The 8 Principles of Adult Learner Friendly Institutions

Over Arching Theme

“The adult learner friendly institution has a culture in which adult-centred learning, sensitivity to learners’ needs, flexibility and communication drive institutional practice.”

The Adult Learner Friendly Institutions (ALFI) principles are key elements of a holistic approach to the provision of services to an increasingly diverse, experienced population whose life circumstances and learning needs differ significantly from those of the younger adult population. Unfortunately the needs of a declining youth population are still given funding priority over the needs of a burgeoning adult population.

The ALFI benchmarks of best practice represent a more inclusive framework that recognizes the urgency and legitimacy of the learning needs of adults. PLAR has helped to open the door for change but has fallen short of setting in motion and sustaining the comprehensive changes that are required. The ALFI framework assesses the quality of services provided to adult learners, strategically integrating PLAR into several performance indicators.

ALFI can be an important next step for PLAR practitioners who are regularly confronted with the gaps that exist for adult learners after their prior learning has been assessed. PLAR has been added to systems that are increasingly characterized as fragmented, inefficient and ill prepared to respond to the many challenges faced daily by adult learners.

The ALFI process is a useful blue print for implementing significant change in adult learning policy and practice.

The principles of ALFI (ALFICan) are 8 key principles of effectiveness for serving Adult Learners. They are as follows:


The institution conducts its outreach to adult learners by overcoming barriers of time, place and tradition in order to create lifelong access to educational opportunities.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Uses a variety of special methods and venues to recruit adult learners.

  • Has recruitment and admissions practices and services that address the personal needs and concerns of adults who are unaccustomed to viewing themselves in the ‘traditional’ role of a student.

  • Works collaboratively with adults to help them overcome barriers that may prevent them from returning to learning.

  • Assists adult learners in making informed decisions about how well the college matches their interests and goals.

  • Hires faculty who perform a variety of roles that include advising, teaching and facilitating and connecting learners to support services.


The institution addresses adult learner’s life and career goals before or at the onset of enrollment in order to assesses and align its capacities to help learners reach their goals.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:
Collaborates with adult learners to develop a systematic process of education and career planning.

  • Helps adult learners determine their level of educational development upon entry.

  • Helps adult learners identify career goals and a plan for reaching these goals.

  • Uses education and career planning as a method of establishing regular contact with adult learners throughout their program.

  • Encourage adults to become active partners in the planning, delivery, and evaluation of their own learning.

  • Demonstrates ways in which adult learners can use both formal and informal assessment as the foundation for making educational decisions.

  • Uses prior learning assessment to help identify life and career goals.

  • Creates pathways for adult learners to gain credit for learning from a variety of sources so that appropriate learning acquired prior to enrollment can be accepted towards institutional credentials and degrees.


The institution promotes choice using an array of payment options for adult learners in order to expand equity and financial flexibility.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Provides flexible payment options that fit the individual needs/ circumstances of the adult learner.

  • Informs adult learners about convenient payment options.

  • Provides deferred payment options when tuition reimbursement programs do not make funds available until course completion.

  • Identifies financial aid options available for both part-time and returning adult learners.

  • Administers charges to learners incrementally over the duration of a program.

  • Establishes equitable refund policies based on the percentage of course/program completion.

  • Identifies external funding sources that assist adult learners.

  • Has a financial aid policy that allocates awards to the adult student population in proportion to their enrollment.


The institution defines and assesses the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired by adult learners both from the curriculum and from life/work experience in order to assign credit and confer degrees with rigour.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Encourage adult learners to take an active role in the assessment process.

  • Designs educational experiences using learning outcomes.

  • Utilizes a variety of valid and reliable assessment techniques to measure learning outcomes.

  • Identifies and documents what learners know and can do as a result of their educational experiences.

  • Evaluates external instructional programs to ensure relevance and rigor for the purpose of granting credit.

  • Advocates for adult learners to gain formal credit for learning achieved via instructional programs delivered by businesses, labour unions and community-based organizations.

  • Communicates actively with stakeholders to identify the knowledge, skills and abilities they need.

  • Integrates the perspectives of a range of stakeholders such as businesses and the community in defining learning outcomes.


The institution’s faculty use multiple methods of instruction (including experiential and problem-based methods) for adult learners in order to connect curricular concepts to useful knowledge and skills.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Utilizes a teaching/learning process that includes a high degree of interaction among learners, faculty and the community.

  • Recognizes adult learners as co-creators of knowledge.

  • Collaboratively designs learning experiences and projects directly related to the adult learner’s work and personal world.

  • Uses multiple methods of instructional delivery to provide access to education.

  • Uses assessment as an integral part of the learning process.

  • Uses a variety of assessment tools.

  • Has faculty integrate adults’ knowledge, skills, interests and life-situations into the curriculum.

  • Has faculty members who incorporate the issues, symbols and language of learners, workplaces and communities.

  • Develops curricula in partnership with businesses, labour unions and communities.

  • Supports full-time faculty who work collaboratively with adult learners, adjunct faculty and local community resources in developing learning experiences.

  • Provides or supports financially, professional development for faculty on effective methods for teaching adults.


The institution assists adult learners using comprehensive academic and student support systems in order to enhance students’ capacities to become self-directed, lifelong learners.

Exemplary Practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Offers a support system activated by a potential student’s initial inquiry about the institution.

  • Helps adults become college-ready by offering academic support or in collaboration with other organizations.

  • Devises flexible time frames for enrollment, registration and program participation.

  • Has faculty and staff who help adult learners connect with academic and support services.

  • Provides support services that address the life circumstances of the adult (e.g. child care, support networks, financing, adult-centered orientation and advising).

  • Provides or supports financially, professional development activities related to adult learning theory and application for faculty and staff.

  • Requires that faculty/staff work with the community, employers and/or unions to develop mentoring and advising programs.

  • Works collaboratively with stakeholders to encourage their employees/members to pursue their education and learning needs.

  • Provides support for adult learners at times and places that are congruent with work schedules.

  • Works with stakeholders to establish education extension centers at or near work locations.


The institution uses information technology to provide relevant and timely information and to enhance the learning experience.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Provides technology orientation to all entering adult learners so that technology can be used confidently and competently.

  • Uses technology to build and reinforce community among adult learners.

  • Uses information technology to provide flexible and timely education and administrative services (e.g. web registration systems, call centers).

  • Uses information technology to enable adult learners to assess their own learning needs and their learning process.

  • Uses technology to expand the choices of learning styles/options (e.g. partial and full Internet-based courses, technology-rich on-campus instruction).

  • Employs technology to complement the technology-rich environment in which many adults work.


The institution engages in strategic relationships, partnerships, and collaborations with employers and other organizations to develop and improve educational opportunities for adult learners.

Exemplary practice supporting this Principle occurs when an institution:

  • Promotes use of prior learning assessment to employers and community organizations.

  • Recruits learners through various stakeholder groups (e.g. businesses, unions and community-based organizations).

  • Collaborates with stakeholders to help establish learning goals that fulfill skill needs and lead to career opportunities.

  • Collaborates with organizations to help establish learning goals that include the organization’s future job opportunities and skill needs.

  • Works with stakeholders to develop mentoring and advising programs.

  • Promotes recognition of learning that comes from training and education programs outside the college or university (ACE, CLEP, DANTES).

  • Collaborates with stakeholders to develop ways to encourage employees or members to pursue their education.

  • Encourages employers to make a variety of company resources available to employees for education related activities.

  • Works with stakeholders to measure the impact of education programs on their goals.


The picture below shows that if all principles are attended to for adult learners then there will be –

No barriers to learning.