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Recognize What Andragogy is & its Six Principles

In this article I’m going to talk about “Andragogy”; what the term refers to and its principles.

Andragogy is a theory developed by Malcolm Knowles for adult learning.

The notion of andragogy has been around for nearly two centuries. It became particularly popular in North America and Britain as a way of describing adult learning through the work of Malcolm Knowles.

Andragogy, Not Pedagogy

When adult education first became popular in the early 1900s, it was assumed that the same methods and techniques used to teach children “Pedagogy” could also be applied to adults. But it was found that “Pedagogy” is not like “Andragogy”.

Knowles published his first article (1968) about his understanding of andragogy with the provocative title “Andragogy, Not Pedagogy.”

Pedagogy was developed to mean the art and science of teaching children while “Andragogy” is used to refer to the normal process by which adults engage in continuing education.

Theory Description               

Knowles’ andragogy is an attempt to develop a theory specifically for adult learning. Knowles emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions. Adult learning programs must accommodate this fundamental aspect.

The Basis of Andragogy

Knowles’ concept of andragogy – ‘the art and science of helping adults learn – ‘is built upon two central, defining attributes:

  1. First, a conception of learners as self-directed and autonomous.
  2. Second, a conception of the role of the teacher as a facilitator of learning rather than the presenter of content.   

Knowles emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions. Adult learning programs must accommodate this fundamental aspect.

Andragogy Assumptions

Knowles assumed that adults:

  1. Need to know why they need to learn something
  2. Need to learn experientially,
  3. Approach learning as problem-solving
  4. Learn best when the topic is of immediate value.

Taking into account the previous assumptions when designing adult learning,  “Andragogy” means that instruction for adults needs to focus more on the process and less on the content being taught.

Andragogy Six Principles

1. Self-concept

When a person develops his self-concept, he moves from being a dependent person to being a self-directed person.

2. Need to Know

Adults need to know the reason why they learn something. When they understand that, they are much more likely to sit up and pay attention.  

3. Experience

As a person matures, he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

4. Readiness to learn

As a person matures, his readiness to learn increases and he becomes increasingly oriented to the developmental tasks of his social roles.

5. Problem-Centered Learning

As a person matures, his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of content-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness.

6. Motivation to learn

As a person matures, the motivation to learn becomes internal.

Conditions of Learning

1. Involvement

Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

2. Experience

Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.

3. Relevance

Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.

4. Task-Oriented

Learning should be task-oriented, and it should take into account the wide range of different backgrounds of learners.

5. Problem-Oriented

Adult learning is problem-centred rather than content-oriented.

Learning Strategies

Strategies such as case studies, role-playing, simulations, and self-evaluation are most useful.

Role of the Learner

Learners should

  • Know why they are studying something.
  • Be able to relate what is being studied to their personal/professional experiences.
  • Motivated and ready to learn.
  • Be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

Role of the Teacher

Basically, teachers should be aware that their role has been changed. They should.

Teachers should:

  • See themselves as facilitators and adopt the role of facilitator or resource rather than lecturer or grader
  • Bear in mind, however, that learners are individuals with different life experiences and learning preferences.
  • Provides more support in the early stages of the course; this support gradually fades until learners become self-reliant.
  • Stimulate dialogue and knowledge construction
  • Respect and support adult learners who still prefer the traditional pedagogical approach to teaching and learning but gradually try to push them away from their comfort zone in the direction of a deeper approach to learning.

Adapted from U.S. Department of State English Language Programs – Samar Aal

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