If you want to deliver your employees eLearning that works well and is an effective training tool it can come down to science.

Learning in general is based on psychological and scientific principles, and while you don’t have to be a doctor to develop solid training, it is a good idea to have some generalized sense of the guiding principles behind adult learning theory. But what happens if those who should be learning are less than enthusiastic about it? How then do you train people who don’t want to be trained?

The 4 Components of Adult Learning Theory

The Four Basic Elements of Adult Learning

In simplest terms, there are four essential aspects you must include in your training and development if you want the best results.

The tenants of adult learning theory include:

  1. Motivation
  2. Reinforcement
  3. Retention
  4. Transference

We’ll now look at each of these guiding concepts and lay out ways to integrate them into your eLearning content.


The very first premise you need to have a grasp on when developing training content is motivation. If an adult learner doesn’t feel a sense of motivation to learn, they’re not going to. It’s truly that simple.

There are a number of different ways you can go about evoking a sense of motivation.

A few examples include:

  • Clearly defining how the eLearning content will impact the learner’s job in a way that’s tangible and immediate. When developing learning content, don’t leave it up to the learner to guess why the information’s being presented – tell them upfront why they’re expected to learn the material.
  • Create learning opportunities that will pave the way for the learner’s personal advancement. For example, learners in a corporate environment tend to be more engaged in the process when they feel like it’s going to help them earn a promotion or advance in their career in some way.
  • Learners may be motivated by some type of extrinsic competition, which is why eLearning that includes components of gamification and social features is gaining so much popularity right now.

Basically what it boils down to is a very basic principle – adults will want to learn when they feel it will bring some type of benefit or value to their lives. That drives motivation.


Reinforcement can be approached in two ways – positive or negative.

With adult learning theory, positive reinforcement is about offering something that encourages good behavior. For example, development-based learning could center on the idea of the potential for a raise with the learning of a new skill.

On the other hand, negative reinforcement is about taking steps to alleviate a bad behavior – like safety training to reduce the amount of mistakes in the workplace.


When developing corporate learning you have to think about not just how the information will be initially received, but also whether or not it will be retained by the learner. Create courses that actually meet the needs of your audience. Deploy these courses using the best systems which encourage engagement. Use eLeaP to start creating awesome courses.

Some good ways to encourage better retention of material include interactivity, quizzes throughout the learning modules and the opportunity to immediately put into practice what’s been taught.

For example, after each bit of information is presented, ask participants to take a brief quiz to assess what they’ve learned. Often, letting learners know they will be assessed on the information is in and of itself a good retention tool. Also effective are things like case studies and scenarios. These are all easy features to include in eLearning thanks to the tools at your disposal with a learning management system.


This step of adult learning theory is where your employees have the opportunity to put into practice what they’ve learned in a real world situation.

Once your employees reach this step it lets you know whether or not the content was effective and how well employees can interpret and apply it.

Often in a corporate environment, transference is something that is measured against a set of predetermined benchmarks in alignment with overall performance and organizational objectives.

In order to improve transference within the corporate learning environment, consider including social elements in the process. One way to do this is to provide the opportunity for participants to work in virtual teams comprised of their coworkers. Employees can study the information and then attempt to solve problems directly related to the content they’re responsible for learning.

Social learning not only improves engagement, but also helps employees learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others, while gaining a more long-term understanding of how to realistically and appropriately apply the skills and principles being taught.