (like updates to HIPAA regulations) you’d want to incorporate some interactivity that illustrated the knowledge used in action so the value was made clear for the learner.

Base Knowledge and Improvement

Working to build upon an adult’s existing knowledge base leverages the intelligence of your trainee and helps them to grow understanding at a higher level, rather than wasting time by working from a starting point that is far too basic.

Working with your clients to fully understand what concepts and lessons your learners already have in their knowledge base will help you craft a course that lets the adult learner incorporate their past experiences and knowledge with new concepts moving forward. This also shows adult learners the respect they deserve, and acknowledges the wealth of experiences they already have.

Designing Training That’s Mindful of Motivators in Adult Learning

Remember, you’re creating training for an adult learner—so your approach should be different than how you were taught lessons in grade school and high school.

Your training should be pragmatic, use intrinsic motivation, and work from the existing base knowledge of your trainees.