Adult Learning (Andragogy)

The science of adult learning (andragogy) involves the understanding and supporting of lifelong learning in adult learners, and also developing the teaching of adult learners (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2011). We will refer regularly to the work of Malcolm Knowles, the godfather of adult learning theory. Now I am sure we will be interchanging between terminology and using teacher, facilitator, instructor and many others, but let’s not get too caught up in the pedantic’s. In the end we want to discover different learning theory, strategies and appropriate forms of assessment to meet our learners needs.  

Knowles’ 4 Principles Of Andragogy

  1.  Enagagement: Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2.  Experiential: The opportunity and learning culture to test, succeed and also make mistakes.
  3.  Work relevant: Adults are most interested in learning that has relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  4.  Problem-centered: Learner focused with a facilitator guiding the learning as opposed to a traditional teacher delivered content-oriented delivery.

We will provide much of our focus on adult learning (andragogy), as this is our population we are training in nursing. But we will also visit school level education (pedagogy) to see new ideas and concepts that could be incorporated into our education approach. It’s always worth remembering the enthusiasm that children have for learning new things (reflect back to your school days) and why as adults we don’t always feel this same eagerness to learn. We have to question what is different? Motivation may well be a key factor in this.

Now this ‘gogy’ is post-Knowles, which is heutagogy (Greek for ‘self‘) which is self-determined learning and places the emphasis of learning on the learner, moving away from the traditional teacher/lecturer role as the focal point. Defined by Hase and Kenyon (2000) as “the study of self-determined learning”, where in an ever-changing world of work, study and life where information is readily accessible and learning aligns with this accessibility. This fits in with the approach for adult learners, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience into the learning environment.

Looking at how knowledge is constructed (epistemology) and how we learn, can improve the learning experience and outcomes. Incorporating neurocognitive approaches to learning can aid the learning process. In the health setting we also have varied training and education requirements, including the non-negotiable work requirement training (hands up for those who get excited on completing the same yearly e-learning packages). How do we motivate our learners for this type of situation where training is mandatory and the motivation factors for participation are very different? As an educator we also need to be motivated and provide consistency in not only new teaching opportunities but the day to day core training (think repetitive basic life support or moving & handling). This emphasis on delivering quality reminds us of a story of a chef and the consistency of cooking the same dish for 30 years which is now considered the world’s best paella, and the effort in not only their dedication to the same dish but the replicability and standard setting. Health is constantly changing so we nurses are constantly evolving as part of lifelong learning, with that the education philosophy will also have to adapt. Technology will be major influencer on education and learning so nurse educators must understand and engage in these e-learning spaces.  

Spotlight on Malcolm Knowles

Adult Learning Theory - Knowles' Four Principles of Andragogy
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Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2014). The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. Routledge.