Innovative Learning

Adult Learning (K. P. Cross)

Cross (1981) presents the Characteristics of Adults as Learners (CAL) model in the context of her analysis of lifelong learning programs. The model attempts to integrate other theoretical frameworks for adult learning such asandragogy (Knowles), experiential learning experiential learning (Rogers), and lifespan psychology.

The CAL model consists of two classes of variables: personal characteristics and situational characteristics. Personal characteristics include: aging, life phases, and developmental stages. These three dimensions have different characteristics as far as lifelong learning is concerned. Aging results in the deterioration of certain sensory-motor abilities (e.g., eyesight, hearing, reaction time) while intelligence abilities (e.g., decision-making skills, reasoning, vocabulary) tend to improve. Life phases and developmental stages (e.g., marriage, job changes, retirement) involve a series of plateaus and transitions which may or may not be directly related to age.

Situational characteristics consist of part-time versus full-time learning, and voluntary versus compulsory learning. The administration of learning (i.e., schedules, locations, procedures) is strongly affected by the first variable; the second pertains to the self-directed, problem-centered nature of most adult learning.


The CAL model is intended to provide guidelines for adult education programs. There is no known research to support the model.


Consider three adults: a nursing student, a new parent, and a middle-aged social worker about to take a course on child development. Each of these individuals differs in age (20,30,40) and life/developmental phases (adolescent/searching, young/striving, mature/stable). They also differ in terms of situational characteristics: for the nursing student, the course is full-time and compulsory, for the parent, it is part-time and optional; for the social worker it is part-time but required. According to the CAL model, a different learning strategy might be necessary for these three individuals to accommodate the differences in personal and situational characteristics.


  1. Adult learning programs should capitalize on the experience of participants.
  2. Adult learning programs should adapt to the aging limitations of the participants.
  3. Adults should be challenged to move to increasingly advanced stages of personal development.
  4. Adults should have as much choice as possible in the availability and organization of learning programs.


Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cross, K.P. (1976). Accent on Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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