hadron-collider

Motivating adult learners: what is andragogy?

Darcy NicholsonDarcy Nicolson is a learning and technology expert and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Passionate about lifelong learning, Darcy focuses on improving the use of media and technology to enable better personal development and learning outcomes – regardless of the age of the learner. Today he talks about how to motivate adult learners.

What is Andragogy?

Way back in 2015, I thought it would be relevant to discuss Andragogy and the work of Malcolm Knowles on the subject, in a webinar that I delivered as part of Adult Learners week. The following blog is a summary of the webinar, which covered:

  • an overview of Malcolm Knowles and his work on adult learning
  • differences between pedagogy and andragogy, and
  • the history of the term Andragogy.

I also considered Knowles’s Andragogical model and the five assumptions he wrote of, to describe the differences between adult learning and traditional classroom models. I find his papers to be some of the most accessible and useful from my studies on adult learning, so as we move through these five assumptions today, I will provide examples of how these have related to my life and work as an online learning consultant – and, more importantly perhaps, a dad.

The king of Andragogy – Malcolm Knowles

malcolm knowlesKnowles had a long career in adult learning and is well known for his work in self-directed learning and learning contracts, but he is probably best known for his work on Andragogy. He is often described as humanistic and holistic, and it’s easy to see from his writings about his own learning experiences, that he was passionate about promoting learning and personal growth in adults. Knowles felt that applying pedagogical theory to adults didn’t work well, so he spent 30 years researching and refining a unified theory of adult learning. It was a massive undertaking, but wouldn’t it be great if we had one theory that covered all aspects of adult learning?

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

The what? The Large Hadron Collider is the most powerful particle accelerator built to date. You might have heard that physicists are looking for a sub-atomic particle called a Boson-Higgs that will help to understand how gravity works and potentially discover a parallel universe. I am pretty sure they will actually find the parallel universe before we have an adult learning theory that fits every learner type, style, delivery method, and situation for every subject ever. Yes scientific theories often allow you to exactly isolate the subject and replicate conditions, this is much harder to do when considering an education is as unique as an individual. You might like to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on changing education paradigms.  I first watched this around the same time I was reading Knowles and found they make similar points on the lack of progress educational theory and systems.

Andragogy versus Pedagogy

The root of the word pedagogy is from the Greek for child, like paediatrics. Knowles talked about pedagogy as a system designed in monastic schools in Europe, and his concern that it is an unchallenged ideology. It’s hard to get perspective and change a system when you are immersed in it. Andragogy on the other hand refers to the adult. A German grammar school teacher, Alexander Kapp originally used the term in 1833.  At the time Johan Herbart, a German philosopher responded and condemned the use of the term which effectively buried it for almost 100 years.  In the 1967 Knowles was introduced to the term by Dusan Savicevic.

Initially Knowles drew a line in the sand between the two, as we see in the title of his 1968 article in Adult Leadership (Knowles, M.S., 1968)[1].  Pedagogy was for children, and andragogy was for adults. Over time, however, he changed his position of looking at these as a dichotomy to a journey from one to the other. By 1979 he looked at each as situational – sometimes pedagogy was relevant, sometimes andragogy.

What happened next?

Knowles went on to build an Andragogical model consisting of five key assumptions about the way that adults learn – a topic covered in Darcy’s next blog post. Go here to read the second blog post in this series.

[1] Knowles, M. S. (1968). Andragogy, not pedagogy. Adult Leadership, 16(10), 350–352, 386.

3 thoughts on “Motivating adult learners: what is andragogy?”

  1. What a shame you didn’t fulfill your promise to discuss the five ways adults learn in this article.

Leave a Reply to eWorks Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *