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  • Writer's pictureGuest post by Brandon Lee, MS, RD, CCRP

Teaching Nutrition Effectively: Consider the Learner’s Readiness and Situation

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Andragogy, the art and science of helping adults learn, is a crucial concept for professionals in the field of nutrition and dietetics. It's distinct from pedagogy, which focuses on teaching children.


Andragogy provides a set of best practices for effectively working with adult learners. In the 1960s, Malcolm Knowles developed six assumptions or systems of concepts about adult learners, which are highly applicable to our work.


What are Knowles' assumptions about adult learners?


Assumptions of Adult Learners 1 & 2: Autonomy and Experience

  1. As a person matures, his or her self-concept moves from that of a dependent personality toward one of a self-directing human being. This is autonomy.

  2. An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich source for learning. This is experience.


In our previous article, we explored the first two assumptions of adult learners.


Now, let's delve into the third and fourth assumptions and see how they directly apply to our work in nutrition and dietetics. Understanding these assumptions can significantly enhance our practice as Registered Dietitians (RDs).


Assumption 3: The readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role.

Adult learners seek knowledge or information when they need or want to learn something. Rarely do adults seek information without a reason.


Societal roles are potent influencers of when and how adults will understand. According to National Center for Education Statistics data, 62% of high school graduates will attend college later that same year. Societal roles and expectations affect an individual's decision to attend college.


Regarding nutrition, adults become interested in pediatric nutrition when they become parents or become interested in healthy eating when they join a community pickleball league. Adult learners usually engage in the learning process because they have chosen to do so, and it helps fulfill their societal (or occupational) role.


To implement the third assumption, RDs must recognize the importance of proper timing of learning and grouping of learners in the context of their societal or occupational role.


First, proper timing of nutrition messaging is crucial.

What stage of change (i.e., Transtheoretical model) is the patient or client in? If the patient or client is in the precontemplation stage of change, then reasons to consider dietary changes should be addressed first. When the individual is in the change preparation stage, the RD can cover implementation strategies.


Second, the grouping of learners should be considered.

For instance, if a corporate health and wellness RD plans nutrition classes for an international company, they must consider how to group the learners. For example, the RD may hold one nutrition presentation for employees who travel regularly and another for employees who do not.


This approach to lesson development accounts for the dietary and lifestyle differences between travelers and non-travelers. Separating these groups will allow for a tailored nutrition message and improve group discussions, cohesiveness, and conciseness by focusing on the lesson content.


Adult learners are better prepared to learn certain nutrition information at specific times in their personal, societal, and occupational development.


Assumption 4: There is a change in time perspective as people mature from future application of knowledge to immediacy of application. Thus, an adult is more problem-centered than subject-centered in learning

The third assumption addresses when adults seek knowledge. The fourth assumption is one of the many assumptions focused on why they seek knowledge.


Adults usually undertake learning to solve an immediate problem or overcome a situation. The message should be relevant to the learner's situation when communicating nutrition.

  • Older adults are less interested in learning that fiber can provide sustained energy and are more interested in how it can help their bowel movements.

  • Professional sports teams are less interested in how nutrition can help improve their quality of life and are more interested in learning about nutrition to gain a competitive edge.


RDs must focus their vast knowledge of food and nutrition to communicate what is essential to the individual to help them solve their problem.


To implement the fourth assumption, RDs must consider the relevancy of the information they have to provide and how it meets the needs of their clientele.


For example, RDs working in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics often have limited opportunities to provide nutrition education to new or expecting mothers when they come in for their vouchers.


Therefore, WIC RDs should focus on nutrition related to the child’s health or the mother's, especially if she is lactating. Educating the mother on other areas of nutrition isn't relevant. Proper timing and content of nutrition information are critical for effective teaching.


Who are you teaching? How does their current role affect their readiness to learn and what are the situations and problems that are of current concern?


This guest post was written by Brandon Lee, MS, RD, CCRP. Read his story on the community page



“I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” ~ Winston Churchill


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