Adult education – learning – method

Characteristics of adult learning

There are a few principles to follow to ensure effective preparation. Adults learn well when they are motivated, interested in the curriculum, and interested in learning. It is important to be relaxed and not anxious while learning. You can learn until your death, physiological aging only comes into direct contact with learning ability around the age of 50! Adults do not learn successfully when they have severe time problems, or if learning is not integrated into the individual’s use of time. Adults learn best when they can set their own pace and when the stress from the deadline is minimal. It hinders adult learning if the participating adults do not see the purpose or meaning of the training, do not feel it is usable, applicable, practical, if they experience pre-school methods, are not treated as adults or if they do not build on their existing experience. Adults are busy, so when training is organised, care should be taken of the living conditions of the participants (e.g. time schedule, family, distance of residence, leisure time). Effective training requires an appropriate environment, comfortable facilities and a good team atmosphere.[1]

All adults can and do learn, though not always in a school setting. Adaptation, learning and cognition are man’s special feature. Adult learning can be formal learning (in institutional settings, with the aim of obtaining a diploma) but informal learning is also of great importance in everyday activities (at work, in social, entertainment or leisure activities, etc.) and most often it is not realised deliberately. Learning is a natural, self-evolving process, development.

Adult learning

The strategies and structures already learned are the basis for further learning: they are added to existing ones, modifying them as necessary, integrating the new with the old. New learning can also lead to radical change: learning structures and strategies are newly organised and reorganised by the individual. Adult learning is thus partly re-learning. The prerequisite for successful learning is that the learner is able to conceive and organise their own learning in conceptual structures. Self-reflection and self-management are essential processes for successful learning.

Of course, not all adults reach this level of learning ability. Those who have the learning competences and skills needed for independent learning will learn more effectively. There are external resources other than teachers in the learning process. These include learning group members, learning advisors, tutors and mentors. [2]

Adults can learn in different settings: individually or in groups.

According to the majority of adult educators, adults learn best in a group because it can be a support, a challenge, a positive stimulus for them.

If different motives, problems and needs are present in the group, there is a strong tendency for individual students to use the group for their own purposes. In such cases, instead of group learning, individual learning takes place. If similar or identical motives, problems and needs dominate the learning group, then everyone contributes to mutual learning and everyone is a professional in the contribution and activity of the other group members. The end result of learning will be the development of the group.

An adult learns more effectively if they feel they learn voluntarily. Methodological tool to raise awareness of volunteering: at the beginning of training programmes, it is necessary to raise awareness of participants’ feelings. The tool for this is a small group conversation.

Adult education methods

Therefore, the choice of methods is based on several factors. The most important questions to ask are:


  • Who is the training for?
  • Why?
  • Who keeps it?
  • For what purpose?
  • What?
  • How?
  • With what?

Thus, each method must be decided on the basis of the basic questions and the answers given, in accordance with the training objectives, depending on the number of participants, time, place and means (materials). Cost-effective, large groups are very popular in Hungary, where lecturer methods seem to be effective, but these conditions are not necessarily conducive to learning. Following on from Jörg Knoll’s [3] system, we would like to give some useful methodological ideas based on the textbook by Mária Arapovics and Edit Brüll ‘Community learning and organisation’ [4].


  • Tailoring methods, introduction, ‘ice-breaking’ methods

For example: Partner interview, introductory small group of 4-5 people, presentation of common interest, preparation of inventory of expectations, guided narration of motivations, digital photo / video recording of the group with 1 introductory sentence, ‘icebreakers’ to ease initial tensions, easy tuning tasks, games.


  • Content exploration methods

For example: Group work, individual processing, student group.


  • Lecturer-type methods

For example: lecture / abstract / presentation, demonstration, sandwich method (introductory discussion – short report – second discussion – possibly pre-plenary summing up, podium talk, asking experts, educational / learning talk).


  • Material-oriented methods

For example: individual work, word processing, brainstorming, predefined situations with questions, case study.


  • Highly communicative methods

For example: conversation, roundtable, pro and counter debate, finishing off sentences (‘graffi aquarium ‘: inner circle – outer circle (recognising different aspects of a topic), Delphi method (multi-turnaround, brainstorming, outline)


  • Methods emphatically focused on a practical problem

For example: measurement, laboratory experience, studio work, field trip, field work, observation, hospitality, workshop work, skills training, workflow simulation, work integrated learning methods, project method.


  • Emphasis on creative methods

For example: work with photos / images (associations, ideas), pictorial representation of a topic, collage, description of texts.


  • Highly meditative methods

For example: metaphor-meditation, fantasy-journey.


  • Highly playful methods

For example: pantomime, live picture, role play, plan game.


  • Recording and providing learning

For example: learning diary, reflective record, progress log, note board, securing / recording the result.


  • Developing group cohesion

For example: group formation, growing group, ‘lightning’ (one or two statements on a specific question), ‘motor inspection’, snapshot (grasping the current state of a group, recognising the relationship to the subject and others).


  • Evaluation, post-work

For example: balance, evaluation, post-work, joint summary of work results.

[1] Arapovics M. – Molnár A.: Andragógiai módszertani alapok. Nagymaros, 2013, Via Hélia Kft.
[2] ua.
[3] Kno ll, J.: Tanfolyam – és szeminárium–módszertan. Gyakorló tankönyv tanfolyamok, szemináriumok, munka és beszélgetőcsoportok alakításához. Budapest, 1996, Német Népfőiskolai Szövetség Nemzetközi Együttműködési Intézete
[4] Arapovics M. – Brüll E.: A közösségi tanulás és szervezése. Közösségi-civil szervező Tankönyv V. fejezet. In: Arapovics M. – Brüll E. (szerk.) Közösségi-civil szervező tankönyvek I-VIII, Budapest, 2009, Szociális és Munkaügyi Minisztérium


This article based on the following document:

Practical Guide for the Establishment and Operation of Volunteer Programmes at Institutions : abridged English version