Why instructional designers need to know Adult Development Theories

Preface: Again, I copied and pasted this interaction with Ms. Knight to give my Walden cohorts an opportunity to participate as well. It is verbatim.


Why instructional designers need to know Adult Development Theories.

November 9, 2010

cthomasknight Adult Learning and Development, Graduate Internship, Instructional Design , , 4 Comments

I have spent the last few weeks in a truly self-directed unit of learning due to scheduling woes and traveling conflicts. However, it has been an excellent time to do some much needed reading on my internship topic of instructional design.

I have been perusing the pages of the following books.


my book looks different but apparently the same edition.

Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology by Reiser and Dempsey


The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs by Bonk and Graham.

  • This is really more of a text book than a pleasure read, but I’ve found it informative and would not mind having the most current edition added to my library.



In that time I also wrote a short reflection paper speaking, shouting really, to the fact that instructional designers and instructors of online classes need to have a current and working knowledge of adult development theories, and that without them the e-learning community will only reach a certain point before imploding back on itself and reverting the world of education to a paper-bound classroom. I would like to share the paper with you and welcome any comments you may have.

CKnight_Development Theory


It was only while working on this paper did I realize how much theory I know and take for granted when working on building courses for adults. I may have limiting factors of experience, but the solid foundation of knowledge that I have in the areas of backwards design and adult development theories is allowing me to move forward in experience.

Tomorrow I am heading back to ACC to work with MediaSite Recorder. The mobile unit was very broken and fussy the last time I was out, which was disappointing, because the main presentation room -where the permenent MediaSite studio is located- was being used for some training. Fingers crossed that all goes well tomorrow.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brucuk
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 17:05:45

    That is a very “learned” piece, and holds some great information, however, in many commercial “online” activities, you will not, (ever) have the luxury of adherence to theories.
    You will – put simply – be told what the client wants, and how it should be presented. Your abilities to present information will be limited.
    Iin 12 years, I have hardly ever had the luxury of considering all the theoretical aspects. Commercial realities, (time and cost), simply do not allow them.
    The paper seems very “linear” – I had to read it end-to-end a number of times to get all the information. Somewhat paradoxically, this is not how most people learn, and herein lies a huge, the gulf between the way that many teaching/educational establishments still present learning, and the way it happens inside people’s heads.
    A nice paper, but be aware that commercially (if that is where you are, or are heading), very often these considerations are luxuries.



    • cthomasknight
      Nov 15, 2010 @ 01:53:54


      Thanks for your comment. The paper was written as a theory paper, and how the theory has real world application; I was stretching. I chose to stay with the e-learning theme throughout rather than write about it as just a conclusion prefaced by blah blah blah theory info. I have found that I do not use my theory knowledge consciously – at the very front of my thoughts at least- when I do any sort of planning, but have found it very helpful. I especially find myself drawing on it when working with aging adults with low computer skills; those times when I’m asking myself how on earth I’m going to write an online course for a below average computer user?

      I could not agree with you more about fulfilling the client’s needs within a certain amount of time. That is the same in k-12 education, higher ed, and what you described in the corporate world. I have been going through the program with a corporate trainer for one of the wireless giants and he often speaks to the woes of getting caught in between good design, according to us adult educators of higher ed, and pushing out the product. This man and I both agree that we feel we have become improved designers and facilitators after gaining a better comprehension of the theories that include motivators and factors that impact how an adult learns. I find it unfortunate that we are not afforded the time to make use of such knowledge all the time, however, each time I am able to draw on theory knowledge, it helps to validate my graduate studies.


  2. Lynn Munoz
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 23:16:32

    I read and understood your reflection paper. I do agree with your premise, that instructional designers necessarily must have a strong foundation in learning theory; however, perhaps it is my naiveté, but I thought your paper would have benefited and presented as more balanced with the inclusion of, albeit more traditional, conservative learning theories, such as cognition, information processing and then interwoven aspects of constructivism and self-directed learners. Additionally, inclusion of some neuroscientific evidence and differentiations between children and adult learners, self-directed learners, and possibly adult learners with learning disabilities would have given your paper additional strength of scientific research backing up theory.

    I, myself, am enrolled in a Master’s program for Instructional Design through Walden University. My current class is Learning Theories and Instruction, so you can understand why your blog attracted me. Your expertise and experience in this field is encouraging to a novice beginner like me. I would love any feedback you may have regarding my work. I have a blog where I post all of my Walden assignments and reflections (https://lynnmunoz.wordpress.com). Please feel free to come by and leave some comments and pointers.

    I enjoyed reading your paper and the references, and I look forward to rooting all of them out and reading them myself. The two books you have pictured on your website are also high on my list of “must haves.”

    Lynn Munoz


  3. cthomasknight
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 02:01:50


    Thanks to you also for your comments. The psychological aspects that you mentioned would have been beneficial for an audience outside of my ALD program- something I hadn’t thought of before posting it on here. Quite frankly, I’m flattered that anyone has read my blog and papers because I was doing it as a journal-ling requirement for my exit requirement class; I figured I was doing online course design, then why not do an online journal.

    If you have a minute, take a look at my returning comments to Bruce, the other person who commented, and it explains the nature of the assignment.

    I am flattered that you even used the word expert and me in the same sentence, as I would consider myself far from such a title. I believe in online learning and am eager to know more about it; I feel that passion can help a person make great gains faster than anything else. Please keep an eye out on here in the next few days, as I’m going to post some presentations and voice overs that I’ve been working on. I would love to read any comments you have considering you are doing a degree specific to my interests.

    I look forward to clicking through your blog. Good luck with your studies.


Knight, C. T. (2010). Knight Development Theory (unpublished paper, Cleveland State University’s College of Education). Retrieved from http://cthomasknight.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/why-instructional-designers-need-to-know-adult-development-theories/

Knight, C. T. (2010, November 9, 2010). Why instructional designers need to know adult development theories [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://cthomasknight.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/why-instructional-designers-need-to-know-adult-development-theories/


One thought on “Why instructional designers need to know Adult Development Theories

  1. This is my comment left for Ms. Knight, awaiting moderation:

    Actually, your blog post and paper came at a very opportune time as our class was instructed to participate in a blog, providing original feedback, encouraging us to get out of our comfort zone. Blogging is very new to me. Obviously, however, sharing opinions is not.

    I look forward to our future interactions and sharing of information. I am very new to instructional design, but have a background in teaching, psychology and science. I am pretty much a self-taught technology geek. My wordpress blog was my first online blog experience. I am entranced with Google Reader and have over 1000 items to read at my leisure. Fortunately, not everyone blogs every day.

    Do not sell yourself short. You are in the field. You are already working. I think sharing your online journaling and paper is an excellent way to receive critical feedback ensuring you are proceeding in the right direction. It is very brave. It is something I would do. (I also put a copy of our conversations on my blog, properly referenced so my fellow Walden cohorts could participate).

    As for Bruce, I did read his comments and ran into similar issues teaching. What is best for the student is not always what is best for the business and in teaching, education is the business. That is how I found myself back in the Master’s program. A little too much rebel for the environment I was in. Unfortunately, Bruce highlights economical realities, and I empathize with your viewpoint as well.

    I fear that I will end up staying in education, moving through my PhD program and teaching at a University, rather than deal with the tightrope balancing of time, money, client, design and theoretical constraints. I know the “customer is always right” in a customer service world; but, if they did not want an instructional designer’s expert opinion and best work, why hire them to begin with? Politics and bureaucracy or not my strong suits.

    Looking forward to further communication,
    Lynn Munoz

    original comment posted to http://cthomasknight.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/why-instructional-designers-need-to-know-adult-development-theories/#comment-9

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