Online Learning by Adults

This section examines the characteristics of adults and their implications on online line connected learning by adults. The first part of this section presents a discussion on adult learning. Most of the time adults follow the same general patterns of learning as children do. But while there are similarities between child and adult learning, there are also additional features of adult learning, which will help you while planning online learning for adult population.

Watch the following video. Take notes while you watch the video to enable you to recall the main points presented in the video.

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A short video from the PC3 team focusing on Malcolm Knowles' theory of andragogy or adult learning.

Source: (Accessed on 4 March 2012)

After watching the video and listening to the narration carefully, use the notes you have taken down to summarise what you have learnt from the video.
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Give the main points discussed in the video under the sections indicated below. You could use the notes you prepared while seeing the video. If needed see the video again. You may pause the video where ever needed to make sure that you have understood the content correctly and completely.
  1. Meaning of androgogy as compared to pedagogy.
  2. Who is considered to be the first to formulate a theory of adult learning based on the concept of androgogy?
  3. Six assumptions of adult learning (Write the assumption with a short description in one or two lines)
    Assumption 1:
    Assumption 2:
    Assumption 3:
    Assumption 4:
    Assumption 5:
    Assumption 6:
  4. Will androgogic techniques of learning be applicable to children too? Give reasons why or why not.

Now read a summary of the video script and see whether your answers correspond correctly to what was presented in the video.

Meaning of androgogy

  1. Androgogy (adult learning) refers to methods and techniques for teaching adults. Literally, the term means leader of man and compares to pedagogy, which means leader of children.
  2. The term androgogy was popularised when it was adopted by Malcolm Knowles in the later part of the twentieth century, to describe his theory of adult learning.
  3. Knowles proposes six assumptions about adult learners which determine how teaching of adults should proceed.

Six assumptions about adult learners

  1. The need to know: Adults need to know why they are learning something, what the benefits are of knowing it and what they risk by not learning it. By knowing these they will respond more positively to learning experiences. This leads to a need to include adults in deciding what it is they learn and setting goals and plans for their learning.
  2. Self concept: Adult learners have a self concept of being responsible for their own decisions. They are naturally self-directed in their lives and in their thinking, which may lead to self-management of learning. This has two elements viz. one, taking ownership of learning in terms of making decisions about what and how to learn and two, self-direction which includes self management, motivation and on assuring. Self concept is likely to be context dependent, that is, it will vary between different learning situations.
  3. Experience: Adult learners have experience and that experience is more diverse than is the case of children. Learning can, therefore, draw on this experience much more fully. However adults might also have ingrained ideas from this experience leading to bias or single mindedness. Adults tend to associate experience with who they are. Their identity is defined in terms of what experiences they have had. All of this means that learning needs to be associated with existing knowledge and learning activities situated in real experience. Learning should be active, constructive and collaborative and learners also need to recognise that, sometimes, unlearning is required.
  4. Readiness to learn: Adult learners need learning to be timely and relevant and focus on what is useful in that particular context and situation. Pratt identifies two dimensions along which adults vary in different learning situations.
    • Direction is how much assistance is needed and is a factor of the learner's competence in the subject area and their general dependency.
    • Support is how much encouragement is needed from others and is a factor of their commitment and their confidence in their ability to learn.
  5. Orientation to learn: Adult learning is life centred and focuses on tasks and problems rather than on subjects, so learning needs to be contextualised and experiential learning is most affective. Kolb proposed an experiential learning cycle where learners have concrete experiences of the here and now.
    • They observe and recall their own experiences as well as that of others.
    • Reflect on those experiences.
    • Generalise from those experiences to develop concepts and theories.
    • Test these generalizations in new situations.
  6. Motivation to learn: This may be extrinsic, for example, through rewards and grades but in adults it is more likely to be intrinsic due to self satisfaction, enjoyment, having choice and control of what is learned and value, feeling that what is learned is worthwhile.

Pedagogy and androgogy

  1. Knowles argues there is an assumption in pedagogy that the teacher leads and makes keys decisions and the learners are dependent with natural dependency decreasing from childhood to adolescence. The learners own knowledge and experience is not considered important. Knowledge comes from teachers and text books. The readiness to learn is focused on what they are told they need to know. The learning is subject centred, and the motivation is extrinsic focusing on good grades and pleasing others.
  2. Knowles characterised andragogy as process model of learning. A facilitator considers the activities and steps needed for learners to acquire knowledge and skill rather than a content model as in pedagogy where the teacher decides on what will be taught and how it will be presented to the learner.
  3. Knowles work has its critics. Some argue that the assumptions do not apply equally to all adult learners or a diverse group with a huge range of backgrounds and experiences, or even to any one individual all of the time.
  4. Others argue that Knowles creates a false dichotomy between adult and child learners, arguing that children have experiences that shape their learning as well, and benefit from contextualised experiential learning. It can be argued that andragogy is not so much a theory of adult learning, but a framework for good teaching.
  5. Later, Knowles did adjust his position, acknowledging the need to look at which assumptions apply when looking at a particular learning context, rather than looking specifically at the age of the learner. The andragogist, he argued, even if starting from a pedagogic perspective will try to move to andragogic practice as soon as possible.
  6. This approach can be applied regardless of the age of the learner and suggests that andragogy could be viewed simply as good teaching practice.
In the part of this section you learnt about androgogy and the assumptions regarding adult learners. These assumptions are applicable in whatever model they learn. The next part discusses the importance of developing interactive online learning through connecting learners and learners, learners and experts and learners and content.
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1. Define the term andragogy.

2. What are the six assumptions about adult learners? Describe each in one sentence.







This section presented the meaning of andragogy as the theory of adult learning. It also examined the six assumptions about adult learners. The next section is about the importance of developing interactivity in online learning.

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