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Introduction : Andragogy

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In the early 1970s when andragogy and the concept that adults and children learn differently was first introduced in the United States by Malcolm Knowles, the idea was groundbreaking and sparked much subsequent research and controversy. Since the earli- est days, adult educators have debated what andragogy really is. Spurred in large part by the need for a defining theory within the field of adult education, andragogy has been extensively analyzed and critiqued. It has been alternately described as a set of guidelines (Merriam, 1993), a philosophy (Pratt, 1993), a set of assumptions (Brookfield, 1986), and a theory (Knowles, 1989). The disparity of these positions is indicative of the perplexing nature of the field of adult learning; but regardless of what it is called, “it is an honest attempt to focus on the learner. In this sense, it does provide an alter- native to the methodology-centered instructional design perspective” (Feur and Gerber, 1988). Merriam, in explaining the complexity and present condition of adult learning theory.
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Ch01.qxd 10/28/04 3:24 PM Page 1
C H A P T E R 1
Introduction
In the early 1970s when andragogy and the concept that adults
and children learn differently was first introduced in the United
States by Malcolm Knowles, the idea was groundbreaking and
sparked much subsequent research and controversy. Since the earli-
est days, adult educators have debated what andragogy really is.
Spurred in large part by the need for a defining theory within the
field of adult education, andragogy has been extensively analyzed
and critiqued. It has been alternately described as a set of guidelines
(Merriam, 1993), a philosophy (Pratt, 1993), a set of assumptions
(Brookfield, 1986), and a theory (Knowles, 1989). The disparity of
these positions is indicative of the perplexing nature of the field of
adult learning; but regardless of what it is called, “it is an honest
attempt to focus on the learner. In this sense, it does provide an alter-
native to the methodology-centered instructional design perspective”
(Feur and Gerber, 1988). Merriam, in explaining the complexity and
present condition of adult learning theory, offers the following:
It is doubtful that a phenomenon as complex as adult learning
will ever be explained by a single theory, model or set of princi-
ples. Instead, we have a case of the proverbial elephant being
described differently depending on who is talking and on which
part of the animal is examined. In the first half of this century,
psychologists took the lead in explaining learning behavior; from
the 1960s onward, adult educators began formulating their own
ideas about adult learning and, in particular, about how it might
differ from learning in childhood. Both of these approaches are
still operative. Where we are headed, it seems, is toward a multi-
faceted understanding of adult learning, reflecting the inherent
richness and complexity of the phenomenon.
1

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2
I N T R O D U C T I O N
Despite years of critique, debate, and challenge, the core principles
of adult learning advanced by andragogy have endured (Davenport
and Davenport, 1985; Hartree, 1984; Pratt, 1988), and few adult
learning scholars would disagree with the observation that Knowles’
ideas sparked a revolution in adult education and training (Feur and
Gerber, 1988). Brookfield (1986), positing a similar view, asserts
that andragogy is the “single most popular idea in the education and
training of adults.” Adult educators, particularly beginning ones,
find these core principles invaluable in shaping the learning process
to be more conducive to adults.
It is beyond the scope of this introductory book to address the
many dimensions of the theoretical debate raised in academic circles.
Our position is that andragogy presents core principles of adult learn-
ing that in turn enable those designing and conducting adult learning
to build more effective learning processes for adults. It is a transac-
tional model in that it speaks to the characteristics of the learning
transaction, not to the goals and aims of that transaction. As such,
it is applicable to any adult learning transaction, from community
education to human resource development in organizations.
Care must be taken to avoid confusing core principles of the adult
learning transaction with the goals and purposes for which the learn-
ing event is being conducted. They are conceptually distinct, though
as a practical matter may overlap considerably. Critiques of andra-
gogy point to missing elements that keep it from being a defining the-
ory of the discipline of adult education (Davenport and Davenport,
1985; Grace, 1996; Hartree, 1984), not of adult learning. Grace, for
example, criticizes andragogy for focusing solely on the individual
and not operating from a critical social agenda or debating the rela-
tionship of adult education to society. This criticism reflects the goals
and purposes of adult education. Human resource developers in
organizations will have a different set of goals and purposes, which
andragogy does not embrace either. Community health educators
may have yet another set of goals and purposes that are not
embraced.
Therein lies the strength of andragogy: It is a set of core adult
learning principles that apply to all adult learning situations. The
goals and purposes for which the learning is offered are a separate
issue. Adult education (AE) professionals should develop and debate
models of adult learning separately from models of the goals and

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P L A N F O R T H E B O O K
3
purposes of their respective fields that use adult learning. Human
resource development (HRD), for example, embraces organizational
performance as one of its core goals, whereas adult education may
focus more on individual growth.
Having said that, these core principles are also incomplete in terms
of learning decisions. Figure 1-1 graphically shows that andragogy is
a core set of adult learning principles. The six principles of andra-
gogy are (1) the learner’s need to know, (2) self-concept of the
learner, (3) prior experience of the learner, (4) readiness to learn, (5)
orientation to learning, and (6) motivation to learn. These principles
are listed in the center of the model. As you shall see in this and sub-
sequent chapters, there are a variety of other factors that affect adult
learning in any particular situation and may cause adults to behave
more or less closely to the core principles. These include individual
learner
and, situational differences, and goals and purposes of
learning
, shown in the two outer rings of the model. Andragogy
works best in practice when it is adapted to fit the uniqueness of the
learners and the learning situation. We see this not as a weakness of
the principles, but as a strength. Their strength is that these core
principles apply to all adult learning situations, as long they are
considered in concert with other factors that are present in the
situation.
This sixth edition of The Adult Learner provides a journey from
theory to practice in adult learning. Figure 1-1 provides a snapshot
summary of the journey in displaying the six core adult learning
principles surrounded by the context of individual and situational
differences, and the goals and purposes of learning. The following
chapters will reveal the substance and subtleties of this holistic
model of andragogy in practice.
P L A N F O R T H E B O O K
The first part of the book, “The Roots of Andragogy”
(Chapters 2–6), presents the core principles of adult learning: andra-
gogy. It traces the development of the theory and focuses on the core
unique characteristics of adults as learners.
Part 2, “Advances in Adult Learning,” (Chapters 7–11) addresses
the two outer rings. Chapter 7 discusses in detail the Andragogy in
Practice model introduced in this chapter and discusses how to apply

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4
I N T R O D U C T I O N
ANDRAGOGY IN PRACTICE
(Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 1998)
Goals and Purposes for Learning
Individual and Situational Differences
Andragogy:
Core Adult Learning Principles
1 Learner’s Need to Know
-why
-what
-how
2 Self-Concept of the Learner
-autonomous
-self-directing
3 Prior Experience of the Learner
Situational Differences
-resource
Societal Growth
-mental models
4 Readiness to Learn
- life related
- developmental task
Institutional Growth
5 Orientation to Learning
Subject Matter Differences
- problem centered
- contextual
6 Motivation to Learn
- intrinsic value
- personal payoff
Individual Learner Differences
Individual Growth
Figure 1-1. Andragogy in practice (Knowles, Holton, and Swanson,
1998).

it in different settings. Chapter 8 discusses adult learning as practiced
within human resource development. Chapter 9 focuses on new
thinking about andragogy and elaborates on applying the core prin-
ciples to different learners. Chapter 10 discusses new advancements
in the understanding of adult learning that enable facilitators to further

Ch01.qxd 10/28/04 3:24 PM Page 5
R E F L E C T I O N Q U E S T I O N S
5
adapt application of the core principles. Chapter 11 summarizes
these two sections by looking at the future of andragogy in the areas
of research and practice.
Part 3, “Practice in Adult Learning” (Chapters 12-19), presents
selected readings that elaborate on specific aspects of andragogy in
practice. These include strategies to implement the core assumptions,
to tailor learning to individual differences, and to implement adult
learning in organizations. Of special interest are two self-assessment
instruments, the Core Competency Diagnostic and Planning Guide
(Chapter 16) and the Personal Adult Learning Style Inventory
(Chapter 17), that enable the reader to begin a personal development
journey in adult learning.
R E F L E C T I O N Q U E S T I O N S
1.1 What are your general thoughts on how humans learn?
1.2 Based on personal experience, what key factors are related to
adult learning?
1.3 If you understood more about how adults learn, how would
you use this information?

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