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Adult learning theories: implications for online instruction

Vishal Arghode (Organizational Learning and Leadership, Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania, USA)
Earl W. Brieger (Organizational Learning and Leadership, Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania, USA)
Gary N. McLean (McLean Global Consulting, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota, USA)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




This paper analyzes critically four selected learning theories and their role in online instruction for adults.


A literature review was conducted to analyze the theories.


The theory comparison revealed that no single theory encompasses the entirety of online instruction for adult learning; each theory explains some portion of adult online learning; theories are contextual; and components of all theories can be utilized to improve online learning.

Research limitations/implications

Adult learning theories and their roles in shaping online learning and instruction deserve more attention. The study of adult learning theories, combined with in-depth analysis of psychological and human resource literature, will enable researchers to delve deeper into the subject. More qualitative studies are needed to explore further how instructors’ ability to utilize theoretical principles can improve online learning.

Practical implications

This manuscript offers practical advice to instructors and other practitioners for utilizing adult learning theories for instructional enhancement.


This literature review uniquely contributes to filling the gap in human resource development literature by examining selected adult learning theories, comparing them and extending the theories’ applicability and value in online instruction.



Arghode, V., Brieger, E.W. and McLean, G.N. (2017), "Adult learning theories: implications for online instruction", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 41 No. 7, pp. 593-609.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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