Adult Learning Principles and Process in OHS


Guest post by George Robotham from

Facilitating OHS learning is a very important part of an OHS professional’s role but unfortunately many do not have high levels of skills in this area. The Cert. IV T.A.E. is the standard people are judged by. The reality is that this course has a number of limitations and only represents a learner’s permit.

I was not far into my Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) before I realized how inadequate some of my previous education had been and how inadequate some of my previous learning facilitation had been. I decided to sit down and highlight my learning on the B.Ed. The original paper (Abstract below) was the result.


One of the activities we all do in business is "training" others. It is my contention that modern adult learning principles are not practiced frequently or well in general "training" in industry and in consequence the learning experience is not as successful as it could be. This paper explores the characteristics of the adult learner and provides a number of learning principles that must be practiced to maximise learning. The role of critical reflection is explored and it is explained why the traditional lecture is to be avoided. For learning to be effective opportunities for critical reflection must be given via an activity, group discussion, case study, practical exercise etc.

Models of action learning and experiential learning are presented and it is explained why these 2 learning approaches are particularly appropriate for adults.

"Learn a little well" is a motto that must be practiced, in industry the alternate approach is often adopted where trainers only have an audience for a limited time and endeavour to stuff as much into the learners as they can in the time allocated.

The workplace can be a "robust and transferable" environment for learning, the benefits of using the workplace in learning are explored.

Comments on the paper

This paper is 13 pages so I have broken my own rule of being succinct. There is not much structure or flow to it. It will not be just for the casual reader. For the person really interested in improving their facilitation of learning it is stuffed full of both theory and practice suggestions for improving what you do.

Copies of the paper can be obtained from

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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