My proposed research for the adoption and implementation of adaptive learning will be guided by the adult learning theoretical framework. Adult learning and how adults learn best, as opposed to children, have been researched and debated since the 1920s when adult education became a professional field of practice (Merriam, 2001). Adult learning was proposed by Knowles (1968) because he felt that it differs from pre-adult learning at schools (p. 351). However, it is rooted in ancient Greece called andragogy, which means “the art and science of helping adults learn” (p. 43). Knowle’s theory describes adult learners as “mature” having distinct characteristics, such as (a) self-directness, (b) accumulated experiences that consist of a resource when learning, (c) readiness to learn and a drive to develop themselves as a member of the society, (d) a need to put knowledge into use to problem-solve (pp. 44-45), (e) internal motivation towards learning, and (f) the need to “understand why something should be learned” (Knowles, 1984, p. 12).

Today, several adult learning theories exist, such as self-directed, experiential, and transformational learning. Behaviourism, cognitivism, and social constructivism theories are theories designed to address the particular needs of adults (Kiely et al., 2004).  According to Meriam (2001), there is no single theory or model that provides complete knowledge of the adult learners, their learning context and understanding. In particular, online learning presents unique challenges that differ from face-to-face instruction, mainly due to the technology and method of delivery used (Arghode et al., 2017). Grant & Onsloo (2014) state that a theoretical framework consists of a theory or theories that underpin research, as well as concepts and definitions of a theory that is relevant to the research topic. Therefore, I would select adult learning theories related to self-directed adaptive learning environments, mainly underpinned by the self-directed, behaviourist, and cognitivist learning theories. For example, developing performance and learning objectives can be found within the adult learning framework for enabling proficiency-based or outcome-based learning aiming to address performance problems resulting in poor organizational performance (Bernardez, 2007).


  • How are Instructional System Design (ISD) models represented within the adult learning theoretical framework?
  • Are ISD models relevant to all theories?


Arghode, V., Brieger, E. W., & Mclean, G. N. (2017). Adult learning theories: implications for online instruction. European Journal of Training and Development, 41(7), 593–609.

Bernardez, M. (2007). Should we have a Universal Model for HPT. Performance Improvement, 46(9), 9–16.

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2014). Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your “House.” Administrative Issues Journal Education Practice and Research, 4(2), 12–26.

Kiely, R., Sandmann, L.R. and Truluck, J. (2004), “Adult learning theory and the pursuit of adult degrees”, New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, Vol. 2004 No. 103, pp. 17-30.

Knowles, M. S. (1968). Andragogy, not pedagogy. Adult Leadership, 16(10), 350-352, 386.

Knowles, M. S. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species (3rd ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf.

Merriam, S.B. (2001), “Andragogy and self-directed learning: pillars of adult learning theory”, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Vol. 2001 No. 89, pp. 3-14, doi: