5.1 Adult Learning Principles

What Is It?

Professional development for home visitors involves developing their

  • hearts: the ability to feel empathy and compassion and use these feelings effectively in working with families with very young children;
  • minds: the ability to think and problem-solve to guide actions; and
  • capacities: knowledge and skills for supporting and strengthening families and parent-child relationships; knowledge and skills to implement home visit experiences that promote children’s development and learning.

Learning experiences should support home visitors in providing strengths-based, relationship-based, family-centered, and culturally responsive services. You should offer learning experiences that build home visitors’ knowledge and skills as well as their abilities for reflection, self-awareness, empathy, and regulating the intense feelings that can arise from doing such intimate work with families and very young children.1 You can do that by using principles for adult learning to guide you in developing and offering effective professional development experiences.

  1. Nancy Seibel, Donna Britt, Linda Groves Gillespie, and Rebecca Parlakian, Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect:Parent–Provider Partnerships in Child Care (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 2006). 

How To

Here are some principles to consider;1

  • Learning takes time. Developing home visitors’ competencies takes ongoing guidance and practice. Learning and professional development can be enhanced if there is a sequence of professional development events with coaching. This approach increases the likelihood that what home visitors learn in training affects their practice in ways that produce positive outcomes for very young children and their families.

  • Learning happens in many ways. Formal training sessions such as pre-service and in-service training are just one opportunity for learning. You can help home visitors identify other opportunities. For example, you can use staff meetings, peer discussions, reflective supervision, and outside workshops and conferences (depending on time and budget). Also, home visitors gain information and skills in a variety of ways such as reading, listening, observing someone else, and doing (hands-on experiences).

  • Adults learn best when they are actively engaged with the material and when their learning has an immediate context in which they can apply the information. For home visitors, these contexts include home visits, socializations, and interactions with community resources. Provide opportunities for home visitors to practice new skills as well as to reflect on the application of their new knowledge and skills.

  • Experience-based learning is powerful. Bring home visitors’ life experiences into professional development events and provide opportunities for them to reflect on those experiences during and after the event. This offers home visitors a chance to learn from their prior experiences, both positive and negative.

  1. Mollie Friedman, Juliann Woods, and Christine Salisbury, “Caregiver Coaching Strategies for Early Intervention Providers: Moving Toward Operational Definitions,” Infants & Young Children 25 (1990): 62–82; Nancy Seibel, Donna Britt, Linda Groves Gillespie, and Rebecca Parlakian, Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: Parent—Provider Partnerships in Child Care (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 2006). 

Learn More


This document describes six research-based adult learning principles that can help you to envision the characteristics that need to be evident in the training/technical assistance (T/TA) strategies you use.