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Adult Learning - Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning

Updated on November 21, 2016

Adult Learning


Adult Learning

Andragogy and self- directed learning are part of the theories put forward to answer questions regarding adult learning. According to a study that was carried out by Lorge (1944-1947), it was noted that the test scores of adults were dependent on previous skills and education. With regards to their ability to learn, the study found that adults below the age of 70 could do as well as the younger adults when time pressure was eliminated. On the other hand, recent measures of intelligence have shown adults to score better in given aspects of intelligence with years, but worse in others. This has resulted in a relatively stable composite measure of intelligence until very old age.

Adults Can Learn


Andragogy and Adult Learning

Andragogy, an art and science of assisting adults to learn was introduced in 1968 by Malcolm Knowles. According to the assumptions that underlie it, an adult learner is described as one who; has an independent self- concept, and can direct their own learning, has accumulated life experiences that is a great source of their learning, has learning needs that are closely related to changing social roles, is problem- centered, and thus interested in the immediate application of knowledge and is encouraged to learn by internal factors. Using these assumptions therefore, Knowles felt that planning a program for the education of the adults could be more successful given that adults already knew what they want out of learning. Although this approach to adult learning has faced a number of criticisms, of the biggest question facing it today is the extent to which its assumptions are characteristics of adult learners only. For instance, according to some of the critics, some of the adults tend to be dependent on the teachers for structure and motivation, while this may not be the case with some of the children and teenagers in class.

Given that these assumptions could not apply to all adults, Knowles had to revise his views. This resulted in Knowles representing andragogy and pedagogy (as related to the art of helping children learn) in a continuum. In this case, the continuum applied to both children and adults depending on the situation. Given, for instance that an adult has little knowledge about a given topic, he/she would be more dependent on the teacher. However, in the event that a given child is more curious, and therefore tends to read ahead, the child would end up being self- directed in class. This approach therefore meant andragogy was largely dependent on the learning situation rather than by a learner.

Adults In Class


Despite deciding to revise his definition of andragogy, it continued to receive criticism from various fronts with critics pointing out that it failed to clearly explain and provide an understanding of adult learning. However some have pointed out its significance as a window through which educators can take their first look in to the world of adult education.

During this period, self- directed learning (SDL) was introduced as an alternative model to define adult learning and differentiate it from the learning of children. For this model, the consensus was that adults took it upon themselves to learn, with learning here being described as an ongoing process through which adults gain knowledge from their day to day experience. In this case, they accept responsibility for their own learning. Although an individual (in this case the adult) may feel the need to seek the assistance of a teacher from time to time, they take the initiative to acquire knowledge in their day to day life.

Some Final Thoughts

Although various critics have identified various areas of weaknesses, both andragogy and self- directed learning contribute to the profession of adult education, training and lifelong education. According to the revised definition by Knowles, he acknowledges that an adult may also depend on the teacher for learning and even motivation. This shows that despite their experiences and desire to learn, adults may still need some level of attention and motivation to learn effectively. On the other hand, the self- directed learning also shows that despite the fact that adults have accepted the responsibility and even initiative to learn, they still need teachers for clarification and even to help introduce them to various areas of what they wish to learn. In all this, it is important to note that despite the fact that they are no longer children; adults have chosen to get back to the learning process. They have therefore taken an initiative that they want to learn, which both andragogy and the self- directed learning model agree one. For this reason, an educator should take up this task with the seriousness they have demonstrated in addition to respecting them as adults who are focused towards a given goal. The article therefore contributes by showing the significant need by adults themselves to learn. In addition, the beginning of the article provides studies that have shown that like the younger adults, adults also have the capacity to learn. In their chosen areas therefore, they should be given all the assistance they need to attain their goals.


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