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“Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potential of their personalities. Every person has capacities that, if realized, will contribute to the well-being of himself and of society. To achieve these potentials requires skills of many kinds – vocational, social, recreational, civic, artistic, and the like. It should be a goal of education to give each individual those skills necessary for him to make full use of his capacities.”
Malcolm S. Knowles (1913-1997), Informal Adult Education (1950)
Malcolm Knowles became a protégée of Eduard Lindeman’s, while the two were working at the National Youth Administration in Massachusetts during the 1930s. Like his mentor, Knowles went on to develop theories on the difference between formal education and informal adult education.
The organised classes of the former, held in universities and high schools, are likely to meet long-term and fixed needs, while the aims of adult education are usually more transitory and immediate. Again like Lindeman, Knowles found that a key component of informal adult education is the flexibility of its approach. Classes can range from entertainment to serious lectures. Thirdly, adult education requires less commitment of time, money and energy than organised education.
Knowles believed adult education should have the following outcomes (Informal Adult Education, 1950):
q Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves
q Adults should develop an attitude of acceptance, love and respect toward others
q Adults should develop a dynamic attitude toward life
q Adults should learn to react to the causes, not the symptoms, of behaviour
q Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials of their personalities
q Adults should understand the essential values in the capital of human experience
q Adults should understand their society and should be skilful in directing social change
Although, like Lindeman, he recognised the importance of encouraging social participation, Knowles was more concerned with the establishment of the theory and practice of adult education. He did this by outlining five ways in which andragogy (the methods of teaching adults) is different from the traditional forms of pedagogy.
1. Self-Concept: As a person matures his self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
2. Experience: As a person he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
3. Readiness to Learn: As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes orientated increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.
4. Orientation to Learning: As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness (1,2,3&4 from The Modern Practice of Adult Education. Andragogy versus Pedagogy, 1970).
5. Motivation to Learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, 1984)
Knowles recognised the importance of self-direction for students of adult education. He cited strong evidence for the increased value of education when the student is pro-active and enrols under his/her own initiative. People enter into adult education to meet a need in their lives, and this motivation increases his/her learning capacity.
Self-directed learning is appropriate for the mental development of an adult; it is in step with growth of maturity and taking responsibility for our own lives. Finally, students of adult education are encouraged to take the initiative in their own learning and develop skills of critical inquiry; this is in line with modern trends of effective education.
Knowles developed a five-step programme for educators and learners in order to understand the process of self-directed learning (Self-Directed Learning. A guide for learners and teachers, 1975):
1. Diagnosing learning needs
2. Formulating learning needs
3. Identifying human material resources for learning
4. Choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies
5. Evaluating learning outcomes
Malcolm S Knowles was central to the establishment of a theory of practice of adult learning. By establishing how andragogy differs in practice from traditional forms of teaching, he helped solidify the theory of adult education and provided a basis from which the method of teaching adults could develop. Classes in community colleges the length and breath of Ireland today, are teaching adults in a way that respects their maturity and harnesses their life experiences.
His ideas on self-directed learning are important to understanding patterns of adult education. People seek out an education to improve their lives; they are motivated; this initiative should be met by a flexible and democratic system of adult education that provides courses according to public demand.
REF: Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm