Talent Development 10 Adult Learning Theory

September 17, 2020

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.


The First Law of Building Trust

May 3, 2010

What advice do you give others and yourself on how to build higher levels of trust? We all know trust is a key ingredient for any organization to be successful. In these in draconian times, many leaders find the ability to build and maintain trust is next to impossible.

There are countless books and articles on leadership. Many of them focus on the area of building trust. Often these writings focus on what a leader needs to have in order to build trust. For example, one author suggests that a leader must have both credibility and character to garner higher trust. I agree with those two elements, but my focus is on helping leaders change what they do. If you change what you do, then you change who you are, and you get better results.

Of all the trust building skills leaders possess, the ability to reinforce candor is the most powerful and elusive. This is the behavior of making people feel glad when they bring up something a leader has done that they feel is not right. Most leaders find it impossible to reinforce people when they offer a candid critique. Reason: Leaders act from their own paradigm of what is right, so when an employee suggests an action is wrong, they get defensive and push back. This has the effect of punishing the employee for being candid.

If we can teach leaders to reinforce people when they speak their truth, those leaders will have a giant head start at building trust. It is not rocket science: it is much more important than rocket science.

In my business, I coach leaders every day on how to be more effective. There are a thousand things to think about when trying to lead an organization effectively. These skills range from being consistent to preventing the formation of exclusive cliques or even just how to write an effective e-mail message.

The first skill I work to instill in any leader is the ability to reinforce candor. Why? If leaders gain the ability and humility to accomplish this feat, they will find all the other leadership skills and traits come easily. If they cannot reinforce candor, then the other skills or activities of leadership will be blunted and ineffective.

If you are interested in further information on the power of reinforcing candor and how to accomplish it, you can reference the attached white paper. This is a brief (2 ¼ page) excerpt from my latest book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind.
http://www.leadergrow.com/Reinforce-Candor-It-Builds-Trust-and-Transparency.pdf