Malcolm Knowles might well be considered the founding father of adult learning. He contrasted the “concept of andragogy, meaning “the art and science of helping adults learn,”…with pedagogy, the art and science of helping children learn” (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999, p. 272). Knowles’ original studies and writings arose from the assumption that there are significant, identifiable differences between adult learners and learners under the age of eighteen. Primarily, the differences, according to Knowles, relate to an adult learner being more self-directing, having a repertoire of experience, and being internally motivated to learn subject matter that can be applied immediately – learning that is especially “closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role” (p. 272).
Knowles (1968) popularized this European concept over thirty years ago. Andragogy, (andr – ‘man’), contrasted with pedagogy, means “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1980, p. 43). Knowles labeled andragogy as an emerging technology which facilitates the development and implementation of learning activities for adults. This emerging technology is based on five andragogical assumptions of the adult learner:
- Self-Concept: As a person matures, he or she moves from dependency to self-directness.
- Experience: Adults draw upon their experiences to aid their learning.
- Readiness: The learning readiness of adults is closely related to the assumption of new social roles.
- Orientation: As a person learns new knowledge, he or she wants to apply it immediately in problem solving.
- Motivation (Later added): As a person matures, he or she receives their motivation to learn from internal factors.
These five assumptions dovetail with the thoughts and theories of others. Merriam and Caffarella (1999) point to three keys to transformational learning: experience, critical reflection and development. The aspect of experience (the second assumption to andragogy) seems like an important consideration in creating an effective learning opportunity for adults. The learning opportunity needs to be relevant and applicable to a person’s set of experiences. Argote, McEvily, and Reagans (2003) point to experience as an important factor in one’s ability to create, retain and transfer knowledge.
Critical reflection is the second key to transformational learning and part of andragogy’s self-directed learning. Reflection/think time is yet another essential principle to creating an effective learning experience for adults. Garvin (1993) shares the importance of fostering an environment that is conducive to learning including time for reflection and analysis. Adult learners need time to contemplate the ramifications of the learning experience to their experience and responsibilities.
The third key to transformational learning is development (corresponding to the third assumption of andragogy). Merriam and Caffarella state that “the ability to think critically, which is mandatory to effecting a transformation, is itself developmental” (p. 330). If development is the outcome of transformational learning, then an effective adult learning opportunity needs to be created that will take personal development into consideration
Andragogy assumes the following about the design of learning:
- Adults have the need to know why they are learning something.
- Adults learn through doing.
- Adults are problem-solvers.
- Adults learn best when the subject is of immediate use.
According to Knowles ( 1984, Appendix D) an example used to apply the principles to personal computer training:
- Explain why certain skills are taught (functions, commands).
- Task oriented instead of memorizing. Tasks should be common tasks.
- Take diversity into play. Acknowledge different learning levels and experience.
- Allow adults to learn on their own and from their mistakes. ( M.Knowles)
Some would contend that Knowles only introduced a theory of teaching rather than a theory of adult learning. In commenting on this thought, Merriam and Caffarella (1999) referring to Hartree suggest, “that it is not clear whether Knowles had presented a theory of learning or a theory of teaching, whether adult learning was different from child learning, and whether there was a theory at all-perhaps these were just principles of good practice” (p. 273). It is further contended that Knowles did not establish a proven theory, rather he introduced a “set of well-grounded principles of good practice” (Brookfirle, 1986, p. 98).
“Within companies, instructional methods are designed for improving adult learners’ knowledge and skills. It is important to distinguish the unique attributes of adult learners so as to be better able to incorporate the principles of adult learning in the design of instruction” (Yi, 2005, p. 34). Within this context, adult learning is aimed at not only improving individual knowledge and skill, but ultimately it is the goal to improve the organizational performance by transfer of learning directly to work applications. Yi suggest three methods to foster learning in adult organizations: Problem-Based Learning which seeks to increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills; Cooperative Learning, which builds communication and interpersonal skills; and Situated Learning, which targets specific technical skills that can be directly related to the field of work (Yi, 2005). Each of these methods support the assumptions about how adults learn; specifically they are more self-directed, have a need for direct application to their work, and are able to contribute more to collaborative learning through their experience.
Experiential Learning Theory emphasizes the role that true experiences play in the learning process. It is this emphasis that distinguishes itself from other learning theories. Cognitive learning theories emphasize cognition over affect and behavioral learning theories deny any role for subjective experience in the learning process.
Scholars in the field of education have two contrasting views when it comes to the concept of experiential learning. The first view defines experiential learning as a sort of learning which enables students to apply newly acquired knowledge in a relevant setting. The relevant setting can be a sponsored institution of learning with trainers, instructors, teachers, or professors to guide the lesson. The other school of thought defines experiential learning as “education that occurs as a direct participation in the events of life” (Houle, 1980, p. 221). Thus, learning is not achieved in a formal setting, but in the practice of reflection of daily experiences. Kolb furthers the second definition of experiential learning by developing a model which details learning process through experiences. Kolb and Fry’s (1975) experiential learning model is a continuous spiral process which consists of four basic elements:
- Concrete experience
- Observation and reflection
- Forming abstract concepts
- Testing in new situations
Immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observation and reflections. These reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action can be drawn (Kolb & Fry).
According to Kolb and Fry (1975), the adult learner can enter the process at any one of the elements. The adult learner moves to the next step once he or she processes their experience in the previous step.
Anxiety and the Adult Learner
An interview with psychologist Edgar Schein, Coutu suggests that more often than not, organizations fail at transformational learning. They rarely fundamentally change the behaviors within the organization. Schein dismisses the notion that learning is fun, especially for adults. He equates adult learning within organizations with that of the brainwashing techniques he observed while studying prisoners of the Korean War (Coutu, 2002). Organizations must find a method to deal with the anxiety adults experience when they are forced to “unlearn” what they know and learn something new (Coutu, 2002, p. 6). Schein discusses two kinds of anxiety: learning anxiety and survival anxiety. It is in this manner that he draws the parallel to brainwashing; that is “learning will only happen when survival anxiety is greater than learning anxiety” (Coutu, 2002, p. 6). Each of these anxieties could be managed, for example learning can be constructed in a “safe” environment where the consequences of failure are minimal. Survival anxiety can obviously be increased by threatening job loss, a lack of security, or recognizing competitive elements of the market.
Case studies & workplace examples
The adult learning experience presented itself in all of its glory and contradictions through a curriculum review taking place in a school setting. The objective was to examine the current school curriculum and evaluate it for strengths and weaknesses. The purpose for this review was to both align the curriculum with current practice and augment the curriculum to enhance student learning. Interestingly, the teachers involved in this process seemed to exhibit all the qualities of adult learners mentioned previously: learning through projects, applying self-direction to the process, challenging the process for purpose, and some approached the process with much anxiety. Engaging in the process illustrated that adult learning is individual and there were as many approaches to adult learning as there were people involved in the process.
Article Sources and Contributors
Learning Theories/Adult Learning Theories Source: http://en.wikibooks.org/w/index.php?oldid=2060870 Contributors: Abigor, Fishpi, Hagindaz, Panic2k4, Rdunican, Recent Runes, Red4tribe, 29 anonymous edits
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