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. While you don’t have to be a doctor to develop solid training, it is good to have a generalized sense of the guiding principles behind adult learning theory. But what happens if those who should be learning are less 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, you must include four essential aspects 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 these guiding concepts and develop 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 motivated to learn, they’re not going to. It’s genuinely that simple.

There are several ways you can evoke a sense of motivation.

A few examples include the following:

  • Clearly define how the eLearning content will impact the learner’s job in a tangible and immediate way. 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 to 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 it will help them earn a promotion or advance in their career in some way.
  • Learners may be motivated by some extrinsic competition, which is why eLearning, which includes components of gamification and social features, is gaining so much popularity now.

It boils down to a fundamental principle – adults will want to learn when they feel it will bring some 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 lousy behavior – like safety training to reduce workplace mistakes.


When developing corporate learning, you have to think about how the information will be initially received and whether or not the learner will retain it. Create courses that meet the needs of your audience. Deploy these courses using the best systems which encourage engagement. Take a 30-day free trial of eLeaP and start catering to adult learners in an effective manner.

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

For example, after each bit of information is presented, ask participants to take a brief quiz to assess their learning. Often, letting learners know they will be evaluated on the information is in and of itself a good retention tool. Also useful 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 an actual 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.

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

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.