Manufacturing employees as adult learners : a qualitative case study.


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Over the last several decades, the adult learner’s unique requirements became the focus of significant research. Classic theories suggest the adult learner appreciates learning content in a constructive, supportive environment that is non-threatening to the sense of self. Adult learners maintain a unique specific set of requirements which enable engagement and knowledge transfer. Unlike a child-focused instructional setting, adults in the workplace have discretion to accept or reject learning opportunities. Failure to adhere to adult learning principles promotes adult learner indifference and abandonment. Although the human condition has arguably not changed since the writings of adult learning pioneers, technology has transformed how people work and learn. A comprehensive understanding of the needs of the modern adult learner is of particular importance in the contemporary manufacturing industry. These roles require specialized knowledge most often not present with new employees. Production deadlines often compete with the time necessary for adequate learning on the job and employee progression to advanced positions, potentially negatively influencing the employee’s perception of organizational support, resulting in dramatic consequences of increased attrition and lost productivity. This Problem of Practice study contained a theoretical framework derived from principles of adult behavior, development, and adult learning and presented in a qualitative design. Personal interviews with supervisors, hourly employees, and training managers employed in manufacturing facilities in the United States provided the data for analysis. In alignment with classic learning theories, research revealed that adult learners in manufacturing require relevant, visual instruction provided in an environment that is not threatening to the sense of self. Adult learners in manufacturing also desire instruction from supportive staff dedicated to their learning. Following learning during onboarding, manufacturing employees seek continuous and relevant learning in support of personal advancement and organizational utility. The results presented herein recognized the significance of adult learners’ distinct characteristics while offering insight towards the support and encouragement of appropriate manufacturing organization learning during onboarding and beyond.



Adult learning. Manufacturing. Employees. Attrition. Onboarding. Cross-training. Learning resources.