Learner Centred Learning/Adult Learning Theories, Principles and Practices

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The amount of information and potential learning around adult learning theories, principles and practices is huge and impossible to cover in one module. The purpose of this module is to introduce you to some of the core theories and provide some signposts to enable you to explore aspects of this area that capture your interest or have relevance to you hence the following learning outcomes:

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module you will have :

  • Developed an awareness of some of the core learning theories
  • Explored and gained an understanding of some adult learning theories, principles and practices that have interest or relevance to you.
  • Considered how these theories, principles and practices impact, influence or underlie your own teaching/facilitation practice.

Navigating this module

I have chosen to challenge both you and myself in the development of this module through moving much more closely toward the learner-centred end of the learner/teacher centred continuum and by encouraging you to choose your own direction for the content in this module.

The module begins by outlining 4 core orientations to learning and then expands with the introduction of a range of material exploring some of the adult learning theories, principles and practices. It is entirely up to you to discover what is of interest or relevant to you.

Your own circumstances will determine what and how far you want to explore but to help contain this exploration for those who may have a desire to consume everything or who may feel overwhelmed by where to start or where to go: ask yourself the question How does this connect to what I do and what I believe about teaching/facilitation?. Once you find something that has strong relevance to you, use that as your focus for further exploration.

Use the discussion board on 'Moodle' to share your exploration with others and seek differing perspectives on what you are learning. Chances are there will be someone else in the group interested in the same things as you but you won’t know till you put it out to the group.

You don’t need to explore everything. This is simply another step in your ongoing professional development journey as a teacher/facilitator. I’m sure you were thinking about your teaching/facilitation practice before starting this course and I hope you will continue to do so long after this course has finished so anything learned here simply helps you to grow in your understanding of the wider world of learning and teaching knowledge.

Four Orientations to Learning

There are four traditional categories of learning theories described by Merriam and Cafella (1991), later adapted by Smith (1999). As with any categorisation there is often debate over the boundaries and areas of overlap but generally these categories are a useful guide.

  • The behaviourist orientation
  • The cognitivist orientation
  • The humanist orientation
  • The social and situational orientation

Find out more about what each of the Four Orientations to Learning involve.

Now Explore

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Tip: Useful reminder: If you right click (or control click for Mac users) on the coloured words and open the links in a new tab it can be easier to move between the pages.

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Remember to ask yourself

How does this connect to what I do and what I believe about teaching/facilitation?

If it doesn't connect easily move on until you find something that does.

When you have completed this module share your thoughts and learning on the Moodle Discussion board

Deep and Surface Learning

Taking you back to a link from module one, where deep learning considers the connections and meaning in the learning where as surface learning focuses more on recalling specific data.


This page includes definitions of constructivism, and provides some background information and links.

Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Kolb’s Learning Cycle reflects an experiential way of learning identifying 4 main aspects of learning

Honey and Mumford’s Learning Cycle

Honey and Mumford’s Learning Cycle builds on Kolb's cycle and identifies 4 learning preferences or styles