Talent Development 10 Adult Learning Theory

One of the important skills in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is a knowledge of the Theories and Models of Adult Learning.

In this article, I will discuss Bloom’s Taxonomy and how to use it.


There are three categories that describe types of adult learning. These are: 1) cognitive (knowledge), 2) psychomotor (skills), and 3) and affective (attitude) (also called KSAs). These three categories were first described by Benjamin Bloom.

I will describe the differences between these three categories in my own words below.

Knowledge (cognitive)

This involves developing intellectual skills. You might study mathematics, or law, or you might become an expert on ecology and climate control. There are an infinite number of topic areas to explore, and the cognitive section involves becoming knowledgeable on any one or more of them.

Skills (psychomotor)

This area of the taxonomy includes the use of motor skills and physical movement. For example, you might become a ballet dancer, or a mountain climber, or an artist. The skills required to perform well in the particular subject involve use of motor skills.

Attitude (affective)

In this area, we deal with feelings and emotions. These are generally acquired skills that are experienced differently for each person. The whole area of motivation is part of the affective. We acquire these skills not only through training, but we also discover them ourselves from just experiencing life.

A key point here is that training professionals will use different tools and methods depending on what part of the taxonomy is being developed.

Knowledge is the easiest area to transfer information. It usually involves some reading and lecture to bring out the finer points of the concepts being taught. There is also significant practice time to ensure full transfer of the content.

Workbooks and problem sets give the learner significant variety of ways the tools are used. In most situations there is an identifiable right way to do things.

For skills, there is usually lots of practice time developing the motor skills and muscle control necessary to do the task. There may be more than one right answer to how things are done, so some degree of personal preference needs to be allowed.

Often safety factors are a major part of skill building. For example, if you are learning mountain climbing, you must know at what altitude you need to put on an oxygen mask.

For Affective training, the methods may involve role playing, group brainstorming, body sculptures, and simulations. These are mostly experiential techniques that instill the proper attitudes by having the person immerse him or herself in the scenario and a professional debriefing to highlight the key learnings involved.

The Affective area has the most variety of outcomes because each individual will take away potentially different information from the training.

Using Blooms Taxonomy involves understanding these three learning situations. For the professional trainer or designer, it is important to know what area you are working on at any particular point and use the correct tools to obtain an optimal result.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

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