The Importance of Diversity in Adult Learning Principles

graphic of diverse students embracing
DEIBOnline LearningStudent Success
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Christal E. Carmichael is a Professor of Psychology at North Carolina Central University


Over the last several months, I’ve adjusted my courses quite a bit to ensure that all of my students were exposed to a curriculum and a learning environment that is sensitive to all cultures; one that acknowledges the current state of society but one that also allows for diversity, equity and inclusion.

My classroom has always been one that was sensitive to these important topics, but the approach is now much more intentional with the understanding that the information is being consumed by individuals of all different backgrounds across many different locations.

All these dynamics are important when considering how information is being perceived and to what extent it can be comprehended.

When considering that all students learn from a different lens, it becomes imperative that we, as the instructors learn that diversity is one of the concepts that should be prioritized when establishing our online environment and curriculum.

Because adult learning encompasses the current circumstances of the individual, any approach that lacks the inclusion of those circumstances put students experiencing them at a disadvantage.

When we deliberately include a curriculum and environment that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, it motivates adult learners to engage and connect, which enhances learning and sets the tone for success.

What Is Adult Learning/Self-Directed Learning?

This type of learning promotes the natural development of self-confidence, initiative, perseverance and life satisfaction. The ability to self-assess understanding is an essential tool for self-directed learning. Through self-reflection, students clarify ideas of what they are supposed to learn. By developing these skills, students become able to take responsibility for their own learning.

Most adult learning models have been based on the work of Malcolm Knowles. He introduced Andragogy—the science of helping adults learn. According to, “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.”

The Principles of Adult Learning

This model introduces several principles to guide the learning experience for adult learners. Being goal-oriented, concerned with relevancy, practical and demanding of respect are just a few of these principles.

While we must continue to teach our courses and maintain the fidelity of the educational model of our institutions, it behooves each educator to take into serious consideration the principle that all learners want and need to be respected. As educators, it is imperative that we acknowledge all and allow this diverse approach to drive how we teach—respecting the individuality of each student and remembering that culture and learning styles may differ significantly.

Diversity in education is extremely important because it creates a success-oriented, cooperative and caring community. Cultivating this type of environment births intellectual strength within our students and within ourselves.

When you consider the principles of the adult learner, you realize that each one is a normal human characteristic—not just for students but for all individuals. We as educators have the responsibility to be fully aware of these principles and consistently implement them in our daily interactions with our students and colleagues. We each have a unique opportunity to provide the most conducive and diverse environment for learning and for ultimate long-term success.


To learn how online learning tools can foster success for adult learners and beyond, download our ebook, A New Way to Look at Learning: The Power of Digital in Higher Education.