TRIO Model of Adult Learning

A stool needs a minimum of three legs for it to stand. You know what else? A really solid adult learning model.

This is where the TRIO Model of Adult Learning comes in.

In order for the learning process to “stand” like a stool, the TRIO Model suggests we use three legs to optimize the learning process: individual attributes, key experiences, and environmental affordances.

This is because years of graduate research at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, Professors Barry Sheckley, Marijke Kehrhahn, Sandy Bell, and Robin Grenier found that optimal adult learning is achieved when all three legs are used in a reciprocating fashion. They developed the TRIO Model as a conceptual framework for those looking for ways to enhance professional learning in the workplace.

The flip side to this, according to Dr. Sheckley, is that when any one of these legs is missing then adult learning is not optimal.

That’s a mouthful to chew on. So let’s take a closer peek at what each leg of the TRIO Model means.

Individual Attributes. This leg of the model refers to the individual learner’s traits. For example, what is the learner’s mental model? How does this learner self-regulate? What are the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for this learner?

Key Experiences. The second leg refers to the individual learner’s prior experiences. But it also considers future experiences that are key to the learner’s growth. Particularly in the areas that promote the learner’s analogical reasoning skills, mental model complexity, and tacit knowledge.

Environmental Affordances. The third leg refers to the learner’s environment in terms of challenges and supports. Learning becomes more optimal when the learner’s challenges (e.g., workplace problems) are balanced with an equal, or greater, level of support (e.g., supervisor support, team-based activities, available use of equipment, etc.).

Remember, the TRIO Model is a conceptual framework. It’s a model you can use, too. The tip for you is this: Any time you are challenged with the task to enhance professional learning in the workplace, consider making something better in each leg of this model.

Take it even further. Figure out how to have each leg of the model interact or support each other. In other words, make the legs “reciprocate.”

That is what the TRIO Model is about. Build three solid legs for the “learning stool” to stand and achieve optimal learning.

About Parker Grant, PhD

Parker Grant is the founder of Instructional Design Industry, an online community for learning designers, instructional designers, and many other learning professionals (new and experienced). Parker holds a PhD in Adult Learning and a MS in Educational Technology. His consulting firm, Learning Connects, continues to offer learning design and development services.

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