Using the Principles of Adult Learning to Enhance Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programming

Publication Date: August 17, 2021
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  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Many healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood (HMRF) programs find it challenging to keep participants engaged in voluntary workshop sessions and help them achieve their desired outcomes. Adult learning theory highlights several important principles that might help HMRF practitioners strengthen adults’ engagement in learning experiences and mastery of program content.

Purpose

This brief highlights five strategies based on adult learning theory that HMRF program developers and facilitators can use to support participants’ engagement and learning. It also explores specific ways programs can implement these strategies, along with concrete tips and examples. The literature supporting these strategies is described in more detail in a white paper about adult learning theory and how it can be applied to HMRF programs (Alamillo et al. 2021). 

Key Findings and Highlights

The five strategies based on adult learning theory that HMRF programs can use to support participants’ engagement and learning are:

  1. Help participants discover how program content may be relevant to them. This can involve tapping into adults’ social roles when designing and delivering program content, encouraging participants to generate their own goals and evaluate their progress, and obtaining participants’ feedback to assess and enhance the relevance of program content.
  1. Leverage program format to support self-direction. For example, where possible, programs can offer online and blended programming to customize content and address structural barriers. Programs can also leverage case management or needs assessments to give participants more control over learning.
  1. Build opportunities for participants to practice new skills, both during the program and on their own. This can involve having facilitators model the right and wrong way to use new skills, having participants rehearse mentally before trying new skills, and providing ample opportunities for participants to practice and give feedback to each other.
  1. Create opportunities for participants to reflect on their experiences and beliefs as part of the learning process. For example, programs can encourage reflection by incorporating participants’ experiences into the learning process through group discussions or journaling. Programs can also help participants reflect on past experiences and underlying beliefs and learn from them.
  1. Create a positive emotional climate. Programs can do this by creating opportunities for participants to connect with each other, leveraging personal experiences to foster an emotional connection to program content, training facilitators to address program objectives and sensitive topics in a positive and constructive manner, and establishing group norms for sharing and listening.

Citation

Alamillo, J. and A.E. Person. “Using the Principles of Adult Learning to Enhance Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programming.” OPRE Report 2021-###. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.