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Malcolm Knowles’ Assumptions About Adult Learners

Malcolm S. Knowles was a prominent and a key figure in spearing adult education and was also known as a veteran of andragogy, informal adult learning, and self-driven learning. His research concerning the educational theory was mainly geared towards the assessment of the learners, on their motivation to get involved in taking up educational programs to improve, their capabilities to work hence improving the production. It was noted that motivation was influenced by multiple factors either intrinsic or extrinsic factors.

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In the introductory part, learning is viewed as motivated for it rarely comes in a self-driven form. Intimately, it is related to the whole environment and directly affected by it at any given time. Therefore, human beings being active, respond to the internal and external stimuli to meet the requirements at hand, so their behavior is regulated by the internal settings that are ever being refined to reflect their experiences. This, therefore, summarizes it all that human beings are motivated by reinforcement and rewards that come along whatever they are doing (Maslow, 1970).

Basing on different interviews carried out by research-oriented individuals, there came out different perceptions when it comes to adult education. This comprised of goal-oriented, activity-oriented, and learning-oriented. This study gave birth to two theories that summed up the findings of the said education. The force field theory incorporated Maslow’s order of needs which highlights physiological, safety, esteem. Self-actualization as well as love for the need of belonging.

However, the prevalent problems that come about are aroused based on skills in human relations, which can be addressed by only one idea which is education. The skills can be embraced through learning institutions, as well as informal groups that come together with a common objective to attain aftermath. The idea streamlines specific tasks for the group leaders who are to ensure democracy amongst the members which lead to positive cooperative interactions between them and as a result cultivate personal attitudes to each individual’s voluntary affiliated group.

The adult life should be destined to producing substantial results in life by embracing concepts like; Always developing a positive emotion towards life in a sense that they should be ready to accept change and the way change will affect their being, should be seen as an experience from which they should be ready to take lessons from (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007).

Developing a positive feeling towards life in this case, they should be ready to accept change and the way change will affect their being should be seen as an experience from which they should be ready to take lessons.

The adults should not react to the symptoms of any behavior but instead, dwell on the particular cause of the behavior in the human relations settings. Also, they should understand themselves better in terms of their interests, goals, capacity, needs, and motivations, evaluate themselves maturely, and always strive for the better (Illeris & Jarvis, 2007).

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They should develop an attitude of acceptance, respect, and love towards others by understanding each other in a way that will draw empathy towards others and maintain a steady, mutual understanding.

They should be ready to embrace and respect the ideals and ethnicity that bind people and understand society skillfully to get involved in sensational decision-making.

The adults should be ready to learn new ideas that can be used to improve their ability and personalities for the sake of themselves and society at large.

The intelligence, skills, and abilities to sound judgment can only be attained through adult education to improve society and save it from the prevalent problems. Malcolm indicates clearly that, the experiences available in any governing effect directly the skills as well as the influence they possess in a bid for controlling the state (Knowles, 1970).

Bringing together the elements of education brought a clear difference between the adults and the children, who according to the case study never had the same learning characteristics.

The idea brought about two cases of education types as andragogy and pedagogy. The Synonym andragogy here means adult education while pedagogy refers to child education. The pedagogy was further divided into adult education characteristics as illustrated below (Illeris & Jarvis, 2007).

Self-concept, a case in which as an individual grows, he/she ceases from being a dependant subject to an independent state. This brings out a necessity to be viewed by others as a personal redirect.

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A person in the process of maturity banks past and present experiences that serve as a base for learning either from the mistakes done or the achievements realizes. Just as an individual gets tied up, Social roles tend to extend based on the willingness to learn as one matures. During maturity, the learning perspective shifts from postponements to instant and from subject to topical or problem-centered. As an individual matures, he/she is internally motivated to learn without being pestered hence self-drive (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 1998).

However, Knowles’s understanding of andragogy has proved to be an attempt to put up a comprehensive model about adult learning, that revolves around the discussed adult learners’ characteristics (Merriam & Caffarella, 1991) as well as narrowing the ideas on how and what the adults learn.

More so, there still exists a weakness as he dwells much on the relationships sampled from the humanistic topic of clinical psychology as it puts in the qualities of good facilitation hence contradicting the scientific and the behavioral traditions in this model.

Lastly, although he had some great insights that were not thoroughly analyzed, he is not clear enough whether this is a theory or mere assumptions about the two classes of learning because it only describes then guidelines meant for the practice instead of stipulating a conceptual framework, a propensity to list characteristics of a phenomenon without interrogating the literature of the arena as it appears in the case study, of andragogy or looking through the better view of a coherent model. (Javis,1987)

However Malcolm Knowles had some important insights, but because they are not disturbed by thorough analysis, they served as a blockage to fortune – they could be taken up in a historical or theoretical way thus needing a polish up to bring out the need for the adult education.

A brief comparison of the assumptions regarding andragogy and pedagogy by Knowles (Jarvis, 1987a)

Pedagogy Andragogy
The learner Dependent. The teacher directs what, how, when a subject is learned and the tests that have been learned. Geared towards independence.
Self-directing. The teacher oversees and nurtures this movement.
Learner’s experience Of little value. Therefore coaching methods are informative A better resource for learning.The teaching techniques include discussion and problem-solving
Readiness for scholarship A group learns according to society expectations.So the curriculum is standard. People learn according to their needs,learning programs revolve around life application.
Type of orientation learning Acquisition of key content.The curriculum is split into subjects. Learning experiences are based in the order of experiences, due to the centered performance in their learning


Knowles, M. S. (1970). The current Practice of Elderly Education. Andragogy versus pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Incentive and Personality. NY: Harper and Row.

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Merriam, S. B. & Caffarella. R. S. (1991). Knowledge in old age A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jarvis, P. (1987a). ‘Malcolm Knowles’ in P. Jarvis (edition.). Twentieth Century Thinkers in Elderly Education. London: Croom Helm.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood:

A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Illeris, M. & Jarvis. (2007). Chapter 11, “Traditional Learning Theories”, pp. 275–297.

Illeris, McClusky and Jarvis, (2007), Chapter 4, “Knowles’ Andragogy and Models of Adult Learning”, pp. 83–104.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. G., & Swanson, R. A. (1998). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resources development. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

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