Although Knowles’ assumptions sparked controversy from other learning theorists such as Davenport and Davenport, Hartree, Grace, Sandlin, Alfred, Lee, St. Clair, and Rachel, Malcolm Knowles is known as the “Father of Andragogy”, and is considered a major thinker of andragogy.
Andragogy Defined by Malcolm Knowles
Andragogy, as defined by Malcolm S. Knowles (1984), is a theory based on the psychological definition of adult, which states that people become adults psychologically when they arrive at a self-concept of being responsible for their own lives, of being self-directing.
Basing andragogy on six assumptions about the adult learner, Knowles distinguished andragogy, or the art and science of helping adults learn, from other areas of education, especially pedagogy, the art and science of helping children learn.
The Six Assumptions Underlying Andragogy
The six assumptions underlying andragogy, as theorized by Knowles, are 1) self-concept, 2) experience, 3) readiness to learn depends on need, 4) problem centered focus, 5) internal motivation, and 6) adults need to know why they need to know something (as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007):
1) Self concept. Self concept refers to an adult becoming more self-directed and independent as he/she matures. Adults typically want to choose what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn. This assumption means that educators can provide more choices for learners, such as allowing them to design their own tests, and/or providing a collaborative learning environment that foster mutual respect.
2) Experience. Adult learners have a wealth of life experiences that they bring with them into new learning experiences. Because of this, they are able to contribute richness to class discussions and are considered valuable resources for learning from and with each other. Some of the experiences, though, may cause misinformation or biases related to the new learning and must be clarified so as not to cause a barrier to the new learning.
3) Readiness to learn depends on need. Whether or not an adult is ready to learn depends on what they need to know in order to deal with life situations. Life situations that compel adults to learn include such things as learning to care for a child who has been diagnosed with a disease, or learning to cook healthy meals to prevent health risks.
4) Problem centered focus. Adults need to see the immediate application of learning. Therefore, they seek learning opportunities that will enable them to solve problems.
5) Internal motivation. Adults will seek learning opportunities due to some external motivators, but the more potent motivators (self-esteem, better quality of life, self-actualization, etc.) are internal.
6) Adults need to know why they need to learn something. Adults need to know what’s in it for them – how this new knowledge will solve a problem or be immediately applied.
Malcolm Knowles based andragogy on six assumptions about the adult learner. Knowles theorized that adults typically want to choose what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn; adults are able to contribute richness to class discussions and are considered valuable resources for learning from and with each other; whether or not an adult is ready to learn depends on what they need to know in order to deal with life situations; adults need to see the immediate application of learning; adults will seek learning opportunities due to some external motivators, but the more potent motivators are internal; and adults need to know why they need to learn something.
Knowles, M. S. & Associates. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A. Human Resource Development