The way that an instructional designer defines learning and what is believed about the way learning occurs plays an important role in situations where the facilitator wants to make a change in how people do a job or they need to learn something new on the job. This paper focuses on Malcolm Knowles adult learning assumptions and how to apply them in instructional strategies and techniques for facilitating learning. It also explores some of the critics concerning his assumptions.
Knowles assumptions concerning adult learning are each addressed and an example provided on how to apply these assumptions to ISD using technology. The information presented here provides the reader with Malcolm Knowles andragogy model as a way of understanding the importance and difference between adult and child learning. Learning theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, social learning, and cognitivism laid the foundation and evolution of instructional design. They are an important aspect of understanding learners and how to design successful training.
Another model that designers who offer training to adult workers should have a thorough understanding of is Malcolm Knowles assumptions concerning adult learning. Learning theories and models contribute to how your audience will respond to instruction and retain the information provided. Instructional designers should be familiar with the difference between how a child learns and an adult learns in order to develop successful training programs and motivate their trainees. “All formal educational institutions in modern society were initially established exclusively for the education of children and youth”. ASTD Pg253) The basic model of learning at that time was pedagogy, which focuses on how to teach children. As pedagogy evolved over time and was further studied by psychologist they discovered that teachers could control learner’s reactions, “therefore teachers became more controlling” (pg. 253 ASTD). “Pedogy places the student in a submissive role. ” (http://adultlearnandtech. com/historyal. htm ) This model was later challenged with a concept called androgy that focused on how adults learn best and did not place adults in submission of their role as learners.
Rather, it took into consideration that adult learners have may have different motivators to learning than children “Androgy is basically a model of assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners, “rather than an actual theory of learning” (http://teachinglearningresources. pbworks. com/w/page/30310516/Andragogy–Adult%20Learning%20Theory. ) The Term androgy was initially termed by German teacher Alexander Kapp. Later, Malcolm S. Knowles, adopted and studied this theory into a fundamental influence on adult learning.
Knowles is credited with being a fundamental influence in the development of the Humanist Learning Theory and the use of learner constructed contracts or plans to guide learning experiences. (WIKI) Knowles, andragogy is based on the principle of four crucial assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners on which traditional pedagogy is premised (http://. infed. org/lifelonglearning/b-andra. htm . Knowles uses a humanistic approach to adult learners that is known for being “autonomous, free, and growth-oriented” (http://adultlearnandtech. om/historyal. htm. ) The following assumptions are based on Knowle’s andragogical model:(ASTD pg 258) 1. Adults have a need to know why they should learn something. 2. Adults have a deep need to be self-directing 3. Adults have a greater volume and different quality of experience than youth. 4. Adults become ready to learn when they have to perform more effectively and satisfyingly. 5. Adults enter into a learning experience with a problem or life-centered way to learning. A trainer must first appreciate the differences between child-centered learning and adult-centered learning.
It would be easy to replicate the pedagogy model as a trainer, without knowledge of Androgy, because that is what was instilled throughout the educational experience. Knowles laid the groundwork that trainers needed to take into consideration before revising, developing, or presenting any training program targeted at adults. Knowles begins his assessments by asking several crucial questions about his learners and using a holistic approach in developing training in chapter 13 ASTD.
He begins by addressing the climate and condition of the environment that he will be teaching in. His goal is to focus on collaboration between the facilitator, the trainee, and their peers. He wants a comfortable atmosphere with the proper tools and accommodations that will help his students learn in comfort. His methods are geared towards building a friendly, fun, and approachable learning atmosphere. Diagnosing the audience needs can be done in many different ways, such as in Rothwell’s learning assessment.
Knowles on the other hand includes his participants in diagnosing their own learning needs. Knowles proposes that learning is not a need unless the trainee perceives it to be and by allowing them to participate in the planning of their own learning, he helps them want to learn what they need to learn. Knowles suggests an emphasis on self-diagnostic procedures such as simulation exercises, assessments; competency based testing, and feedback. Once the learner has diagnosed their own needs, Knowles suggests translating them into objectives for learning.
Once the needs, abilities, and goals of the training are established then the designer can move into planning, designing, and evaluation methods of the instructional course. The result of allowing participants to be included in the planning process helps Knowles to emerge with a process design and procedures for facilitation in the training based on what the adult learner wanted. Knowles admits that his Adrogogy model is not realistic in every situation (CH 13 ASTD). He says that “pedagogical assumptions” are more likely to work in an environment when an adult needs to learn a new process or concept (ASTD pg 261).
Over the years Knowles continued to study adult learning and eventually focused on combining, both pedagogy and androgy to gain the best result in training. “Andragogy is “the best known ‘theory’ of adult learning,” and it “has also caused more controversy, philosophical debate, and critical analysis than any other concept/theory/or model proposed thus far” (pp. 249-250 Merrian and Caffarella 1991). The 1970s and early 1980s witnessed much writing, debate, and discussion about the validity of andragogy as a theory of adult learning (Merriam 2001).
Most of the controversy revolves around the fact that there have been assumptions made about the difference between adult and childhood learning (Brookfield). Perhaps validity may be lacking in Knowles assumptions concerning Adult learning and there is confusion surrounding Androgy, is it a model or theory? Knowles himself has admitted Androgy may not work in every situation and he continued to change his own perspectives surrounding Androgogy throughout his life. Smith proposed that Knowles humanistic approach is really derived from humanistic clinical psychology.
Smith implies that humanistic and behavioral learning theories are two “different and opposing” fields of study that do not support Knowles approach. A rebuttal to Smiths remark may be that although Knowles may have combined two theories to develop something that worked in his trainings with adults, it does not discredit the model of learning that he proposes. Rather, further study of how to combine learning theories in instructional design to help trainees learn best would be groundbreaking, maybe even lead to new perspectives on adult learning.
The remaining question is if Androgy should be considered assumptions about learning or a model of learning for adults. Criticism concerning Knowles assumptions continues to date because some adult and children learners exhibit similar learning characteristics. Some adults may need to depend on a teacher for structure while some children can work independently. This could also be compared to motivation; adults may be motivated to attend a training session if they thought they would lose their job, while a child will be motivated more by curiosity and learning something new.
Knowles assumptions will continue to be debated into the future, but the focus may need to be geared towards adult and children learning independently with a combination of assumptions, theories, and models to develop a way for children and adults to be motivated to learn and create new innovations. The future direction of instructional design should be focused on using technology to help adult workers continue their education and knowledge concerning work. Knowles assumptions concerning adult learning can easily be applied to technology today.
First, Adults need to know why they are learning something and how it applies to them. This may be accomplished before students even engage in using technology, such as if a Certificate in Customer Service must be obtained to move to the next step on the ladder at work. Second, Adults have a deep need to be self-directing, which is exactly how an on-line class can be structured. A worker can choose how much energy they put into the training and for how long, of course if incentives are involved, the adult learner may move quicker.
Third, an adult’s experience can be taken into consideration with instructional system design using technology. A student could quickly excel through the requirements they understand and move into new learning. Fourth, Knowles assumed adults become ready to learn something when “they experience a need to learn it in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems. ” (Knowles 1980, 44). The instructional designer must keep in mind that technology-based opportunities should be concrete and relate to workers needs and future goals.
In addition, an instructor can encourage workers by designing experiences which simulate situations that the worker will encounter on the job. A way to present new learning to adults may be to get them to consider how it will help them in their own future. If the company promotes learning to advance and make more money, most would choose to try. If it is a necessary part of the workers job and he already knows it then offering advanced information on the same job and examples of how the person’s job may change over the next 5-10 years may motivate them to learn because it would be relevant to them in continuing working.
Technology-based instruction will be more effective if it uses real-life examples or situations that adult learners may encounter in their life or on the job. If students can bring real-life examples from work challenges to a chat session in an online course with their peers or other workers it may alleviate anxieties to participate and gain the practical experience which will help them to do better in their job. There is so much flexibility for instructional design when it involves technology.
Technology is very expensive, but it may benefit a company and it workers better than a one-day training That will later be forgotten. Technology allows learning at any time and workers can be self directed. Companies can benefit from their own human capital by encouraging trainers and training departments to focus on technology based training. Knowles had an optimistic outlook and focused on individualism and self help in his Androgy model. When he became known for Androggy he continued to make adjustments and write on the topic of learning for many years.
We can consider Malcolm Knowles a pioneer in the field of Adult Education and to this day he still has people interested in his “assumption” and self directed learning theories. He is well known throughout the world for his work and has been a major contributor to how we think about Adult learning today. Andragogy is a way to think about training and developing training for learners in a humanistic manner, as Knowles evolved in his own research, he himself, said that a combination of andraggy and pedagogy may be the best design practice for training.
He also pushed scholars and teachers to really look at the differences between how adults and children learn. This paper presented aspects of androgy that need to be taken into consideration when designing training. An understanding of Malcolm Knowles assumptions concerning adult learners is paramount to designing effective training for adults. With an understanding of what motivates adult to learn an instructional designer can combine today’s technology to develop trainings that will benefit companies and the workers.
Knowles infuses a deeper, more substantial meaning into andragogy which encompasses philosophical foundations and has influenced learning theory and concepts for at least the past 50 years. There is still plenty to delve into considering advanced technology today and Knowles suggestions of independent learning. Instructional designers today and in the future need to understand learning theory and models such as Knowles to be successful as a change agent in today world.
Christensen, T. K. , & Osguthorpe, R. T. (2004). How do Instructional-Design Practitioners Make Instructional-Strategy decisions? Performance Improvement
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