Adult Learning Theory
Malcolm Knowles was an education in the 1950s who popularized the term andragogy through his work on adult learning theory. Andragogy is the study of how and why adults learn and, specifically, how adult learners differ from younger learners.
Through his research, Knowles developed a framework that includes five assumptions about adult learners, four principles for improving learning for adults, and a five-step model of self-directed learning. These assumptions, beliefs, and models are still used today by instructional designers to develop practical learning opportunities for adults in educational and organizational settings.
Five Assumptions of Andragogy
These assumptions are based on the characteristics of the adult learner, according to Knowles.
- Self-concept: Adult learners move from depending on others for knowledge to self-directed learning. Self-directed learning is when an individual takes the initiative to seek information about a topic or problem. This shift from dependency to self-directed is called self-concept.
- Experience: As people mature and move through life, they will inevitably accumulate lessons from which they have learned. These experiences serve as a basis for all future learning.
- Readiness to Learn: Adult learners will be more apt to learn something if it is vital to their work or social roles. Willingness to learn is heavily related to the relevance of the content to the learner’s immediate roles.
- Orientation to Learning: Remember when you took Geometry and wondered when you would ever use that again? Orientation to learning is the concept that you learn something to use it immediately, not ten years down the road when you need to figure out the area of the apartment you are tiling.
- Motivation to Learn: For adult learners, the most compelling motivation to learn is internal. Learners that are intrinsically motivated are more successful.
Four Principles of Andragogy
These four principles, based in part on the assumptions mentioned above, are the guidelines for creating adult learning experiences.
- Adult learners want to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instructional opportunities. This is especially important to note when creating a training and development program for an organization. Development is related to an employee’s personal career goals. Organizations should consider allowing learners to plan and evaluate their development opportunities.
- The assumption that learners have a bank of experience from which they can scaffold new ones is an essential piece of this principle. Lessons, including mistakes, are opportunities for learning. Adults learn from trial and error. Opportunities should be presented that includes no penalty trial and error. This means that you allow the learners to try to solve a problem or question without deducting points. The objective is that they rethink their approach until they arrive at the correct answer.
- New learning experiences should be relevant to a learner’s job or personal life. Remember that Geometry class? Adult learners do not want to waste time on learning; they cannot immediately put to use.
- Adult learners are interested in problem-solving rather than content-oriented courses. This relates to using learned information right away. They are focused on the problems in front of them rather than long-term knowledge storing.
Applying the Assumptions and Principles
The model proposed by Knowles incorporates the assumptions and into a pragmatic approach for learning design to cultivate self-directed learning.
- Instructional designers should first diagnose their learning needs. This means that instructional designers need to understand what the learners need to know.
- Instructional designers should formulate the learning needs. In other words, learning objectives should be written out to clarify precisely what the learner will be learning.
- The next thing to do is to identify the available resources. This will either restrict or promote specific learning strategies.
- Choosing and implementing the correct learning strategies can be tricky. Instructional designers need to make sure the learning strategies apply to the learning objectives.
- To ensure that all the learning objectives have been met, instructional designers need to evaluate the outcomes of the course. Were the learners able to apply everything they learned?
Adult learning theory gives instructional designers a framework for creating practical learning opportunities in both the education and organizational settings. All of these strategies can easily be applied to blended learning settings, which incorporate both online and face to face learning.
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