Andragogy: All about Learning?

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Andragogy: All about Learning?

Since the language of andragogy was introduced to North American adult educators by Malcolm Knowles, there have been continual debates about whether it is an adult learning theory, a teaching method, a philosophical statement, or all of the above. It is useful to take the development of andragogy into account when considering this question.

When Knowles began writing about andragogy, he was already a well-respected figure in the adult education establishment. He had participated in the creation of the Black Book (Jensen, Liveright, and Hallenbeck 1964), a collection of writing setting out to define adult education as a discipline. Establishing adult education as a discrete area of academic study was an important aim for Knowles and many of his contemporaries (Damer 2000). As early as 1962, Knowles wrote that "the adult educational field is in the process of developing a distinctive curriculum and methodology" (Knowles 1962, p. 255)—a process in which he played a central role. The development of andragogy was an important component of broader efforts to position adult education as a profession and academic field.

Knowles (1980) claimed that andragogy was "the art and science of teaching adults," and set out four key assumptions:

1. Teachers have a responsibility to help adults in the normal movement from dependency toward increasing self-directedness.

2. Adults have an ever-increasing reservoir of experience that is a rich resource for learning.

3. People are ready to learn something when it will help them to cope with real-life tasks or problems.

4. Learners see education as a means to develop increased competence.

Two additional assumptions were later added (Knowles,...

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Ralf St. Clair is Director of the Texas Center for Adult Literacy and Learning, Texas A&M University.
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