Adult-Learning Experiments – 10 Findings

A Collection of Adult-Learning Research Results

adult-learning Building Expertise by Dr. Ruth Colvin-ClarkThe book, Building Expertise by Ruth Colvin-Clark, offers one of the best summaries of adult-learning (pedagogy) research available. Like so many fields adult-learning pedagogy is hindered by dubious assumptions and outdated traditions. Ms. Colvin-Clark challenges these old models with recent research about how students, and especially adults, learn.

Building Expertise is based on educational research by prominent instructional researchers. It references relevant experience from the classroom, training lab, and field. It addresses the most basic and unchangeable aspects of human cognition and learning. It also offers specific advice for integrating these findings into curriculum development and classroom teaching.

10 Important Findings About Adult-Learning

  1. Students learn better when they can control the pace of instruction. This finding is one of the main reasons that online learning can out-perform classroom instruction.
  2. The combination of a graphic and text surrounding it pointing at various elements of the graphic is a highly effective teaching method.
  3. Graphics plus a voice narration is a highly effective teaching method.
  4. Animations work for certain topics like explaining moving machinery. However, illustrated slides perform about twice as effectively as animations for most topics. You can't control the pace of most animations.
  5. Field training often overloads working memory with extraneous actions and content. The amount of information contained in short-term memory is called cognitive load.
  6. Dividing complex tasks into smaller units for practice avoids excessive cognitive load.
  7. Avoid using tangential graphics (sometimes called eye candy) and marginally relevant stories because they create unproductive cognitive load.
  8. Students learn better when you outline content, signal transitions, and highlight main ideas instead of stream-of-consciousness teaching.
  9. Practice exercises are subject to diminishing returns.
  10. Short term memory becomes works best by integrating new knowledge with prior knowledge and schemas (mental models).


Traditional teaching methods are far from optimal. Recent educational results suggest the necessary changes. Here at Saturn, we are incorporating these findings into our curriculum and online training.

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