As one of the most profound educational theorists, Malcolm Knowles provided extensive insight into the process of adult education and the techniques that can be used to promote the greatest level of success for these students. As the leading promoted of the concept of andragogy, Knowles argued that the educational techniques used for young children-called pedagogy-is not applicable to adults. Because they rely on a different set of characteristics for their education, teaching strategies and approaches need to be subsequently altered.
According to Knowles, there are six elements to be incorporated when working with adult learners.
- First, they need to know the reason why they are learning. Without having some sort of context, they are not going to respond to the educational process well.
- Second, experience should be the basis for learning activities. Because they have such extensive experience to draw upon, this should be incorporated into the learning process.
- Third, adults need to have a sense of ownership for their education; they need to be involved in the planning and progress of their own education.
- Fourth, the material learned should be relevant; if adults do not see a practical purpose for the material, they will not find success.
- Fifth, learning should be problem-centered. When adults see learning as something that will help them solve a specific problem or challenge, they are more likely to find success.
- Finally, Knowles argued that adults need internal motivation. A teacher can challenge an adult student all they want; if the student does not want to learn as a result of their own self-motivation, they will not find success.
Using these six principles will result in the creation and implementation of learning strategies that will be most beneficial for adult learners and their unique needs and approach to the classroom environment.
Knowles contends that there is an increase in self directed learning in direct proportion with maturity. One can agree that most people are more self directed as adults than as children, this can be a function of an educational system which assumes that younger children cannot self direct their own learning and therefore dictates content and direction. Children and young adults are fully capable of self direction, if given the opportunity. Children are perhaps not as organized and explicit in their search for learning opportunities, but many youngsters actively seek to learn new things and, given the chance, are able to direct their learning quite remarkably. Ownership over one's education is a goal being introduced at many levels of education and is no longer just a factor in adult learning.
Of course, if we consider the limited vision of self-directed learning as only possible in the form of self-teaching, then it is possible to understand why Knowles attributes it exclusively to adults. However, one must also recognize that most adult learning opportunities do not fall under the form of self-teaching as explained by Knowles. Once again, a continuum is a better way to discuss the development of self-directed learning, spanning from teacher directed to self directed. Many learners, regardless of age, are at different stages on this continuum. And, fortunately, the growth of learners towards self-directed learning can be facilitated at all levels.
Not all adults are able to self direct easily. Nor are all children, despite my quarrel with Knowles. Our writer's suggest that perhaps one of the reasons why adults find it difficult to direct their own learning easily is that as children they were not given the opportunity to develop skills in self direction. Education was a very structured, systematic experience which did allowed minimal choice and maximum teacher power. Infusing adult students with confidence in their own ability to choose and learn can help them become better students, but also better citizens. This is possible for anyone, that good teachers can help all people to become self-directed, confident learners.