ED 610 Week Three (Fall 2020)*

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Week Three in our ED 610 Unmasking the Adult Learner class.

Once again I will provide a lecture activity to begin and then follow up with a few theme ideas that you might chose to work on if you are not already knee deep in your own project.

Today I would like to begin by providing you with a bit of a summary and discussion of the first three chapters in Knowles’ The Adult Learner, the book I mentioned last week. 

There is a possibility that the first three chapters of the book might be important for some you you to read, and less important for others. Let me provide a few highlights and then ask that you do read few pages from the fourth chapter that I believe are very important to all of us studying adult learning.

As you know already, it is thought that Malcolm Knowles made an important contribution to the organization of adult learning in the early 1970s. The work seemed somewhat groundbreaking at the time and was the impetus for a good deal of subsequent research and even controversy.

In the first chapter Knowles writes:

Our position is that andragogy presents core principles of adult learning that in turn enable those designing and conducting adult learning to build more effective learning processes for adults. It is a transactional model in that it speaks to the characteristics of the learning transaction, not to the goals and aims of that transaction. (All of the following quotations in this section come from Knowles, Malcolm S., et al. The Adult Learner : The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, Taylor & Francis Group, 2005).

As I think you know, a transactional learning environment is one where experiences and interactions between people take precedence over the delivery if information.

As such, [andragogy] is applicable to any adult learning transaction, from community education to human resource development in organizations.

In other words, Knowles makes clear that understanding andragogy and the adult learning principles associated with andragogy is important for most any environment whereby adult learning is deemed to be an important component. However, there are many people in organizations, such as Human Resource Officer or business training consultant for example, who might place an emphasis on the goals or purposes of the learning activities rather than on the learning itself. This is something to be avoided.

Care must be taken to avoid confusing core principles of the adult learning transaction with the goals and purposes for which the learning event is being conducted. They are conceptually distinct, though as a practical matter may overlap considerably p. 10.

This distinction is fairly important in Knowles’ theory. He makes it quite clear that the core adult learning principles are distinct from the goals and purposes for learning and the individual and situational differences. This diagram helps show this distinction:

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 andragogy 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. . . [T]here 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.

This synoptic view of Knowles’ theory gives us a little better sense of some of the dynamics we have to keep in mind as we think about adult learning. The interesting point he makes by providing a core set of principles is that even though the learning goals, purposes, or situations might change from context to context, the core adult learning principles transcend these different contexts. The core, while rather static in nature, can accommodate the different purposes or situations rather than having to change for each changing situation.

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 p. 3.

To begin an exploration into andragogy, Knowles suggests we should be clear on the theory that we are using or developing for our own justification of adult learning. Theory is important, as we see, because of the variety of ways we understand learning. He spends some time defining theory. Simply put:

From these excerpts and perspectives we can see that a theory can be a guiding set of assumptions (Kidd), an ordering system that neatly summarizes the facts (Hilgard and Bower), and/or assumptions, generalizations, and hypotheses (McGregor). p. 10

Once we are clear that we will need a guiding set of assumptions, and that these assumptions will justify our understanding of andragogy, we can start to examine ‘learning.’ Because, as mentioned earlier, learning has so many different ways of being defined, a guiding set of assumptions are necessary because everything we talk about will hinge on how we define learning. But, as we find, this is not an easy task.

For us personally, in our endeavor to better understand adult learning and to be able to speak intelligibly about adult learning, we should have at least a superficial understanding of a number of accounts if we are to place ourselves in one particular camp. But which camp?

The learning theories that Knowles discusses were all developed prior to 2000. On the one hand, this will prove to be problematic because we currently have learning theories that have come out of neuroscience that will put some of the earlier theories into question. On the other hand, the learning theories most common in schools will most likely find their rational from 20th century theories with ideas and metaphors that even go back to Ancient Greece. But more on that later.

After having stated the importance of understanding theory and recognizing the distinction between the purposes and situational differences and the adult learning principles, Knowles leads us into a quick distinction between education and learning. This, he says, is necessary to begin a proper analysis of learning. He writes:

Any discussion of a definition of learning must be prefaced with an important and frequently made distinction— the one between education and learning. Education is an activity undertaken or initiated by one or more agents that is designed to effect changes in the knowledge, skill, and attitudes of individuals, groups, or communities. The term emphasizes the educator, the agent of change who presents stimuli and reinforcement for learning and designs activities to induce change. The term learning, by contrast, emphasizes the person in whom the change occurs or is expected to occur. Learning is the act or process by which behavioral change, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are acquired (Boyd, Apps, et al., pp. 100– 101).

We conclude that a theory is a comprehensive, coherent, and internally consistent system of ideas about a set of phenomena. We also acknowledge the distinction between education and learning. Education emphasizes the educator, whereas learning emphasizes the person in whom the change occurs or is expected to occur. Although this distinction is easily understood, developing a working definition of learning is much more complex. Key components of learning theorists’ definitions of learning serve as the foundation for our discussion of the definition of learning. These include change, filling a need, learning as product, learning as process, learning as function, natural growth, control, shaping, development of competencies, fulfillment of potential, personal involvement, self-initiated, learner evaluated, independent learning, and learning domains. We define learning as the process of gaining knowledge and/or expertise p. 17.

Chapter Three delves into learning theories — and there are a lot. Here is my suggestion regarding learning theories: We have a number of things to keep in mind:

  1. Knowles lists over 60 different learning theorists. We could easily devote a year to studying these different theories and still have more to learn. While learning theories are necessary for us in the development of our own adult learning theories, we wouldn’t have time in this class to devote to this study. Having said this though, there may be some of you who recognize that this is an important component of your development so you will want to at least read Knowles Chapter Three Theories of Learning.
  2. The bulk of the learning theories to which Knowles refers come out of psychology. This is problematic in its own right. The psychological literature lacks scientific rigor (according to many scientists and psychologists), and the concepts are often thought to be scientifically unverifiable. I will speak more to this in a future lecture, but let me at least give a quick explanation of what this means. Historically, the terms that were adopted by psychologists were made up without by mental introspection rather than scientific observation. For example, “after a great deal of introspection I believe I have something in my head that I call attendere. It is this feeling of attraction that I feel whenever I get close to a bowl of ice cream. It happens every time, and not only to me. Others have also talked about something similar. We must have something in our mind that I will refer to now as attendere. I made that up. But other ideas have come up in similar ways. For example we  consciousness, memory, knowledge, will, motivation, or any number of the psychological terms we use. In the 1800s when William James, one of the founding fathers of psychology, compiled many of the introspective derived terms of the time into his two volume 1200 page work called The Principles of Psychology, the terms he specified stuck. After that, and even to this day in many studies, research adopts those terms and then tries to find evidence verifying the rational substantiated by the terms. This is to say that if my ‘attendere’ term seemed to make sense to other researchers, they would then presume that ‘attendere’ actually existed and would then do research studies to verify that rats also had ‘attendere’ because they, too, seemed to be attracted to ice cream. We can follow some of these ideas right back to Plato and Aristotle and considerations of the mind. Furthermore, as educators adopted psychology’s findings, they simply started to use terms and then treat them as if there were some scientific bases to what was being said. “But can’t we see that motivation is something real?” one might ask. When scientists come up with an idea such as gravity, even though they can’t actually see it, there is a common agreement to what it means. There is not common agreement on the mentalist terms we use in psychology or education. Ask 10 different educators or psychologists what knowledge, or memory, motivation or will is and you will get a wide variety of answers. That’s why theories are important. The theory provides the context for meaning. 
  3. The last thing to keep in mind (that I can think of right now) is that even though schools and educational institutions are late at adopting the latest brain research or are slow at giving up preconceived ideas, there is some interesting work in neuroscience and neurobiology that might offer us something a bit more innovative in terms of how we understand adult education. We will try to launch into a bit of that as well.

So, given what I have just said, you will have to decide whether you think it is of value and interest to you to study in a bit of depth the learning theories Knowles discusses in Chapter Three. If you are planning on teaching adult learning in a college or university, I would say that this is very important background knowledge. If you are not, then you might wish to forego that piece right now. At least you are aware of it.

Andragogy and Pedagogy: The Comparison

We now move into Chapter 4, and there is something in this chapter that is, I think, of value to all of us in our study of adult learning — that is a comparison between pedagogy and andragogy. I know that a couple of you have already started exploring the idea of using andragogical methods for youngsters. And, in the past, I have had students wonder out loud why we are not incorporating more andragogical methods in our classrooms.

This chapter will help you think through some of these ideas. Also, we are all familiar with pedagogy, as is any other educator we talk with. When asked about andragogy it can be helpful for us to be able to contrast it directly with pedagogy.


This Week’s Summary

So for this week’s lecture work, I have included a short section from the last section of Knowles’ Chapter 4. Some of this will be familiar to you already from your previous work. The video clips we watched in week one, and the historical summary you did in week two will make this reading seem quite easy I think.

For this week, would you please read this part of Chapter 4, An Adragogical Theory of Adult Learning, and provide a short summary of the comparison between Pedagogy and Andragogy?

As you read this, you will quickly get the sense of whether you feel as though you would like some more background to what you are reading. If so, please do consult Knowles’ book (talked about in last week’s lecture).

Pedagogy Versus Andragogy

I hope you found this interesting. I think by now we shouldn’t have any difficulty explaining andragogy to any of our colleagues.


Themes and Project Work

As we consider the depth of background experiences adults have, and the ability they have to deal with technologies, creating environments that utilize ‘the visual’ become attractive.  Thus I have created two themes around the idea of photography and visual expertice. Photography is clearly something we have access to right now as a ready resource. While the videos and documentaries don’t specifically speak to andragogical methodology, your understanding of andragogy will lend itself to the incorporation of photographs and photography into an adult learning environment.

Also, I should reiterate, you don’t need to do these specific themes. But, these themes might interest you, and might nudge you in a similar but different direction that incorporates visual understanding. You might want to explore painting, sculpture or some other aspect of the visual arts. I hope these ideas spark your interest.

Theme: Photographs Across The Curriculum


This second theme has more to do with visual literacy. For those thinking of incorporating photographs into the learning environment, this theme will supplement your understanding of the ways in which photographs can be used to evoke meaning and emotion and how photographers use particular techniques to get the desired response from the viewers. I include, also, in this theme a couple of articles that speak to andragogy and media literacy.

 Theme: The Language of Photography


I hope you find something of interest in at least one of these themes. Of course, you may be busy working on something else that interests you–that is fine. As for me, I am videoed out for the day.

When you are all finished up for the week, please try to send me your first set of responses. I look forward to hearing from you.

I will talk with you soon 🙂