Andragogy. Also known as adult learning.
Updated: Jan 13
I’ve always had a strong passion to learn and can remember being a very determined child growing up. I also thrived in a school environment and was always looking to learn new things. One of my fondest memories is when I was around six years old and I had this sudden desire to learn how to tie my running shoes. I must’ve sat there for a good hour practicing over and over until I got it and let me tell you, it was an amazing feeling when I finally did it!
Today I still have that same determination to learn, but the way I learned as a child is drastically different from how I learn as an adult. In my younger years, I acquired information from reading and researching, developed new skills through repetition and practice, and listening to my teachers and family.
Fast forward to my 30s, I still enjoy reading but it’s more for pleasure than gaining knowledge.
And I am continuously expanding my skillset but instead of repetition and practice, I prefer to learn from experience and by engaging with colleagues and other professionals.
So why has there been a shift in the way I learn? According to Malcom Shepard Knowles, an American educator known for the term andragogy (adult education), there are many differences in the way children and adults learn. Included below are his five assumptions of adult learning:
As a person matures his/her self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
Adult Learner Experience
As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
Readiness to Learn
As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
Orientation to Learning
As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
Motivation to Learn
As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984: 12).
Knowles also came up with four principles:
Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
There are countless articles and commentary regarding Knowles assumptions, but the two that stand out to me based on my personal experience are assumption one: self-concept and assumption three: readiness to learn.
Self-concept describes how one starts off being dependent on others, to being independent and driven. I agree that this is true based on how many skills you have to learn in your first few years of life like walking, manners and putting on clothes. What I don’t agree with, is the assumption that independence and being driven comes later in life. As mentioned above, I have a very vivid memory of just how driven I was to learn how to tie my shoes. I also believe that some, like my son, are spirited from the get-go. For example, he prefers sleeping on his own in his bedroom, and really enjoys when he is able to accomplish things by himself.
Assumption three, readiness to learn, speaks to how children learn externally as they are required to go to school. As adults, this shifts and is more internal. Adults have a desire to learn for personal reasons like progressing with their career. To help do this, adults look to complete training or go to school. Unlike self-concept, I completely agree with this.
As an adult, I find that I need to be interested or have a reason to learn something new or I just won’t do it.
In terms of the four principles, I am going to touch upon the two that resonate the most to me. Principle two: experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities and principle three : adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
Again I agree with both of these principles. While I identify myself as an overachiever, there’s certainly been times where I have made mistakes. I would say that these experiences have enabled me to grow by reflecting and determining how I can improve. I also think it’s important to be able to take critique and learn from it.
Lastly, I am only interested in learning about things that will have an immediate impact to my job or family life. A big reason for this is that I’m incredibly busy juggling my life as a mother and wife, and my career. It’s a lot of responsibility to raise a child and there’s never a shortage for me to learn in this area. A second reason is that as an adult, I have more control on what I learn. Math has always been a struggle for me, and I quickly gave that up as soon as I was able to (and I have no regrets about this). From a professional perspective, I now have a strong interest in gaining more knowledge about learning and change management. As a Harbinger, it’s only fitting for me to do so.
As you can see, there’s so much to learn about andragogy, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper into this to learn more about myself. Stay tuned for more!
Siri Maldonado Director of Marketing & Communications Toronto