LevelUp's Approach to Adult Learning

Credits DJ, Manisha Aryal Last Updated 2016-03

LevelUp uses ADIDS, an adult-focused approach to learning, and has organized its curriculum for training sessions according to this method - where does this it come from, and why was it chosen?

Core to LevelUp and its created by trainers, for trainers curriculum is fostering an environment for our events and workshops that is open and participatory for our audiences. For those who support others with training on digital security, the audiences and learners we engage with the most consistently are adults. An open and participatory dynamic sets the tone for a training space that is more conducive to learning in general, and specifically to adult learning.

Trainer’s Note

This resource explains both the unique needs of adult learners, and how LevelUp has adapted this approach into its curriculum structure for digital security education, as a means of introduction and context-setting. For in-depth walkthroughs on navigating the curriculum and making the best use of ADIDS, in the preparation of your event and workshop sessions, please refer to our detailed curriculum guides linked below. You may also want to check out the Security Education Companion resources on How To Teach Adults, Catering To Multiple Learning Preferences, and Drawing From Inclusive Education.


Malcolm S. Knowles, whose research helped shape modern approaches to adult learning, says in his book The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy that adults learn best when they take responsibility for their own learning.

Andragogy, which comes from the Greek roots andro- (relating to “man” or an adult) and -gogy meaning “led,” is distinct from the more commonly known term pedagogy (the root peda- meaning “child”). Andragogy, as a learning model, means adult- led, adult-focused, and adult-driven learning.

Five Statements Summarize Knowles’ Theory:

  • Adults need to understand and accept the reason for learning a specific skill.
  • Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults need to be involved in both the planning and evaluation of their learning.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
  • Most adults are interested in learning what has immediate relevance to their professional and social lives.

Think about how each of these statements impacts how we currently plan for, design, implement, and follow-up after trainings. How can we adjust our practices to better serve our training audiences, given how adults need to be involved in how they learn?

The ADIDS Approach

LevelUp uses the Activity-Discussion-Inputs-Deepening-Synthesis, or the ADIDS approach to learning and has organized its curriculum for training sessions according to this approach.

This adult learning approach has been used effectively in advocacy and skills training on human rights issues, and we have found this to be useful in helping participants with minimal technical knowledge better understand concepts as complex as digital security and online safety. For trainers, it can also provide a useful framework when creating lesson plans.

The operating principle behind the ADIDS approach is that adult learners benefit most from information presented in stages, and in a variety of formats – i.e., group activities, case studies, slide and audiovisual presentations, facilitated discussions, group work, hands-on practice, and reflection.

This approach creates a comprehensive learning environment by taking into consideration the needs of kinesthetic learners (who need to do something physically to understand), as well as visual learners (who rely on pictures, diagrams and video) and auditory learners (who learn through hearing material such as lectures).

How Trainers Can Use ADIDS

Since LevelUp was introduced to the concept of ADIDS, we’ve introduced it to fellow trainers at our events and through word-of-mouth. Thus far, trainers have found it useful for structuring training session. It also helps trainers mix up the type of interaction they’re having with participants, while increasing their skills. For instance, one trainer may tend towards lectures (typically “Inputs”) and the hands-on elements of tools (typically “Deepenings”). Using ADIDS helps that trainer learn more activities and helps make their trainings more fun and more effective.

ADIDS also helps balance the energy and skills between co-trainers.

A week-long workshop with more than 4-5 participants is typically too much for a single trainer to be effective, and can lead to burnout. When you are co-training at a workshop, ADIDS allows you to switch up the lead for sections of a training session - during a Deepening, one trainer can be available in the room to help particpants troubleshoot use of a tool, while the other trainer can run the session, for instance.

This can also allow co-trainers to lead sections that they are either more adept at than their fellow trainer, or allow them to increase their training skills on a particular tool or Activity they want to be better at. It also allows trainers to co-lead when necessary, appropriate, or most effective (e.g., during complex Activities).

This resource is adapted from the SaferJourno: Digital Security Resources for Media Trainers guide, authored by Manisha Aryal and Dylan Jones. SaferJourno is a project of Internews, produced and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) License.