It has been more than forty years since Malcolm Knowles made the term andragogy a household word in adult learning circles. The shelf life of the term, which Knowles made famous in 1970, and its premise has surprised many experts. As the world of training and higher education continue to transition to online and distance learning, how can we best bring andragogy along for the ride? How can we take the best that andragogy has to offer and apply it to learners in virtual environments?
Let’s step back for a moment and take a closer look at the term andragogy. The word itself does not easily roll off the tongue. Like pedagogy, andragogy is derived from the Greek root “agogus” (to lead), exchanging the prefix “peda” (child) for “andra” (adult) to give us the art and science of teaching/leading adults (Knowles, 1980). Although word and the idea of andragogy actually emerged in the 1800s, it was Knowles’ writings that energized the training and adult education profession, giving a framework and name to what we do. It was an initial step in the movement that rocked the latter part of the 20th century, where trainers moved from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” shifting toward learner focused delivery.
Knowles gave us six assumptions about adult learners to guide us in the pursuit of andragogical design and delivery (Taylor & Kroft 2009).
- Self-concept: As a person matures, his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being self-directed. Adults tend to resist situations in which they feel that others are imposing their wills on them.
- Experience: As a person matures, he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes a resource for learning. Adults tend to come into adult education with a vast amount of prior experiences compared to that of children. If those prior experiences can be used, they become the richest resource available.
- Readiness to learn: As a person matures, his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented to the development task of his/her social roles. Readiness to learn is dependent on an appreciation of the relevancy of the topic to the student.
- Orientation to learn: As a person matures, his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his/her orientation towards learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness. Adults are motivated to learn to the extent in which they perceive that the knowledge in which they are acquiring will help them perform a task or solve a problem that they may be facing in real life.
- Motivation to learn: Internal motivation is key as a person matures. Although adults feel the pressure of external events, they are mostly driven by internal motivation and the desire for self-esteem and goal attainment.
- The need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something. In adult learning, the first task of the teacher is to help the learner become aware of the need to know. When adults undertake learning something they deem valuable, they will invest a considerable amount of resources (e.g., time and energy).
What do you think?
Back to the questions posed at the beginning of this article: Is andragogy relevant in virtual learning? Does is need a remix or can we directly apply the assumptions to adults who learn in virtual environments? Please add a comment to this post and let me know your thoughts about how we can best apply andragogy to virtual learning.
Knowles, M. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York: Association Press.
Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Englewoods Cliff, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education.
Taylor, B., & Kroth, M. (2009). Andragogy’s Transition into the Future: Meta-Analysis of Andragogy and Its Search for a Measurable Instrument. Journal Of Adult Education, 38(1), 1-11.