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Originally posted on 11/23/2015


How do Adult Learners overcome Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive Dissonance is the conflict of ideas, beliefs or expectations.  One of the issues with adult learning is how educators or Instructional Designers create a learning environment that is positive and effective in an adult learning environment.  We know that there are a number of ways in which individuals learn.

​Kinesthetic, auditory, visual learning have always been the industry accepted ways in which individuals process new information.  And while the education industry has attempted to better define those learning styles, we are still stuck with one question, how do you teach adults who bring with them their own forms of ideas, beliefs and expectations?  



The experiential learning model considers the individual adult learning styles and gives adult learners the tools they need to learn in a number of different styles, eventually exploiting their strengths or even finding out their learning style.  Experiential learning style takes Knowles principles of adult learning:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
  3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (Kearsley, 2010)

Takes Knowles principles of learning and turns them into a learning style that forces the adult learner to work their way through the cognitive dissonance that they have for a certain subject, and open themselves to new ideas, beliefs and expectations.  Experiential works to make the adult learner directly involved in their won learning, therefore creating a transformation in the learners mind where they create ‘buy in’ and take a personal stake in the material, applying it to situations and beliefs that they hold as part of their life experience.


Experiential based on David Kolb Theory, is a process focused on the adult learner gaining knowledge, not reaching an outcome (Kolb).  The need to do, process, watch, learn and reflect creates and environment for the adult learner to fully turn the learning into something all their own, regardless of what others in the same environment may have taken from the provided instruction.

As an adult learner, currently both in an environment where I am a student and an educator, I can see the utility and logic in a program like this.  Although an experiential learning model won’t work in all environments, nor with all learners, I think the silent majority of adults who experience this form of teaching will find that they are able to leave their cognitive dissonance at the door to the classroom and open their minds to the possibilities that there might be other forms of learning on the horizon.