How Adults Learn

In many ways learning is the same for both adults and children. However, there are many attributes that adults bring to the table that children don’t. Malcolm Knowles realized that there were many differences between the way children and adults learn. Making this distinction he coined the term andragogy—the art and science of helping adults learn. Whereas, pedagogy is the term used to define how children learn.

Knowles’ Andragogy is based on various assumptions of how adults learn and includes the adult learning theories, principles, and best practices that are used today in adult education.

He associated two theories with andragogy—learning theory and design theory. He states that learning theory centers on “the adult and her/his desire to become and/or express themselves as a capable human being” (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2015, p. 307). Design theory is the process that assists the learner in acquiring the necessary content for learning. Because we must have knowledge of how an adult learns before we can design a course for learning we will review learning theory before design theory.

Knowles’ six assumptions of adult learning describe the basic attributes that adults display when learning. They are:

  1. Adults need to know the reason to learn something.
  2. Adults need to be self-directed in learning and take responsibility for it.
  3. Adults bring a depth of experience that becomes a resource for learning for themselves and others.
  4. Adults achieve a readiness to learn when there is a perceived need to know something.
  5. Adults align learning to life situations concerning tasks, issues, or problems.
  6. Adults are motivated internally rather than externally (Knowles et al., 2015).

Knowles’ design theory has eight components that promote an active learning process. These components are:

  1. Prepare learners for the course of study.
  2. Set a climate that is conducive to learning.
  3. Involve learners in the planning process.
  4. Assist learners in recognizing their learning needs.
  5. Assist learners in identifying their learning objectives.
  6. Assist learners in developing their learning plans.
  7. Assist learners in completing their learning plans.
  8. Involve learners in evaluating their learning outcomes (Knowles et al., 2015).

Have you noticed these learning attributes in your adult learners? How about the design components, do you apply any of these in your courses? Leave your comments below.
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Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (8th ed.). Burlington, MA: Routledge.

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