Adult Learning Theory - CAL Model

Adult Learning Theory

Adult learners can vary in ages ranging from eighteen to one-hundred eighteen. This vast age range covers different generations and can make creating instruction for adult learners a challenge.

K. Patricia Cross created a model to assist with Lifelong Learning instruction called Characteristics of Adult Learners (CAL) by combining other theories such as:
Andragogy (Knowles)
Experiential Learning (Rogers)
Lifespan Psychology

Variables within this theory include:
Personal Characteristics – aging, life phases, developmental stages
Situational Characteristics – part time vs. full time learners, voluntary vs. compulsory, schedules, location

While there is not much research to support this model, it can be concluded that having a sensitivity for each of these variables would produce more successful instruction for the adult learner. The model is especially useful in the creation of distance learning courses for adults.

The principles of the CAL model are:

1. Adult learning programs should capitalize on the experience of participants.
2. Adult learning programs should adapt to the aging limitations of the
3. Adults should be challenged to move to increasingly advanced stages of
personal development.
4. Adults should have as much choice as possible in the availability and
organization of learning programs.

Example of the CAL model
A self-instructed language program which starts instruction from the basic use of the microphone and mouse functions, progressing into the new language with the ability to stop instruction and rewind for practice, move forward quickly for more advanced learners, moves at the students' own pace and allows for work and placement within the instruction to be saved to be retrieved at a later date.

Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as learners/K. Patricia Cross. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981.

Merriam, S. B. (Ed.). (1993). An update on adult learning theory (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 57). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Created by Wendy Warneke