Adult learning: The five key assumptions of 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. In part one of this blog series Darcy talked about Malcolm Knowles and the history of andragogy. Today we consider Knowles’ andragogical model of adult learning.

Knowles and andragogy

Knowles built his andragogical model on a number of assumptions about the way adults learn, and kept refining it. I have seen versions with one more and one less assumption, but his 1984 paper, Androgogy in action (Knowles, S.M., 1984) he settled on these five, which we will look at now[1].

  1. Need to know

Adult learners need to know why they would learn something before they will invest time and attention in a subject. I know myself that I tend to invest more energy in learning something if I have a problem at hand, especially if there is a tangible reward as a result – like my hobby brewing. A problem that I have is temperature control, especially with Melbourne’s fluctuating temperatures. You see, yeast requires a certain temperature to convert sugars into alcohol, and if that temperature fluctuates, the type of alcohol produced does also. (This is why a more expensive wine tends not to leave a hangover, and why people report getting drunk easily on home brewed beer.) So the more consistently you can control your fermenting beer, the better quality it is. This motivation led me to building an Arduino based – temperature controlled fermenter – which wouldn’t have happened without the reward of having a craft beer that I have brewed myself.

  1. Learner’s self-concept

The adult learner’s self-concept is more independent. Knowles said “In a traditional classroom setting an adult learner will fold their arms and say ‘teach me’”. As they hark back to experiences in previous educational environments like school, they feel that power over what they are doing is relinquished to the educator. I had an interesting experience talking to attendees of MYOB Accounting seminars. We would have someone talk about an accounting topic and then show how the AccountRight software could help. I wanted to know which topics people were enjoying and more importantly what would bring them back next year. One attendee told me that she knew everything we were saying already, so I thought I had missed the mark with the topics. I asked for feedback on what changes we could make for next year, but she maintained that she would return next year for similar material. I was confused but with further questioning she told me that it felt good to sit up the back and listen to the question from attendees that didn’t know. She invested in the learning exercise as it gave her a sense of worth and the confidence to increase her rates!

  1. Role of experience

Adult learners bring bountiful prior experience into a learning environment. On a plus side this can make for great discussion, but adult learners can also bring bad habits or preconceptions with them. I studied adult learning as an adult with a cohort of other adults at Monash University. The discussions with others in the cohort about their experiences in and on education were as important as the lecture content itself, not to mention the relationships and resulting personal learning network.

  1. Readiness to learn

penington screen

Readiness to learn is an important factor in adult learning. Similar to the need to know factor (point one above), Knowles discusses an adult learner’s priorities aligning with the educational undertaking. Recently we have worked with Penington Institute to provide the Penington Online MOOC, with has courses about crystal methamphetamine use for youth, healthcare professionals and the general public. Using this technology we are able to provide the information to those who need it, when they need it.  Login and have a look!

  1. Motivation to learn

For me the key underpinning success to any learning exercise for anyone, young or old, is the motivation to learn.  I have written previously on the subject regarding my daughter’s introduction to the world of computer programming, fuelled by a desire to make a modification to the hugely popular game Minecraft. The update to this story is that she now has a YouTube channel and is learning multimedia production, also based on her love for Minecraft.

What does all of this mean for the adult educator? 

A andragogical model is all fine and well, but how to we use it to encourage adult learning? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Need to Know: When you are communicating with your learners, think why as well as what.
  • Learner’s self-concept: Keep your learning environment informal, allowing your learns to exercise choice and control – to shape their own learning environments.
  • Role of experience: Discussion, discussion and more discussion. Make time and space for it.
  • Readiness to learn: Ensure that you cover when and how to apply the information, before starting the learning.
  • Motivation to learn: Find the Minecraft that will drive your learners to seek more. Remember why you’re passionate about your subject and encourage that passion in others.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ask the experts. If you need a hand developing your online learning content for adults, eWorks can help.

[1] Knowles, M. S., et al. (1984). Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult education.

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.

So much more than MOOCs: hello modern learning systems

Darcy Nicholson

Darcy Nicolson is a learning and technology expert at eWorks. Passionate about lifelong learning, Darcy focuses on improving the use of media and technology to enable better personal development and learning outcomes. Here Darcy considers the popular trend of Massive Open Online Courses in educational technology, the history of this movement and the impact of online learning acronyms.

The pre-internet 90s and CBT

From the moment you could type a document and distribute it to as many people as you would like with little or no cost, computers were seen as an opportunity to deliver better training to more people. In the pre-internet 90’s we had computer based training (CBT). It was delivered on a CD-ROM and was generally employed to provide content (often text based) and then test the user on a simple set of questions. Along came software (often Flash) providing simple multi choice, matching and fill the blank questions. The feedback on score results was immediate, and the opportunity to print a certificate of completion or compliance would be the end result. Computer based – tick. Training – tick. Fun and engaging? I’m not so sure. Instead the software and content were thought of as an advanced book. After all, you could still hold a CD in one hand, and like a book it was tangible. From my numerous discussions with organisations looking to start online course delivery, I think many people still struggle to separate the components of modern online learning systems because of this history. It’s almost as if new terms get associated back to the physicality of a CD-ROM, whereas the scope, structure and function of educational tools today are limited only by the creativity of the designer – not much of a limitation.

Moving on now to the post-internet 00s

Computer based training evolved into e-learning. I think the e was borrowed from email and therefore it became electronic learning. The CD-ROM content went online, meaning that even the cost of duplicating and distributing CDs was gone. Results could be kept in a central database, and could trigger an alert or email to managers on compliance topics that had gone out of date. This was the same era where those that were using the technology retained the power to make updates or changes to the material, often dubbed Web 1.0, when the term Web 2.0 became popular. This meant that many learners could access the content, but it was often delivered via flash and similar tools and required a web-developer to deploy it. If the system stored data on learners and their results you might also need a database administrator. Better content yes, but increasing complication in the delivery of it. Not surprisingly this era is also where the billboard in the desert term arose to describe websites that had infrequent or no changes.

eLearning, e-learning, e-Learning or just plain learning!

Moving on to more recent years, e-learning (or however you want to write it) was still a thing and people associated it with content delivered on a computer screen. I think that even in discussion with clients today the term LMS (learning management system) is merged with the term e-learning, which can make it difficult to discuss successful deployment. Compounding this is the organisation’s need to carefully control what educators are teaching and keep good records on learner results. Especially in terms of an Australian Quality Framework (AQF)/Registered training organisation (RTO) relationship.

And then there were MOOCs

The internet gave us connectivity but the true power was the change to user generated content, provided by services like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook. In other words, the crash of uni-directional control of media. Now we have the term MOOCs – understandably abbreviated from massive online open courses – and like those options before it, MOOCs come bundled with a set of preconceptions from its predecessors. You will find many articles on what a MOOC is – I even wrote one too. Lots of fun for educational technology players. Now we have xMOOCs, cMOOC, OOC, and a whole range of other ways to put edtech acronyms together like SPOC (Small Personal Online Courses).

MOOC and e-learning interest over time graph

Learning systems

My point? It seems that the term MOOC, together with the recent endorsement of this approach to learning by large Universities like Stanford and Harvard, has energised organisations to revisit or refocus on online learning. It doesn’t matter what technology or model we use, learning is an ecosystem of learners, educators, platforms and content. As more portable and connected technology pervades our everyday life, acronyms, trends and concepts like computer based training (CBT), e-learning and MOOCs will come and go. Rather than focus on the latest thing in digital education, I encourage you to think more holistically about getting great learner outcomes. When looking at your modern learning systems ask questions like:

  1. Can you openly release your content – or is it considered intellectual property by your organisation?
  2. What role does social media play in you delivery strategy?
  3. Do your educators have the right skills to adopt online delivery?
  4. Are you using your current online tools to their capacity?

Answering questions like this should help to highlight whether your program will be massive, open or something else entirely. And once you have a clear understanding of what your program is, you will be in a better position to select appropriate technologies to enhance it.

What do you think about all of this? Darcy loves chatting (and ranting!) about educational technology. Why not join in?

Am I the only parent concerned about the lack of STEM learning in primary schools?

Darcy Nicolson is a learning and technology expert at eWorks. Passionate about lifelong learning, Darcy focuses on improving the use of media and technology to enable better personal development and learning outcomes. As a dad, he was pleased to learn at the recent MoodleMoot 2015 that he is not the only parent concerned about the lack of STEM learning in primary schools.

My top five takeaways from MoodleMoot2015

This year I was lucky enough to attend MoodleMoot 2015 Australia with not one, not two, but all of my colleagues from eWorks. Being an e-learning solutions provider the eWorks team is passionate about lifelong learning, so the entire team attended the conference as a professional development activity. I had a great time and met a lot of interesting people coming at learning from all sorts of angles. Here are my top five takeaways from the event:

1. Tinkering with Arduino could one day pay off?

Scott Huntley (@MillerTAFEScott) spoke on his experiences and plans for small internet/wireless devices and how they could be used in the education space. I have been playing with Arduino for a couple of years now to assist in temperature control for my craft brewing and had a great chat to Scott on the first morning from a random ‘Is this seat taken?’ meeting. Scott has a massive bag of tech goodies and we have discussed working on something together in the future. What we need now is a well-defined problem/solution pairing – hopefully I will get some IoT inspiration in discussions with eWorks’ clientele! Stay tuned for a joint session @ #Mootau16. Other cool tech included sessions on automated testing using Behat and hearing Martin Dougiamas report the Moodle working group outcomes from meeting at the Moot.

2. I’m not the only parent concerned about the lack of STEM learning in primary schools.

Adam Spencer was funny, intelligent and most importantly really open about himself and his experiences being the ‘good at maths’ kid at school. His discussion on the links between finding prime numbers and computing power was a great way to measure the ability of digital technology to provide a lever for the human mind to advance our knowledge. But most of all I related to his concerns on the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in our schools, teaching his daughter to play chess, and being the kid who chooses the geeky path at an early age.

3. Big data analysis will involve good data collection

There is a lot of discussion in educational technology circles about the power of big data analytics which is already transforming finance and marketing. The first step for Moodle admins is making sure that their Moodle is capturing the right data and this was covered in the excellent presentation by my colleague, Jo Norbury. Jo covered this from a compliance angle in ensuring engagement was tracked for audit reasons, but level of learner engagement is an early performance indicator to any other metric – results, retention and so on. Passing an audit is critical but many of our clients also want early notification on disengaged students to provide extra help and lower drop-out rates. If you’re not sure how to measure learning and provide evidence to auditors quickly and easily Jo can give you some pointers.

4. Stop getting caught up on the term Technology

Don Hinkleman had a great take on blended learning and the combined power of face to face with online being more than the parts (1+1=3). He posed the term face to face technology referring to person to person educational practices, drawing attention to the fact that the term technology is broader than the digital trends we tend associate with it. Don also revisited the term ‘bricoleur’ – being a tinkerer – which I also related to Agile Scrum, given the build the task > configure technologies > adjust on the fly > assess and rebuild process of a bricoleur/blended teacher.

5. Move over MOOC, SPOC is the new kid.

To teach is to learn twice over Joseph Joubert said, and with the release of MoodleCloud, Martin and the team at MoodleHQ have empowered anyone to make a Small Personal Online Course (SPOC). MoodleCloud is free for up to 50 users and is a full Moodle with 200mb of space, it’s a great starting point. I have bagged a domain and plan to work with my daughter to create

After more wise words from Darcy?

Read his blog post on deploying video in digital learning or contact him directly for a chat.