Assumptions about Adult Learning that Every Evaluator Should Know by Elizabeth DiLuzio

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.


Happy weekend! I’m Elizabeth DiLuzio, lead curator of AEA365.

Before becoming an evaluator, I was an 8th grade teacher. I remember thinking as I changed my career trajectory that my years as an educator were going to become irrelevant. 

Boy was I mistaken.

I had no idea how much of our role as evaluators incorporates teaching. Whether it’s a new Excel trick, the difference between outputs and outcomes, or how to critically read a data report, part of our job is to teach non-evaluators the concepts and skills that go into the work. As such, knowing some principles about how adults learn best can make the world of difference in your work. Chances are you utilize some of these principles already.

Here are four of the most accepted assumptions about what makes adult learners unique, and how to structure their learning environment in response.

Changes in Self Concept

Assumption: Adults become more self-driven the older they get. They want to choose what, when, and how they learn. If this is not accommodated for, the adult will likely become resentful and resistant.

Response: Provide opportunities for choice, self-direction, and contributions toward the content of a learning experience.

The Role of Experience

Assumption: Adults approach learning with a wealth of experience. 

Response: Shift your role from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”. Concretely, this means spending less time lecturing and more time facilitating action learning techniques such as discussions, simulations, and team projects that create opportunities for the analysis of the group’s experiential knowledge.

Readiness to Learn

Assumption: Adults are most ready to learn when they perceive that the information will help them to perform in their societal roles.

Response: Either provide or tap into prior experience of the topic before teaching additional skills or theoretical and abstract concepts.

Orientation to Learn

Assumption: Adults seek out education in order to learn how to better cope with the problems they face. They are more interested in learning how to solve problems or complete tasks than they are learning about subjects. 

Response: Order learning activities according to a logical sequence of challenges encountered versus a logical sequence of concepts or themes.

Rad Resource

You can read more about andragogy (adult learning principles and methods) in Malcolm Knowles’ The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species.


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