January 10, 2007

Adult Learning Principles, Part 1: Background



This is part 1 of my series of posts on adult learning principles and how speakers can apply these principles when working with adults. First, a little history.

Malcolm Knowles is considered the "father of adult learning", although the topic had been discussed and researched over a century earlier.

Knowles' assumptions were that adults:

1) move from dependency to self-directedness;
2) draw upon their reservoir of experience for learning;
3) are ready to learn when they assume new roles; and
4) want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately.

In his book, The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, Knowles opposes the view that adults are unable to learn:
"...the rapidly accelerating pace of change in our society has proved this doctrine to be no longer valued. Facts learned in youth have become insufficient and in many instances actually untrue; and skills learned in youth have become outmoded by new technologies."

The term "andragogy" has come to mean self-directed learning for people of all ages, as opposed to the term "pedagogy" which defines teacher-directed learning. In practical terms, it means that when educating or training adults, process comes before content.

Knowles may not have invented these terms or concepts, but he was the first to put them together into an organized theory. The first adult learning principle follows.

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