Summarize the six key assumptions about adult learners as described by Malcolm Knowles and discuss their implications for teaching adult learners online.
Malcolm Knowles identified a learning approach that he considered was more suited to the unique needs of adult learners. He called this approach andragogy, an ancient Greek compound word formed from the terms ἀνδρ- (= man) and ἄγω/ἀγωγός (= lead/leader) that means “lead/leader of men”. Knowles wanted to distinguish this term from the term pedagogy, another ancient Greek word deriving from the words παῖς = (kid) and ἄγω/ἀγωγός (= lead/leader) that means “lead/leader of kids/children”. Andragogy consisted of four at the beginning and six later assumptions.
So, according to Knowles first assumption, adults need to know “why” before they engage in learning. He believed that learning would be more successful if adults had some control of the process, if they knew how the learning would occur, what sort of learning would occur, why it was necessary, and how it would benefit them.
So, maybe a good practice when teaching adult learners online would be to survey the students beforehand in order to identify what they expect to learn and how this can be useful to them. With that information you can design much more useful material for your course. Also, if you include questions about their experience (assumption #3), you will be able to create online courses that are informative and engaging, rather than too challenging or boring.
The second assumption is self-concept and it states that adults are independent and self-directed, they need to assume ownership of their learning and get involved in the planning. Thus, their learning is enhanced by creating an atmosphere that values their contribution and stimulates the exchange of ideas.
So, the facilitator/educator should create a collaborative environment in which the majority of the learning will be self directed as the students will be given the necessary tools and the right amount of instruction, so that this self-direction has guidance. He/she also needs to acknowledge that in some situations learners would be more independent and self-directed than others, based on their experience, age etc. Also, this online environment should be safe, so that the learners are not afraid to share ideas, experiences and exchange information (Blondy, 2007).
Prior experience of the learner is the third of Knowles’ assumptions, according to which adults bring their own unique experiences to the classroom. These prior experiences have an impact on adults’ learning not only because knowledge is built upon them, but also because they influence their attitude towards the course in a favorable or negative way. Preconceived notions and prejudices could influence their learning, so the facilitator could/should help the learners become aware of them through some critical self reflection.
Thus, in an online course it is important for the facilitator/educator to help the learners figure out their own learning objectives based on their needs and interests. Also, the course should be designed in such a way that it will encourage them to share their experiences and expertise, through group projects, problem-based learning, class discussions, debates etc. Also, the facilitator should establish an atmosphere where they will feel safe to do so.
Readiness to learn is an assumption that Knowles based on the observation that many times adults experience situations whereas it’s needed for them to learn something new. So, they appreciate learning that is connected with the needs of their everyday life, as they learn primarily out of necessity.
Thus, educators / facilitators must recognize that each learner joins an online course for a specific purpose, whether it is a personal desire to learn something or a requirement of an organization or school (Blondy, 2007). So, it will be a good practice to discuss the learner’s motivations for enrolling in a specific course and urge him/her to consider what he or she hopes to achieve throughout the course. Furthermore, course assignments, tasks and projects should allow the learners to develop a plan to accomplish their own individual goals within the course.
Orientation to learning is another Knowles’ assumption and means that adult learners are more interested in immediate, practical and problem-centered approaches to learning than subject/content-based ones. So, rather than learning general skills, adults desire to learn skills that will immediately apply to and improve the work they are doing, their everyday life.
So when designing teaching activities for online learners, real life scenarios, case studies, simulations and self evaluations can be proven particularly useful. The activities should mimic real world scenarios and learners should walk away from the course with something useful for their everyday job roles.
Finally, Knowles made an assumption about adult Motivation to learn. While children have external sources of motivation, such as parents, teachers etc., adults are mostly driven to learn by internal rather than external incentives, such as to increase their self-esteem, to get a raise, to acquire recognition, to improve skills or life in their workspace, etc.
So, the learners should be able to understand what skill they will develop by completing the specific activities of the course and these activities should be relevant to their wants and needs.
Teaching adult learners is a challenging task. Educators should always evaluate the quality of the learning experience they offer and reassess it based on the students evaluations. They also need to establish a good relationship with their students, actively listen to their questions, determine their learning styles, respect their experiences and assist them in creating content that will be beneficial in their everyday lives.