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.

Surgeons amp up e-learning

Bill MezzettiBill Mezzetti is the Manager of eLearning at The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). The College is recognised for the high standards it maintains through its educational, training and professional development and support activities. This commitment to educational excellence includes working with eWorks to embrace the latest developments in online education. Here Bill shares his experience at a workshop with internationally renowned e-learning expert Nancy White, together with take home tips and strategies from this event.

Amping up engagement at RACS

Towards the end of last year, the kind people at eWorks invited us to a workshop Amping up engagement for learner success with Nancy White. We have been working with eWorks for several years now, and since we are always looking for ways to improve our online learning take-up , I thought it was a good opportunity to see what new ideas I could consider (aka pinch) and apply in our context.

The invitation came at a good time for us, as we are currently reviewing our learner engagement and ways to make our offerings more appealing to our time-poor, core audience. As I arrived, I was greeted by a friendly woman with a familiar manner who immediately made all of us participants feel welcome.

See one e-learning workshop and you’ve seen them all?

In the back of my mind, however, I considered the imminent roleplay that usually accompanies these workshops, as it’s not a place where my acting talent usually shines. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the exercises (not role plays) were carefully designed to familiarise participants with each other and we quickly started making connections and discussing our similar challenges. As we discussed the predefined topic our discussions inevitably led to more meaningful common ground that we all shared around e-learning, our barriers came down and paved the way for easy and receptive conversations.

So how do we apply this to our work at the College?

Apart from the many benefits of online education, one of the biggest barriers to engagement is the feeling of isolation that can accompany learning online. The simple act of posting to a forum leaves the learner without the benefit of body language or tone. It can leave the learner asking ‘What happens if people who I have never met don’t know me and misinterpret what I‘ve posted?’

In a lot of cases, learning both online and offline is often designed around the content. Nancy reiterated that we have many tools at our disposal to increase and improve learner engagement.. It all starts with entering the learning environment (as I did) to a warm welcome and making connections, facilitator with the learners and the learners with each other. We have online facilitators that use this technique with their blended learning courses that really make the most of the face to face time by breaking the ice as much as practical in the online environment.

Nancy emphasised the importance of these connections in an online environment and walked the group through facilitation strategies which effectively use online technologies such as ‘Impromptu Networking’. By asking a smaller group of the whole to focus on problems they want to solve it allows for connections to be made before presenting to the wider group. I was able to trial one of the many techniques Nancy shared during the workshop later that same day – ‘Troika consulting’, an exercise in active listening. After defining your challenge you sit turned away from the group of three other participants discussing your issue generating ideas for solutions. The person who presented the issue remains silent and listens to the group discuss possibilities it helped refine listening skills, build trust among the team and ultimately, help provide a solution to an ongoing roadblock in a project.

Thanks to eWorks for the opportunity to expand our way of thinking around online learning.

Struggling to engage your learners?

Or keen to improve on what you are already doing well? eWorks can help. Contact us to find out more.

Quality assessment with LMS Gradebook

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. And part of good teaching is quality assessment. Today Allison considers the one of the best ways to manage the assessment process – LMS Gradebook.

Improving the quality of assessment in VET

Excellent Feedback Thumbs Up Review Like ApprovalThe Australian Government’s “Improving the quality of assessment in VET” agenda aims to identify reforms needed to improve the conduct of assessment in the Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.

This has come about as a result of audits and strategic reviews undertaken by the Australian Skills and Quality Authority (ASQA) which identified that Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) train well but assess poorly. This is because whenever an RTO is found to be non-compliant at audit, assessment was always an issue. While there are many components to a quality VET assessment system, one key component is effectively managing the assessment process itself.

Enter the Learning Management System (LMS) Gradebook

One of the best ways to manage the assessment process is by using a Learning Management System (LMS) Gradebook. Interestingly, this is the case even if the training program isn’t an online course. The LMS Gradebook replicates a traditional gradebook or marks book, where there is a list of learners’ names down the left hand side, and along the top is all of the assessment activities that need to be assessed. The matrix in the middle is then populated by your learners’ work, their results and your feedback.

What’s so good about the LMS Gradebook?

There are many ways the LMS Gradebook can improve assessment processes, such as:

  • All assessment information and criteria, together with the learner’s work, is all located in the one place, which you and your learners can access from anywhere and at any time.
  • The Gradebook enables consistency and quality as all learners across a training program are given the same assessment information and criteria.
  • Learners can provide comments about their work which the assessor can take into account when marking their work.
  • As soon as you mark your learners’ work and provide them with feedback in the LMS, this information is automatically populated into the Gradebook, and the learner is notified by email that their work has been marked.

Using the LMS Gradebook means that you have a record of all your learners’ work (evidence), their results (your assessment judgement) and your feedback all in one place. This means you can easily access this information to:

  • manage the assessment validation process
  • know where learners are up to in case a trainer leaves (or wins lottery or becomes ill), or
  • a learner disputes their results.

LMS Gradebook also helps improve assessment activities

As an LMS offers a range of individual and collaborative activity options that are linked to the Gradebook, you can draw upon a range of assessment methods such as:

  • assignments
  • quizzes
  • forums
  • instant messaging
  • groups activities: Database, Glossary and Wiki
  • importing external / customised tools / objects.

The types of assessment activity options available will depend on which LMS you are using and whether your LMS has additional ‘plug-in’ options.

Most standard files types are accepted by an LMS Gradebook, so you can accept a range of evidence types such as images, audio and video.

And it can even help improve learner’s work while reducing cheating  

On the World Wide Web, finding and copying information or accessing other learners’ work and using it as your own is very easy to do. By using the LMS Gradebook with anti-plagiarism software you can discourage cheating and plagiarism as learners’ work is checked upon uploading. This software can also encourage learners to review their work properly for any glaring blocks of text which could be viewed as plagiarised before submitting it.

Sound like what you need?

Contact eWorks to find out more.