Applying Insights from Adult Learning Theory to Improve Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programming 

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Year Published
Author (Individual)
Alamillo, J., Person A. E., Washburn, L., & Gordon, H. 
Author (Organization)
Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 
Resource Type
Journal Article
Resource Format

Adult learning theory aims to explain the processes by which adults gain knowledge, skills, and abilities. This paper explores how adult learning theory might inform healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood (HMRF) programming so it can be more successful in supporting family well-being. The first section of the paper provides an overview of the HMRF program context, including participants’ background and skills, the services programs offer, and the common challenges programs face in achieving their desired outcomes. The second section of the paper summarizes the key principles of adult learning theory. To identify these principles, we conducted a structured review of the literature on adult learning. Our review uncovered seven common principles about what matters most for adults to learn successfully: (1) relevance, (2) self-direction, (3) motivation, (4) application, (5) experience, (6) reflection, and (7) emotion. The third section of the paper builds on the seven principles of adult learning, and on what we know about the delivery context and challenges faced by HMRF programs, to offer five strategies that HMRF programs could pursue to bolster clients’ participation and outcomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of issues that HMRF practitioners and other stakeholders might consider when adopting these strategies.   


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