We are accustomed to considering ongoing learning as part of the organisational learning and development process but, actually, it presents many more aspects, which can make it an effective engagement tool. As a Coach my job is to encourage the Coachee to reflect on a topic of interest from various perspectives to identify the most suitable solutions. Hence, this blog offers some insights into the adult learning process and its practical application within organisations, inviting the reader to use his or her creativity to conceive new applications.

Malcolm Knowles’ learner-centred theory of andragogy identifies six core points of adult learning, precisely the need to know why to spend time and effort learning some­thing, “the learners’ self-concept, prior experiences, readiness to learn, ori­entation to learning, and motivation” (Cochran and Brown 2016).

Explaining the purpose of the work and the expected outcome develops motivation, which is further enhanced by tasks mirroring daily life activities (Cochran and Brown 2016). The fact that adults are driven by the desire to acquire knowledge and skills that can be useful in real life (Clardy 2005) is true especially in situations that convey a sense of urgency, such as the present one, with anxiety over global politics, the pandemic and the economic consequences.

So, how can a learning-oriented approach help managers engage staff?

Encouraged to draw on their experience and know-how, people become proactive and engaged in organising their personal learning process (Cochran and Brown 2016). Indeed, adult learners are ‘intrinsically motivated to learn’ and they need to feel ‘appreciated, valued and respected’ (Cochran and Brown 2016). Adults feel responsible for their work and need to consider the Manager as a facilitator who deems them capable of achieving the outcome (Cochran and Brown 2016). Hence, the importance of triggering readiness to learn by rapidly addressing a person’s needs and engaging them by asking them to choose courses and learning opportunities that can benefit both them and the organisation. Moreover, opening a conversation by asking what the person expects to learn from the job, or how he can improve the implementation process will help to meet the need for practical implementation. It will also establish a level playing field of shared experience where the facilitator can create a collaborative and mutually respectful atmosphere (Clardy 2005). Case studies, problem-solving and role-play enhance motivation through practical implementation of the knowledge acquired (Cochran and Brown 2016), as adults are inclined to seek its immediate application (Clardy 2005).

Creating a cooperative atmosphere of learning by doing, Q&A discussion and role-play within the team enhances mutual learning and takes into account organisational and self-directing skills. This concept is underpinned by another two theories, which contribute to the analysis of how people learn, with the outcome in mind.

Wood (2004) proposes the term ‘evidence-based’ learning, referring to Edgar Dale’s Learning Pyramid (1946). According to this concept, people remember 90% of what they do and say, and only 20% of what they hear, thus underscoring the importance of the hands-on approach and role-play sessions. In fact, both offer the opportunity to learn from peers and, in turn, to teach what has been learnt. As Fiorella and Mayer (2013) say, teaching what one has just learnt helps to better understand the contents of the lesson, and also to remember it. The concept of Dale’s learning levels indicates that active learning, learning by doing, is more effective than passive learning, such as listening to a lecture (Wood 2004).

Finally, Kolb’s 4-step learning cycle (1984) entailing concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation blends into Knowles’ approach. It starts with practical experience, which triggers reflection on the process and how it can be improved. This leads to the formulation of concepts and landmarks, whose implementation generates further experiences, improvements and a new cycle (Petkus 2000). Indeed, active learning offers more control of what information should be retained, and it also entails sensorimotor associations with subsequent memory reinforcement (Matkant et al. 2016).


A learning plan could be proposed as an opportunity to teams of two or more people, or even when delegating a task. Engagement and motivation can be enhanced by asking staff to propose learning activities that interest them, thus deactivating the negative impact of top-down decisions. Practical exploration of a device or computer program, or personal analysis of routine procedure helps to identify individual learning gaps and areas for improvement, while also recognising familiar features. If one is already expert in a task, delegation can be empowering when accountability is included in the picture, and the person’s work and efficiency is acknowledged. The analysis can also contribute to structure initial impressions into a standard procedure that is common to all. Learning can then be reinforced during Q&A discussions and role-play sessions. However, theoretical and experiential learning methods can be alternated based on specific needs. In fact, adults may consider theoretical learning more effective if they feel they lack sufficient knowledge of the topic to self-direct their learning (Clardy 2005).

Cochran and Brown (2016) report that cooperating with colleagues and sharing the skills and know-how acquired strengthens the experiential aspect and reinforces learning. Role-play sessions achieve this effect by enhancing the psychological contract and unity based on a common objective, such as ensuring efficiency and productivity during a crisis. 

During monthly updates, staff can be invited to discuss their experience, state any difficulties observed either in applying procedures or in client acceptance of procedures, and requested to provide suggestions for improvements. This would actively involve them in the process, thus engaging them and maintaining high motivation levels in the long-term (Cochran and Brown 2016).

The idea of delegating work can be daunting to both managers and staff, since the former would need to follow-up the process and outcome, thus increasing their workload, and the latter might view it as the manager’s way of reducing his or her own list of tasks by increasing the staff’s already busy schedule.

          This blog presents some reflections on how delegation viewed as a learning opportunity can become an empowering, stress-relieving opportunity for both parties. A key point in the process is, however, to always acknowledge a person’s work, skills and performance in order to ensure accountability, engagement and cooperation.


  • CLARDY, A., 2005. Andragogy: adult learning and education at its best. Towson, Maryland: Rowson University.
  • COCHRAN, C. and BROWN, S., 2016. Andragogy and the adult learner. In: K.A. FLORES et al., Supporting the success of adult and online students: proven practices in higher education. Seattle: CreateSpace. pp. 73-84.
  • FIORELLA, L. and MAYER, R.E., 2013. The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy. Contemporary educational psychology, 38(4), pp. 281-288.
  • MATKANT, D.B. et al., 2016. Enhanced memory as a common effect of active learning. Mind, brain and education, 10(3), pp. 142-152.
  • PETKUS jr., E., 2000. A theoretical and practical framework for service-learning in marketing: Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Journal of marketing education, 22(1), pp. 64-70.
  • WOOD, E.J., 2004. Problem-based learning: exploiting knowledge of how people learn to promote effective learning. Bioscience education, 3(1), pp. 1-12.