Adult Learning in Canadian Workplace


Adult learning refers to the practice of educating and teaching adults. This can take place in the workplace, community, or any environment that suits this purpose. In the workplace, the practice is often carried out through training and development, as this is associated with employee or professional development (Guo & Liu, 2021). Adult learning can also be informal, with a focus on personal development or gaining new skills. An example of informal adult learning includes participating in a community club or attending a forum. This paper will analyze adult education in Canada by looking specifically into adult learning in the workplace. Through this, the paper will argue the importance of adult learning in the workplace.

Adult learning has become a way of life for several people in Canada. The state has organized non-formal learning at all levels of government, enterprises, cooperatives and hospitals (Draper & English, 2017). Adult education takes place in lecture halls, churches, offices, etc., through a wide range of teaching and learning methods as well as the internet. In formal settings, adult learning takes place as part of credited programs within educational institutions and online venues. Evidence of workplace adult learning in Canada dates back to the 1800s when institutions such as the mechanics’ institutes of Nova Scotia and Ontario provided learning opportunities and information to workers (Draper & English, 2017). Thereafter, several organizations were established which provided programs that responded to adult needs and interests, giving them an opportunity to learn in the workplace and develop their skills. Today, most Canadians participate in informal learning, which is not often measured or recognized. Leaving several workers overqualified and underemployed.

Digital Methods of Workplace Learning

One of the methods used in adult education in the workplace encompasses the use of digital methods such as technology and the Internet. Digital learning includes any set of technology-based practices and methods that can be applied to support learning and instruction. Such practices include simulations, mobile applications, game-based learning, and massive open online courses (Egloffstein & Ifenthaler, 2017). These digital methods are advantageous for professional learning as they ensure a wide range of solutions that support work and the learning activities that take place in this environment. Digital technologies change learning at the workplace by coming up with customized learning environments that ensure cost-effective delivery modes and easy access to learning resources (Egloffstein & Ifenthaler, 2017). For example, game-based learning solutions provide a pseudo-realistic means of motivating the workers’ skills acquisition. This broadens the physical boundaries of the learning environment thus enabling the workers to practice dealing with new things such as equipment, even before they encounter it physically. This boosts the employees’ flexibility and control over their learning experiences.

The Canadian government is actively promoting and has signaled a commitment to innovative and universal education that is embracing the digitalization of education. The country is a leader in online learning and distance education, including that for adults seeking to increase their professional competencies or specializations (EduCanada, 2021). Digital techniques also give workers an opportunity to take extra time with the material that they find challenging. Since technologies can also be used in self-regulated learning, they enable adults to learn whenever they want to, as these technologies can be easily accessed at the individual’s own comfort and time. It gives them the ability to learn at any place and anytime they want to. Technology gives workers a safer environment to learn where there is less pressure compared to classroom learning. However, digital means of workplace learning also have several disadvantages depending on the characteristics of the training system design, employee perspective, and workplace characteristics. Digital learning in the workplace has currently been implemented in the shape of formal learning environments where it supports activities such as interacting, networking, reflecting, and sharing knowledge (cite). This means that digital forms of workplace learning support informal learning and contribute to the lifelong learning of adults.

Types of Workplace Learning

Workplace learning can take on many key forms in a modern organizational environment. There are regular professional trainings that are conducted to specific teams, departments, or all staff, which is generally instructional or information-based learning for the development of certain knowledge and awareness. There is professional development, which is provided on an individual or team basis, where training or courses are provided in order to increase professional competencies and skills. There are vocational and occupational trainings, which focus on key skills and task performance based on technical functions and capabilities required by certain positions or fields at various levels.

Another type is continuing or recurrent education, associated with lifelong learning, where the educational strategy is to distribute learning over prolonged periods of time or constantly requiring an update in knowledge and skills. This is often seen in areas such as medicine or IT, where new information, evidence, and techniques are rapidly changing, requiring professionals to be up-to-date to practice competently. A range of other workplace learning contexts exist, including internships and apprenticeships, coaching, and education focused on social skills. However, it is important to consider that there are many stakeholders involved in adult education and workplace learning. This ranges from the government, which conducts policy and funding for workplace development to employers, unions, regulators, educators, and the employees themselves. The stakeholders have differing influences on the adult education process and its implementation in workplace settings, but each is driven by specific interests that must align to successfully develop and enact complex professional workplace programs.

Adult Learning Theorist and Transformative Learning

Adult learning has been an important aspect, and this has brought attention to theorists. Some of the theories have developed theories related to adult learning to educate the audience about it. The theories that have been developed due to adult learning include Andragogy, Transformative learning, self-directed learning, Experiential learning, and Project-based learning (Western Governors University, 2020). Thus, this section will look at some of the theories affecting adult learning.

Andragogy is a concept borrowed from pedagogy, but the name suggests adult learning. The concept was developed to help adults in learning, and it uses its concepts to differentiate adult learning from pedagogy. The theory explains that the process of learning for children is different from adult learning. Therefore, andragogy learning provides reasons why students should learn something. It provides experience and few instructions to give room where they tackle education problems on their own (Western Governors University, 2020). As a result, andragogy focuses on explaining why adults need to learn a particular thing and allow them to go through the journey with less assistance for them to learn effectively.

Likewise, self-directed learning assists in adult learning but in this case, it allows the learners to initiate the learning process. The theory explains that learners plan, carry out and evaluate what they will learn without the help of teachers. The adults learning set their objectives and determine their learning needs. They then implement a plan to enhance their learning process. Critics that are linked to this theory include learners not being able pursue self-directed learning. Other critics argue that some of the adults may not be confident and may lack an understanding of self-directed learning (Western Governors University, 2020). Thus, self-directed learning may be beneficial to adult learning, but it may also limit the process of learning.

Transformative Learning

Transformative learning can be referred to as transformation learning. This theory was developed in 70s by Jack Mezirow and the focus of the theory was to change how learners think about themselves and about their surroundings. The Western Governors University has done a study on transformation learning and according to them, when learners learn about new things like religion, their perspective might change. The learners tend to learn more about different religions and in the process, they gain new perspectives and thoughts about the religions and culture. Thus, the study illustrates that, the theory creates a room for development where learners can add to what they already know and build on that. In some cases, transformative learning may utilize situations and dilemmas that challenge an individual’s principles and assumptions. Due to its challenging aspects, it drives the learners to engage their critical thinking and question their beliefs and assumptions. Through it, they realize themselves and learn from the process. Thus, Mezrow saw transformational learning as an opportunity for learners to go through a rationale process where they can challenge and expand their understanding.

However, there are critics that affects transformative learning, for instance, it is believed that the theory does not consider relationships, feelings, and cultural contexts. This makes it difficult for learners to share their thoughts and feelings in an educational setting. The effect of learners not being able to share their thoughts causes them to feel nervous or unsafe. Many learners likewise, find that working towards changing their beliefs can be of benefit and demanding. Hence, the theory can create a progressive environment for the learners. However, they might realize that the new information contradicts to their beliefs and demands a lot from them.

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is the ongoing and motivated pursuit of knowledge and skills for personal and professional development throughout their adult life after receiving a formal education. It can be used for either self-development or employment competitiveness. A healthy civil society is one where people are aware of current issues facing it and seek to vote and conduct action based on this information to lead to solutions. In theory, that requires the approach of lifelong learning and development. The workplace is often the location of lifelong learning, as good organizational leaders facilitate employee’s professional and personal development through programs. In some cases, such as medical personnel and teachers, professional development is required to continue working, but oftentimes it is voluntary. However, if offered, employees are likely to pursue the opportunities in order to increase their competitiveness in the market (Plaza & Windon, 2021).

As early as 2001, both the federal government of Canada and provincial governments have expressed interest in enhancing the ‘intellectual capital’ of the nation’s workforce. This implies developing programs for adult workplace education that would improve competencies and fill gaps in much-needed positions in the workforce by raising skill levels or potentially fully retraining adults. Canada invests nearly CAN$7.5 billion annually in employment and skills training programs (Skrzypinski, 2021). This is in the interest of the government and communities as it will allow for Canadians to develop skills in demand on the market and be capable to adopt new technologies and business models needed for economic prosperity in society. However, according to Sork (2019), adult learning has generally been reactive, focused on local, and based on needs, while it should be more proactive, globally oriented, and assertive to have a greater impact. Furthermore, according to Black (2012), the digital tools that are used in the context of adult education such as mobile devices, blogs, and social media; can then be transformed to instruments driving civic engagement. However, with education and knowledge, people are aware of the strengths and limitations to these online tools. Lifelong learning is necessary to develop a knowledgeable and thoughtful population that can influence social policy and develop solutions to key issues within their respective professions.

Challenges of Adult Learning

The theory under study has proven to assist learners in transforming their beliefs and practicing critical thinking in the process. Although it is significant, the learners face certain challenges when learning it. The lack of time is among the challenges identified by Western Governors University (2020) because most of the learners are adults, and they have responsibilities. For example, the learners might be lacking time due to working hours and their responsibility to their children. This demands much of their time which can limit their learning period. Another challenge associated in adult learning is self-doubt and like lacking time to learn, self-doubt significantly affects the learners. The adults studying may feel reluctance because they believe to be too old for learning and often, they feel that they already missed their chance to study. This limits their involvement in learning and most of them may not pursue studying to improve their skills.

A challenging aspect of adult learning is neuroplasticity, and it affects how they learn. According to Western Governors University (2020), the brains of individuals have an element of plasticity in them. The term plasticity is used to show that the higher the brain is considered plastic, the more the individual has the potential to learn. The younger individuals have a higher plasticity brain than those that are old. Therefore, it becomes difficult for the adults to learn as they are more focused in what they believe in. Additionally, financial barriers may be a critical contributor towards adult learning. The adults have different responsibilities that consumes their money such as paying fees for their children. The responsibilities strain their financial resources such that they may lack enough to use in their learning. Hence, the adults may lack enough funds to pursue education. Moreover, the learners may lack support during the learning process. The lack of support may be overwhelming to them especially because they are adults and have a lot in mind.

Educational Learning Theory

There are different educational learning theories that contribute towards learning of individuals. These includes behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, humanism, and connectivism. Below, each theory will be discussed to understand their contribution in learning. Behaviorism explains that the learning process uses external and behavioral conditioning. The idea of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment and reward systems are effective tool towards learning (Konen, 2021). Thus, the theory explains that an individual’s behavior can be influenced towards learning through the tools that initiate certain behaviors. In adult learning, behaviorism can be used to explain how the behavior of the adults can be influenced to learn new information. In this case, for adults to understand what they are learning and be motivated, there has to be a reward such as a promotion in work.

A different educational learning theory is constructivism, in this theory, it uses people experience. The theory explains that individuals are responsible for their own perceptions of the world. The people use what they know based on previous experiences and try to link these experiences to new information. In relation to adult learning, constructivism demonstrates scenarios where the adults try to understand what they learn based on information they already know.

Importance of Adult Learning in the Workplace

Adult learning in the workplace has become increasingly important especially because of the rapidly changing working environments, novel work practices and ever-changing job roles. The twenty-first century has brought with it several competencies that individuals have to keep up with. As a result, learning for work must be a continual and highly individualized process that cannot be completely addressed through traditional training programs (Egloffstein & Ifenthaler, 2017). Adult learning in the workplace has a lot of importance for both the individual, the organization and the society.

Adult learning greatly enhances the self-development of an individual and allows them to achieve progress and well-being across social, economic, personal, and professional dimensions. It enables people to not only gain new skills but also enhance their already acquired skills and knowledge. Through this, adult learning enables employees to improve their performance at work and grant them success in their positions at work. By doing so, adult learning gives people greater opportunities to enable their career progression, open doors for employment, and promotion (De Matas & Keegan, 2020). This provides economic benefits for the individual as it brings about a possibility for increased wages, an improved income, and improved employability.

Adult learning in the workplace also improves the individuals’ well-being as it serves to elevate their self-esteem and confidence. As a result, it improves their personal and professional satisfaction. This contributes to positive perceptions of their health and increases their life satisfaction. This type of learning in the workplace gives employees an opportunity to serve as mentors or trainers and enhances how workers view their employers as it gives the latter a good employer status. It also results in the development of basic work habits and allows people to develop an identity related to their occupation.

Aside from this, adult learning in the workplace has several advantages for the employer. It promotes employee innovation by addressing the problem of skills inadequacy and employees’ competency. In turn, this increases the firm’s innovation performance and benefits its economic competitiveness compared to other organizations. Another benefit of this form of learning is its provision of a motivated workforce to the company (European Commission, 2018). It makes it possible to break the monotony of work by giving workers a chance to be trainers or mentors and stimulating their self-confidence as well as their commitment to the organization. Workers who have a sense of commitment or loyalty have an increased chance of staying with the same employer due to the better opportunity this provides for development. This brings about a higher rate of staff retention for the firm.

Moreover, adult learning in the workplace increases the employees’ capacity by helping them adapt to new machinery and processes. Through this, it provides benefits such as reduced breakdown rates and work incidents. Combined with higher employee motivation, this increase in the workforce capacities leads to an increased level of productivity which economically benefits the employer (European Commission, 2018). In society, this type of learning can help reduce the unemployment rate by making low-skilled unemployed individuals more competent. Adult learning provides a framework for social integration in the context of a workplace, particularly for vulnerable populations that are seeking economic opportunities.


Adult learning in the workplace presents several benefits and impacts not only to the individual but also the organization and society at large. As part of lifelong learning, this type of education should be embraced in the individual level as well as the organizational level through training and development. Through it, learners are able to develop and enhance their skills and competency at work and in turn economically benefitting themselves and the organization where they work. However, its challenges may cause the adult learners to find it difficult to proceed with it. This is because the learning process requires time and finances to complete it successfully. The adults may lack time and enough capital to study, and this limits the potential of getting the skills that they want to obtain. In addition, the relevance of adult learning in the workplace has attracted the attention of theorists. Therefore, they have formulated certain theories to assist adults in learning while still working, among them including self-direct and transformative learning. As explained above, self-directed learning allows adults to participate in their learning process by giving them the upper hand to learn by themselves. On the other hand, transformative learning allows adults to add to their knowledge to better understand other things.


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