Applying Andragogy*at Work

I have been catching up with the Jisc Institutional Change Leader course  and came across Malcolm Knowles’ theory of adult learning. For someone whose main strength is the Love of Learning I found it fascinating and was eager to explore how the principles behind this theory can be applied at work.

So here are the six assumptions about adult learning that Knowles defined and my plan of incorporating them into the next internal TED event:

The need to know

Adult learners need to know  the reason and benefits of why they are learning. I believe the same principle should be used whenever meetings are organised. This means:

  • clear objectives
  • upfront knowledge about the content and the process (How is it going to happen?)
  • the need to involve people in setting the topics, and goals and plans for their learning as opposed to dictating what they need to learn.


Adult learners will take ownership of what and how to learn and will self direct. I will then try to engage with as many of the attendees prior to the meeting to gauge the relevant topics.


As opposed to children adults have their identity defined, learning activities need to be set in real experience and some might want collaborative learning. The idea for TED is sharing ideas with others – perhaps there could be a bigger steer towards sharing experiences as well.


What they learn must be relevant to what they need, learning needs to be timely and relevant for the context. I think the challenge here is to try to make the event as relevant as possible to as many people.

Orientation to learning

Adult learning is life-centered  and focusing on tasks and problems rather than subjects. This could be a theme for the day – rather than a specific topic the event could be centered around a problem or task solving.

Motivation to learn

Motivation to learn is more likely to be intrinsic (enjoyment, self-satisfaction, value – feeling that what is learned is worthwhile). As the event is optional I think those attending are intrinsically motivated anyway – one I can tick off straight from my list!

*Andragogy – the methods of techniques used to teach adults (literally ‘leader of men’ as opposed to pedagogy – ‘leader of children’).


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