Leveraging adult learning theory with online tutorials

Rebecca Halpern (Libraries, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA)
Chimene Tucker (Libraries, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Publication date: 9 February 2015



The purpose of this paper is to apply adult-centered learning theories to online information literacy tutorials.


This is a conceptual paper that examines the application of adult learning theories to online information literacy tutorials. The application is supported by examples from the literature of libraries and higher education, and from the writers’ own experiences with designing online tutorials informed by adult learning theories.


As online learners continue to be a growing population on our campuses, and as those online learners continue to be older than our traditional students, librarians must be prepared to design information literacy objects tailored to the unique learning styles of adults. Building from Knowles’ theory of andragogy, online tutorials that are informed by adult-centered strategies can be powerful tools for engaging with the adult online learner.

Practical implications

This article gives a useful and comprehensive overview of adult learning theory as applied by education and library researchers. It also provides a specific example of how those theories can be implemented in online tutorials through the Information Literacy Toolkit the authors created.


While there is literature on applying adult learning theory to library environments, little of it addresses how to do so in an asynchronous, self-paced tutorial. This is a contribution to the literature on asynchronous learning environments and suggests concrete ways to incorporate an adult-centered approach to digital learning objects.



We would like to thank the USC Libraries’ Dean’s Challenge Grant for funding for the Articulate Storyline software, without which, this project would still just be a big idea.


Halpern, R. and Tucker, C. (2015), "Leveraging adult learning theory with online tutorials", Reference Services Review, Vol. 43 No. 1, pp. 112-124. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-10-2014-0042

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