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Adult Learning and Andragogy

What is Andragogy? Discuss the main proponent e.g. Knowles, the theoretical assumptions of adult learning, characteristics of adult learners, etc. Can you also provide an article for starters? thank you.

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When adult education first became popular in the early 1900s, it was assumed that the same methods and techniques used to teach children could also be applied to adults. In fact, pedagogy has come to mean the art and science of teaching, even though its Greek root words actually mean leading children. To compensate for this misinterpretation, the word andragogy was created to refer specifically to the art and science of teaching adults. Malcolm Knowles was a pioneer in the field of andragogy and much of his work provides clarification and insight into the nature of this word and its meaning. Many of the resources included in this menu item were either authored by Malcolm Knowles or referenced to him.

Andragogy as a theory of adult education is most often associated with the name Malcolm Knowles, who did not invent the term but did bring it into currency (Houle, 1992). Knowles summarized andragogy as follows:

"The theoretical presuppositions of andragogy are that andragogical learning is increasingly self-directed in the learner. The learner's own experiences are used as a rich resource for learning... Readiness to learn arises from life's tasks and problems.... Motivation is the adult learner's own internal incentives and curiosity. The procedural elements of andragogy include a climate of relaxed, trusting, informal, warm, mutually respectful, and collaborative support. Planning, diagnosis of needs, and setting of objectives, while designed primarily by the teacher, are carried out by both teacher and learners through mutual assessment and negotiation and learning contracts and projects sequenced by the learner's readiness. Learning activities include inquiry projects, independent study, and experiential techniques. Evaluation is based on learner-collected evidence, validated by peers and facilitators, the latter being expert in applying criterion-referenced norms." (Knowles, 1991).

Knowles held that andragogy (from the Greek words meaning "adult-leading") should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: "child-leading"). Knowles' theory can be stated as four simple postulates:

1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept and Motivation to learn).
2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities (Experience).
3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life (Readiness to learn).
4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation to learning). (

Knowles' work (most notably the book Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers, published in 1975) has been controversial. To some, his proposed system states the obvious, to others, he has merely proposed an adaptation of existing child-learning theories (

Knowles' assumptions about ADULT LEARNING:

* The need to know ? adult learners need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it.

* Learner self-concept ?adults need to be responsible for their own decisions and to be treated as capable of self-direction

* Role of learners' experience ?adult learners have a variety of experiences of life which represent the richest resource for learning. These experiences are however imbued with bias and presupposition.

* Readiness to learn ?adults are ready to learn those things they need to know in order to cope effectively with life situations.

* Orientation to learning ?adults are motivated to learn to the extent that they perceive that it will help them perform tasks they confront in their life situations (based on Knowles 1990:57). (


Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy

A champion of andragogy, self-direction in learning and informal adult education, Malcolm S. Knowles was a very influential figure in the adult education field. Here we review his life and achievements, and assess his contribution. Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913 - 1997) was a, perhaps 'the', central figure in US adult education in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950s he was the Executive Director of the Adult Education Association of the United States of America. He wrote the first major accounts of informal adult education and the history of adult education in the United States. Furthermore, Malcolm Knowles' attempts to develop a distinctive conceptual basis for adult education and learning via the notion of andragogy became very widely discussed and used. He also wrote popular works on self-direction and on groupwork (with his wife Hulda). His work was a significant factor in reorienting adult educators from 'educating people' to 'helping them learn' (Knowles 1950: 6). In this article we review and assess his intellectual contribution in this area with respect to the development of the notions of informal adult education, andragogy and self-direction.
Malcolm Knowles - a life

Born in 1913 and initially raised in Montana, Malcolm S. Knowles appears to have had a reasonably happy childhood. His father was a veterinarian and from around the age of four Knowles often accompanied him on his visits to farms and ranches.
While driving to and from these locations, we engaged in serious discussions about all sorts of subjects, such as the meaning of life, right and wrong, religion, politics, success, happiness and everything a growing child is curious about. I distinctly remember feeling like a companion rather than an inferior. My father often asked what I thought about before he said what he thought, and gave me the feeling that he respected my mind. (Knowles 1989: 2)

Malcolm Knowles has talked about his mother helping him through her example and care to be a more 'tender, loving, caring person' (op. cit.). His schooling also appears to have reinforced his 'positive self-concept'. Boy scouting was also a significant place of formation: 'the knowledge and skills I gained in the process of learning over fifty merit badges and performing a leadership role were as important in my development as everything I learned in my high school courses' (ibid.: 4).

Malcolm Knowles gained a scholarship to Harvard and took courses in philosophy (where he was particularly influenced by the lecturing of Alfred North Whitehead), literature, history, political science, ethics and international law. Again, his extracurricular activities were particularly significant to him. He became President of the Harvard Liberal Club, general secretary of the New England Model League of Nations, and President of the Phillips Brooks House (Harvard's social service agency). Involvement in voluntary service for the latter got him working in a boys club. Knowles also met his wife Hulda at Harvard. Her father was a tool-and-die maker in Detroit's motor industry and an active unionist. 'As we talked', Knowles was later to write, 'it became clear that our values systems were identical' (ibid.: 29).

Initially intending to make a career in the Foreign Service, Malcolm Knowles enrolled in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy when he graduated in 1934 from Harvard. He passed the Foreign Service exam - but there was a three year wait for entry. Hulda and he had got married in 1935 and he needed a job. Knowles joined the new National Youth Administration in Massachusetts. His job involved him in finding out what skills local employers were looking for, establishing courses to teach those skills, and recruiting young people to take the courses. About three months into the work he met Eduard Lindeman who was involved in the supervision of training within the NYA. Lindeman took Knowles under his wing and effectively became his mentor. Knowles read Lindeman's Meaning of Adult Education: 'I was so excited in reading it that I couldn't put it down. It became my chief source of inspiration and ideas for a quarter of a century' (Knowles 1989: 8).

In 1940 Malcom Knowles was approached by Boston YMCA to see if he would be interested in becoming director of adult education and organizing an 'Association School' for adults. He was drafted into the Navy in 1943, began to read widely around the field of adult education, and decided to undertake a masters programme at the University of Chicago when he was mustered out. To support himself through the programme he got a job at the Central Chicago YMCA as director of adult education. His adviser at the University of Chicago was Cyril O. Houle whose 'deep commitment to scholarship and his role in modeling a rigorous scholarly approach to learning' were of great importance. Knowles also fell under the influence of Carl Rogers. Early in his master's programme he had enrolled in a seminar in group counselling under Arthur Shedlin (an associate of Rogers). 'It was exhilarating. I began to sense what it means to get "turned on" to learning. I began to think about what it means to be a facilitator of learning rather than a teacher' (ibid.: 14).

Malcolm Knowles gained his MA in 1949. His thesis became the basis of his first book Informal Adult Education ...

Solution Summary

This solution defines the concept of 'andragogy' from the perspective of Malcolm Knowles, including the theoretical assumptions and characteristics of adult learners. Supplemented with an informative article on andragogy.