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Adult Learning and Andragogy

Adult Learning and Andragogy

Author: Jody Waltman

In this learning, students will examine Adult Learning and the Andragogy.

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In this tutorial, you'll learn the basics of the concept of andragogy, and then I'll walk you through the six assumptions of adult learning, including self-concept, experience, readiness, problem-centered orientation, internal motivation, and the need to know.

Let's begin with just an overview of andragogy. What is andragogy, and why should we study it? Well, the whole reason that we want to study adult learning principles in the first place is because teachers play a really unique role in that often we are both the facilitators and the receivers of learning. We tend to focus so much on pedagogy, on really having a good understanding of how it is that our students learn and what we can do to best facilitate their learning. It's also important that we understand the theories behind adult learning, both so that we can create professional development and growth opportunities for other adults and so that we can engage in those same types of opportunities as learners.

There are actually three major adult learning theories. Those are andragogy, self-directed learning, and transformational learning. And the most popular of these theories is andragogy. Andragogy can be defined as "the art and science of helping adults learn."

Malcolm Knowles is known as the "founding father of andragogy." He was an adult educator at the Boston YMCA in the 1940s. He wanted to find resources to help him design his instruction, but he found that there were not resources available on the topic of how adults learn. Instead, everything just seemed to focus on pedagogy, or how children learn.

Rather than focusing on just defining the concept of andragogy, Knowles really focused on identifying the differences between the assumptions that are made about pedagogy and the assumptions that are made about andragogy because he realized that the process of being an adult learner is significantly different from that of being a younger-aged student.

So let's look at each of these six assumptions in turn. Note that some educational literature refers to these assumptions as principles instead. Knowles actually originally developed just four assumptions. The fifth and sixth assumptions were added later. And each of these assumptions includes implications for the design of adult learning programs and for the design of adult learning instruction. And again, remember that the focus in each of these assumptions is on how adult learning processes differ from pedagogy or from the learning processes that we focus on more traditionally with our students.

So the first assumption is self-concept. This idea of the learner's self-concept is built on the principle that as we mature in age our self-concepts tend to move from that of a more dependent personality to a self-concept that is more self-directed. And so adult learners tend to desire to have more influence and more choice in their learning opportunities.

The second assumption is experience. Adult learners simply tend to have a much wider array of experiences than younger-aged learners. This can be used as a rich resource for adult learning. It's valuable for instructors of adults to reflect on what particular experiences the adult learners are bringing to the situation. And those experiences can be used as jumping-off points or starting places for creating instructional opportunities for adults.

The third assumption is readiness. We need to realize that adults are going to enter into these educational opportunities with varying levels of readiness that are closely related to the particular developmental tasks that these learners encounter in their professional lives or in their social lives. Another way to look at it is that an adult learner is going to feel that they are more ready to learn something if they see potential value for that objective in their daily life versus something that they see as not useful to them or something that they won't be able to make use of in their daily activities. Knowles asserted that the main emphasis in this principle of readiness to learn is that the social roles that come into play during adulthood create special needs for learning.

And the fourth and final of the original four assumptions is problem-centered orientation. That is, as we mature in age, we tend to see a change in our time perspective. Whereas we can tell our younger students that they will be able to apply a particular skill or idea at some point in the future, adult learners tend to want more immediacy of application. Adult learners are just more likely to be engaged or interested in their learning if they can see an immediate possible application for that material. So problem-centered orientation refers to the fact that adults are going to be much more problem centered than subject centered in their learning opportunities.

Working with other researchers in later publications, Knowles actually added two more assumptions to the list. The fifth assumption is internal motivation. Internal motivation refers to the idea that adult learners tend to be driven more by internal motivation to learn rather than by any external motivators to learn.

And the sixth assumption is the need to know. Adult learners tend to want to know why they are supposed to learn something. We want to know immediately not only what we're going to be learning but why we are going to be learning that material and how we can apply it right away to our daily lives and immediate situations.

Let's consider some examples of how these assumptions of adult learning might come into play in a professional development situation for teachers. Take assumption number one, self-concept. As teachers are very used to having a great degree of influence and choice in the learning activities that they are designing for their students, it's reasonable to assume that those teachers are also going to want a great degree of influence and choice in their own learning opportunities. So if teachers are allowed to exercise that self-direction as part of their professional development, it's much more likely that those professional development opportunities will be successful.

Assumption number two, experience. We need to take into account the varying experiences that teachers are bringing forward. And we can use those experiences as jumping off points, allowing teachers to share valuable experiences and advice with one another as part of the professional development.

For assumption three, readiness, teachers in an adult learning situation are going to be much more ready to learn information that they can apply right away in their classrooms. If teachers view a particular concept as something that they can use right away with their own students, they're going to perceive themselves as much more ready to learn that information.

When it comes to assumption four, problem-centered orientation, again, there's that idea that we don't necessarily want to be focusing on professional development opportunities that are going to have application a couple of months or a couple of years down the road. Instead, we want real solutions to problems that are occurring right now in our classrooms. We want solutions that we can implement right away.

For assumption five, internal motivation, we can really build on the fact that teachers often have a very strong desire to continuously be improving their instruction and to always be finding ways to be more effective teachers. So we can keep that in mind when we're designing these professional development opportunities.

And finally, assumption six, the need to know. I think everyone has probably sat through a meeting or a workshop where they did not see the reason why they were being presented with that particular information. So just making sure that the intent is always clear and making sure that the intended or desired result is always clearly communicated can really help for teachers to be more engaged in their professional development opportunities.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Think about a professional development activity or another adult learning opportunity that you have engaged in. Were these six assumptions of adult learning taken into account in the planning of these activities?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Adult Learning and Andragogy"

(00:00 - 00:17) Introduction

(00:18 - 02:11) Andragogy

(02:12 - 05:18) Knowles' Original Four Assumptions

(05:19 - 06:00) Assumptions #5 and #6

(06:01 - 08:29) Examples

(08:30 - 09:04) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – Infographic

This is a helpful infographic that explains Malcolm Knowles' 5 Assumptions of Adult Learners and 4 Principles of Andragogy.

8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners

This article by Christopher Pappas explores the characteristics of adult learners and how to approach those characteristics when training teachers.