Adult Learning Theories and Principles

Adult learning theory is the study of how adults learn and how this process differs from children and individuals of a younger age. Various theories exist, which help teachers interact with and educate people that have different learning styles. One of the examples is the humanistic learning theory, which is used primarily in education and is based on the fundamental idea that people inherently have favorable intentions and will act positively if they are not deprived of their needs (Connolly, 2016). The founder of humanism is Abraham Maslow, who believed that behaviorism and psychoanalysis did not reflect the true nature of human beings (Acevedo, 2018). For instance, behaviorism considered effective learning to be a product of reward and punishment (Farid, Mahmood, Zahid, & Hussain, 2017). However, Maslow argued that being human-centric is essential – one cannot learn efficiently when there are other issues to be concerned with.

The topic is a humanistic learning theory, and it is connected to human resource development (HRD) because both the theory and HRD prioritize learning. HR managers and top-level executives are concerned with organizational performance, which means it is essential to have a strategy with regard to increasing employee capabilities (Lee, Park, & Baker, 2018). Humanism has been a popular topic in the context of HRD, primarily because it has facilitated the development of employee progression strategies besides compensation. Incentivizing personal and professional growth through payment is an example of the application of behaviorism (Chen & Wang, 2017). However, because other impediments may exist between a worker and continuous training, organizations have to utilize a combination of adult learning theories.

Besides work, people have families and other elements that demand their attention and time. Therefore, using money to motivate employees to learn and grow is not effective. Retaining work-life balance has become significant, and scholars have discovered that the absence of balance and has a deteriorating impact on employee performance. Therefore, managers have started paying attention to work-life parity as part of the HRD strategy. Humanistic learning theory is relevant in this context because the primary principle of the theory is to help meet the individual’s demands (Connolly, 2016). For instance, a hungry person will not think of effective learning but instead will focus solely on food. In terms of work-life balance, a humanistic approach can be implemented by introducing flexible work schedules and the ability to work from home on certain occasions.

Organizations and businesses have to consider various strategies regarding employee development and learning. The reason is that continuous growth is essential to meet changing market demands (Nguyen & Hadikusumo, 2017). Besides monetary and equity compensation, it has become necessary to be concerned with the work-life balance of employees. In this context, humanistic adult learning theory is the most appropriate because it prioritizes meeting the personal needs of a learner prior to teaching them. In terms of efficacy, however, humanism may not be excellent because of several conflicts. First, retaining a work-life balance may impede achieving career goals quickly. Contemporary path goals are compressed, which means individuals need to learn and develop as fast as possible. Second, budgetary constraints may not allow companies to be concerned with the personal life of their employees. Therefore, while humanism is beneficial in many contexts, in order to apply it in an organizational context, significant funding, and the development of effective learning plans will be required.


Acevedo, A. (2018). A personalistic appraisal of Maslow’s needs theory of motivation: From “humanistic” psychology to integral humanism. Journal of Business Ethics, 148(4), 741-763.

Chen, L., & Wang, J. (2017). A business strategy, compensation policy and innovation performance: A behavioral perspective. Compensation & Benefits Review, 49(4), 189-205.

Connolly, G. J. (2016). Applying humanistic learning theory: The “art” of coaching. Strategies, 29(2), 39-41.

Farid, S., Mahmood, M. I., Zahid, M., & Hussain, S. (2017). Behaviorism and learning: Animals to human. Al-Qalam, 22(2), 170-182.

Lee, J. Y., Park, S., & Baker, R. (2018). The moderating role of top management support on employees’ attitudes in response to human resource development efforts. Journal of Management & Organization, 24(3), 369-387.

Nguyen, H. T., & Hadikusumo, B. (2017). Impacts of human resource development on engineering, procurement, and construction project success. Built Environment Project and Asset Management, 7(1), 73-85.

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ChalkyPapers. 2023. "Adult Learning Theories and Principles." August 3, 2023.

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ChalkyPapers. "Adult Learning Theories and Principles." August 3, 2023.