Malcolm Knowles Theory of Andragogy Explained


The theory of andragogy is an attempt by Malcolm Knowles to explain how adults are able to continue learning. Knowles defined andragogy as the “art and science of adult learning,” so it refers to any form of learning that occurs during the adult years. In Greek, the word “andragogy” literally means “man-leading.”

As part of his theory of andragogy, Knowles makes 5 specific assumptions about adult learners when compared to child learners. When he originally proposed his theory in 1980, the first four assumptions were included. Knowles added the fifth assumption four years later.

1. The Assumption of Self-Concept

When an individual matures, they move their idea of self-concept from being a dependent toward being independent. Instead of requiring direction, individuals move toward becoming self-directed as they become an adult.

2. The Assumption of Adult Learning Experiences

As people grow older, they gain experience through the choices that they make. These experiences accumulate, becoming a reservoir that adults can draw upon as a personal resource for continued learning.

3. The Assumption of Readiness

Adults become orientated to the tasks they must complete and their social roles as they continue to age. This process creates a readiness to learn in each individual so that they can be as effective as possible within their roles.

4. The Assumption of Orientation

As people grow older, their perspective changes. Instead of learning something in order to apply it at a future date, adults will take their newly acquired knowledge and immediately apply it in some way. There is an integrated immediacy to apply new knowledge, based on the idea that problems need to be solved instead of learning specific subject-centered materials.

5. The Assumption of Motivation

When individuals mature, they have an internal motivation to continue learning.

These assumed characteristics apply to all adults in any society. It also applies to all learning opportunities, whether in the classroom, on the job, or even while taking an e-course.

What Are the 4 Principles of Andragogy According to Knowles?

When Malcolm Knowles updated his theory of andragogy in 1984, he also suggested that there were four principles that should be applied to all adult learning.

1. Planning. Adults need to be directly involved in the planning of their learning opportunities and benefit more from each experience when they can also be involved in the evaluation of their instruction.

2. Experience. Adults often learn directly from their personal experiences, including the mistakes that they may make. These personal experiences become the foundation for all current and future learning opportunities.

3. Relevance. Adults prefer to learn about subjects or information that have an immediate relevance to them. This means the most effective learning occurs when there is a direct impact on an individual’s career or in their personal life.

4. Content. Adults learn from a problem-centered perspective instead of being content-orientated, which is typically the perspective of a child-based curriculum.

How Has the Theory of Andragogy Changed Adult Learning?

Malcolm Knowles recognized that adults are able to learn better when they have an active role in their own education. This goes beyond the completion of an assignment or an ability to work with a team of fellow students. Adults learn better when they are an integral part of curriculum development. When the classroom environment offers multiple methods of providing feedback, adult learners are able to focus more on the activities, materials, and exams that are required.

Knowles also recognized that adults learn better through practical application and practice. Instead of sitting in a classroom and memorizing information, adults need to be in real-world settings applying the concepts that are being learned. When these concepts are able to translate to their personal life or give them an advantage in their career, then even more of the information being provided to them will be retained.

Yet none of this happens if there isn’t some level of internal motivation for an adult to continue learning. Knowles recognized that motivation was an internal trigger for information retention, so it becomes necessary to show adults why they should participate in a learning activity and what they may gain from it. Without this motivation, adults tend to question the validity of a learning opportunity and will often not see any need to acquire or improve their skills or knowledge base.

Malcolm Knowles’ theory of andragogy applies to every possible adult learning situation for one simple reason: even though humans are individuals, they are based on the same template. Each has a need to see personal value and feel like they matter. By focusing on these principles and ideas, it becomes easier to encourage adults to keep striving for more knowledge.