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Decades of data. Ten time-tested principles

As a pioneer in adult learning advocacy, we’ve been fortunate to partner with hundreds of institutions over the past four-plus decades. By linking learning and work, the CAEL community has helped tens of thousands of post-traditional students navigate lifelong learning and career pathways. Along the way, we’ve tracked the effects of policies and procedures throughout the adult learning ecosystem, helping institutions adopt and optimize best practices for excellence in their own communities.

In 1998, we sought to translate this experience into a foundation of priorities that institutions could use to better support adult learners and meet their unique needs.  Informed by a national benchmarking study and a deep qualitative analysis of exemplary adult-serving institutions, CAEL outlined a framework for best practices called the Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adult Learners.


New Framework for Adult Learners

CAEL has developed a new framework for creating Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness (ALLIES) that represents the evolution of our prior Ten Principles. We invite you to learn more and read about the new framework for adult learners here.


Ten Principles of Serving Adult Learners

Adjusts to shifting external market forces and is able to adapt to the changing expectations of internal stakeholders, adult students and employers―understanding the needs of those they serve by developing creative academic solutions. AL360_principle_2_Assessment AL360_principle_3_Financing AL360_principle_4_LifeCareerPlan AL360_principle_5_Outreach
AL360_principle_9_Technology AL360_principle_6_StrategicPartnerships AL360_principle_7_StudentSupport AL360_principle_8_TeachingLearning AL360_principle_10_Transition
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The Principles provide a valuable framework that programs, institutions, or entire systems can use toward continuous improvement and innovation, ultimately empowering more adult learners with the education they need for economic mobility.
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Barry Darnell
Senior Director of Higher Education Initiatives

Best Practices Shaped by Continual Research Makes Serving Adult Learners a Little Easier

The Principles are not prescriptive. Rather, they offer a framework for the kind of institutional policies, programs, services, processes, and capacity building that support adult learners. This fosters flexibility and innovation in response to shifts in education and employment landscapes. The Principles themselves have been adjusted periodically and continue to evolve to remain oriented on the most decisive factors in supporting adult learner recruitment, retention, and success. 

A Blueprint for Meeting Adult Learners Where They Are

Today, the Principles inform the technical assistance and initiative and program support CAEL offers to schools and systems. And they are the foundation for Adult Learner 360TM, a diagnostic tool that taps the voices of adult learners themselves and collects the latest and most relevant data to help institutions improve their effectiveness in serving adult learners.

Each of the Principles has value on its own, but true impact is achieved when institutions implement them in an integrated and comprehensive strategy that puts the adult learner at the center.  Contact us today to learn more and for help putting the Ten Principles into practice. 

Adult Learning Principles in Practice


Principle in Focus: Outreach

How an institution conducts its outreach to adult learners can help overcome barriers in time, place, and tradition to create lifelong access to educational opportunities. 

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NLU – Serving Adult Learners

Joe Levy of National Louis University discusses how his institution supports adult learners, focuses on services to adult learners in postsecondary education and also notes some likely future trends. 

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Staying on the Path of Adult Learner Success

KC Scholars used diagnostic data grounded in the Ten Principles to complement the program’s robust qualitative adult learner feedback.

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