exploring “andragogy” and the work of Malcolm S. Knowles
Head map


I debate with myself. A lot. At times this seemingly unending stream of thoughts leads to unease and pinch of insomnia. I like to feel at peace with my thoughts, but I’ve really struggled with my latest unit of study. Andragogy, pedagogy, professional development and learning, adult educational theory, and how all of those pieces fit together… Throw them all together in a bowl with an extra dash of fatigue and you’ve got a recipe for confusion. What started out as a relatively simple blog post has morphed into a complex and interrelated tangle of educational theory and experiences. You know when you carefully pack away your Christmas lights at the end of the season and then go to unpack them the next year?

tangled Christmas lights

Yeah. I think that’s roughly what the neurons in my brain currently resemble. With that in mind, literally, I thought I’d open up my journal…

Tuesday, January 17

Andragogyandragogy definition

As opposed to pedagogy, the study of how teaching children. Got it. Google?…

Wikipedia entry on Malcolm S. Knowles

The adult learning theory of Malcolm S. Knowles

I should make an infographic explaining Knowles’ theories. Nevermind, someone else already did a better job than I could have…

Knowles andragogy infographic

Knowles’ Six Principles of Adult Learning

  1. Adult Learners are Motivated and Self-Directed
  2. Adult Learners Bring Life Experience and Knowledge
  3. Adult Learners are Goal Oriented
  4. Adult Learners are Relevancy Oriented
  5. Adult Learners are Practical
  6. Adult Learners Like to be Respected

This blog post is going to be easy…

So, to sum up: Adults learn differently than kids. It can’t be that simple, is it?

Wednesday, January 18

I think I’ve got a triggering event that will work for the topic:

What role do adult learning principles play in planning educational technology professional development?

Vague enough that I can put my own spin on the topic, without having to do too much extra reading this week (I am still trying to catch up from being sick at the beginning of the quarter)…  So how does andragogy fit in with professional development? Edutopia here I come… Holy cow. So many resources. Where to start? Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation Ha! Pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now. “School leaders and coaches must foster a culture that celebrates the discomfort inevitably resulting from change. And that requires three key strategies: 1) Empathize 2) Model 3) Celebrate.” That represents a massive shift in culture. It’s not an easy fix, especially when thinking of the layers of tradition in professional development.

Thursday, January 19

I haven’t even scratched the surface, but something’s bugging me… Much of what I’m reading about andragogy focuses on differences between adult learners and young learners. And nearly everything leads to Malcolm S. Knowles. Hasn’t anyone taken up his mantle? And have his theories been proven? How? Anytime I come across a theory that’s so closely tied to one individual, I always become a bit of a skeptic. Does andragogy appear in Snopes? Nope.

And what about the fact that our world is very different from that of Knowles? Take a look at this article Malcolm wrote about buying his first computer (I accessed it online at my local library http://www.sno-isle.org/research/). The guy literally wrote a letter to Steve Jobs and the microcomputer industry because he was having a hard time installing and using word processing software. And Apple sent an Apple employee to his home for a day to try and help him through the technical difficulties. Unsuccessfully. Yesterday my kid installed a spelling game app on his iPad. With no help from me. He’s 7. There was no instruction manual. My 9 year old is working on a book report. He started the project at school; everything’s saved in the cloud; his learning is extended from his classroom to our kitchen computer; and now he’s writing an email to his teacher to apologize for the fact that his work will be late because he should have started this project a week ago.

Friday, January 20

So are there other models, related to andragogy? Or principles that don’t lead directly to Knowles’ work? I swear, ANY Google result for “andragogy” is roughly ½ a degree of separation from good ol’ Malcolm. Interesting and slightly related fact: Malcolm Knowles is separated by only four degrees from Kevin Bacon on Wikipedia. Pike’s Five Laws of Learning. I’ve seen that mentioned a few times.  Hmmm, let’s take a look:

Law 1: Adults are Babies with Big Bodies
Law 2: People Don’t Argue with Their Own Data
Law 3: Learning is Directly Proportional to the Amount of Fun You Have
Law 4: Learning has not Taken Place Until Behavior has Changed
Law 5: When You Can Transfer Learning to Someone Else, You’ve Confirmed Competence

Here’s another site on understanding adult learners that blends Knowles and Pike. But really, all of this stuff applies to kids and adults alike. Yeah, learning should be fun, we should keep the learner’s experience in mind, yada yada yada… this is leading nowhere. Are we shortchanging our kids by sticking to pedagogical models of yesteryear? Are they really that different than us grown-ups when it comes to learning?   

Sunday, January 22

Reading the Seattle Times with a cup of coffee (the first of many today). What a great opinion piece on school funding by the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nathan Gibbs-Bowling. Co-founder of Teachers United… Let’s take a look… What’s this? “House Bill 1345, which defines professional learning for teachers in the state of Washington, was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on March 31, 2016. […] Teachers United worked with our legislators to recommend policy and craft the language of the bill.” We have a House Bill that defines professional learning? And when did “professional development” become “professional learning” and is there even a difference? Great, now I’ve got to go find what the bill actually says. Adopting a definition and standards of professional learning (HB 1345: 2015-16). And why haven’t I heard a thing about this legislation? They all sound like great ideas, but is this just another unfunded mandate from our legislature? And how can I leverage this document to push for more effective professional development for myself and my colleagues?

Monday, January 23

Searched by .pdf filetype on Google. I always forget about trying that. Here’s an interesting resource by Marcia Cross looking at andragogy and pedagogy. Oh my goodness, yes! “Unfortunately, andragogy usually is cited in education texts as the way adults learn. Knowles himself concedes that four of andragogy’s five key assumptions apply equally to adults and children. The sole difference is that children have fewer experiences and pre-established beliefs than adults and thus have less to relate.” I think this is a lot of what’s been throwing me for a loop. On one hand we’re saying adults learn differently, PD needs to be different, even state law says so. And yet, in much of my experience, it’s not changing. Stand and deliver doesn’t work; “one and done” trainings aren’t a sustainable or effective model and yet they persist. Why? And is it really a continuum of learning, from pedagogy to andragogy? I know I’ve seen kids that are more andragogical learners (especially in regards to technology) than some educators I’ve worked with over the past fifteen years…

Tuesday, January 24

What really separates pedagogy and andragogy? Kids from adult learners? Time and experience. So is that it? Seems a bit short for a blog post. Gotta keep reading.

Wednesday, January 25

Youngest kid is sick. I don’t want to get sick again. Wash hands, rinse, repeat. Please don’t get sick.

Thursday, January 26

Now I’m sick. So much nose blowing. Ugh.

Friday, January 27

I thought I’d revisit a book I purchased last year to try and give my brain a vacation from “andragogy”. I grown to appreciate the writing of Alfie Kohn. I greatly respect educators who ask questions. Not questioning just to be difficult or different, but questioning to truly seek out answers to complex issues. So let’s relax with a book…

Alfie Kohn - Feel Bad Education book cover

Well, so much for relaxing. Reading Kohn’s “‘Well, duh!’ — Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring”, I’m thinking to myself: “Pretty much all of these apply to all learners, not just kids, so what the heck is andragogy?”

  1. Much of the material that students are required to memorize is soon forgotten
  2. Just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean that one is smart
  3. If kids have different talents, interests, and ways of learning, it’s probably not ideal to teach all of them the same things — or in the same way
  4. Students are more likely to learn what they find interesting
  5. Students are less interested in whatever they’re forced to do and more enthusiastic when they have some say.
  6. Just because X raises standardized test scores, doesn’t mean X should be done
  7. Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about
  8. We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically
  9. Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or test) is harder, doesn’t mean it’s better
  10. Kids aren’t just short adults
  11. Education policies that benefit (or appeal to) large corporations aren’t necessarily good for children
  12. Substance matters more than labels

Wait, Alfie Kohn is bad for me? Willingham seems like a great guy, too. Well, crap. Now I don’t know what to think.

Saturday, January 28

Seriously? Ebsco just went down for maintenance… 😐

Okay, why can I not get this blog post started? I agree with nearly all of the andragogical ideas regarding improving professional learning for educators. What’s nagging at me? I think it’s the unease of the efficacy of Knowles’ andragogy model in relation to our student expectations. We’re asking them to do things that they’re not ready for developmentally. Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the basis for our Washington State TPEP model of teacher observation and development. In order to step up into the category of “distinguished”, learning must shift into student control and direction. How can these elementary kids possibly be self-directed and motivated when those are the very andragogical skills that develop through experience and age? I understand that scaffolding those experiences can assist with the progression, but are they really ready for that model of freedom at such a young age? Today’s kindergarten work is yesterday’s 1st and 2nd grade curriculum. So has andragogy been pushed into lower grades as well? Creativity and play and social skills have been pushed aside to better prepare for rote skills. There are so many disconnects, I don’t know where to begin…

Sunday, January 29

This blog post is not writing itself. I still have no idea what I’m writing about…

Sometimes I'll start a sentence

Wait, “heutagogy”… I thought I’d already read about all of the -gogies? This article looks at the idea of shifting from the self-directed learning of andragogy and into self-determined and autonomous learning of heutagogy.

progression of learning model(Blaschke 2012, 60)

Is this learning progression a more accurate model for today’s learners?


Monday, January 30

I don’t know. All of that reading, all of that thinking, and I still don’t know. In fact, I know I’ve got more unanswered questions now than when I first began this unit.

I’m including a list of references that I’ve explored these past couple of weeks. It’s a ridiculously long list for the trivial blog post that emerged, and it’s not even complete. I especially enjoyed reading many of the magazine articles by Knowles himself (many in Training & Development Journal), to gain a better understanding of his voice and his thinking. I wonder how he would react today to the near canonization of his theory of adult learning, and also how he would view the students of today, especially keeping in mind the changing nature of our technology? Would Knowles agree with Knowles from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s?

I just realized I haven’t even answered my triggering question. One of my deepest struggles during this time of introspection and exploration has been running all of this theory of andragogy through the filter of my own district’s professional development. And knowing that it may get worse before it gets better. We need instructional coaches. We need professional learning based on a foundation of trust built on relationships. We need to escape the culture of learning that is focused squarely on SBA test results rather than the skills and creativity of our staff. Our professional development model needs to shift, as does our teaching, but I just don’t know how to be a change agent for that necessary shift in the face of high-stakes testing. And that is a hard mental pill for me to swallow.

So what can I do? For now, I can take comfort in the simple focus of these words from Knowles in an October 1989 Training & Development Journal column “Learning to Be Authentic”:

knowles quote

I can focus on just being myself, especially when working with colleagues towards professional learning. I think that is truly the key to bringing about change… Realizing that every learner brings their story to the table, and I bring mine. 

(I hope you have enjoyed this journey into my thinking process from these past couple weeks. Please note that I omitted many random thoughts that occurred throughout this time, especially an abnormally large number of Bugs Bunny cartoons that seemed to be on repeat in my head… the operatic “Kill the Wabbit!” was quite popular this week, for some reason. If there are any dream interpreters out there, I don’t want to know what it means.) -JH


Australian Catholic University. (2015, December 16). Knowles’ six principles of adult learning. Retrieved from http://www.acu.edu.au/798038

Bretzmann, J. (2015). Personalized PD: Flipping your professional development. New Berlin, WI: The Bretzmann Group.

Benjes-Small, C., & Archer, A. (2014, January 13). Tales of the undead… learning theories: The learning pyramid [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://acrlog.org/2014/01/13/tales-of-the-undead-learning-theories-the-learning-pyramid

Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ979639.pdf

Carpenter, J. (2016). Teachers at the wheel. Educational Leadership, 73(8), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may16/vol73/num08/Teachers-at-the-Wheel.aspx

Conner, M. (n.d.). Introduction to andragogy + pedagogy. Retrieved from http://marciaconner.com/resources/andragogy-pedagogy/

Edmunds, C., Lowe, K., Murray, M., & Seymour, A. (2002). Ultimate adult learning. In The ultimate educator: Achieving maximum learning through training and instruction. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/educator/welcome.html

Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). Conclusion: Beyond the app generation. In The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world (pp. 155-197). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Henschke, J. (2011). Considerations regarding the future of andragogy. Adult Learning, 22(1), 34-37. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/104515951102200109

Knowles, M. S. (1976). Separating the Amateurs from the Pros in Training. Training & Development Journal, 30(9), 16.

Knowles, M. S. (1983). Malcolm Knowles Finds A Worm in His Apple. Training & Development Journal, 37(5), 12.

Knowles, M. (1989, October). Learning to be authentic. Training & Development Journal, 43(10), 42.

Kohn, A. (1993). Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(1). Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/choices-children/

Kohn, A. (2011). “Well, duh!”: Obvious truths that we shouldn’t be ignoring. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling (pp. 1-17). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (n.d.). Massachusetts standards for professional development (HQPD). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.doe.mass.edu/pd/standards.html

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The adult learning theory (andragogy) of Malcolm Knowles – eLearning Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles (accompanying infographic: http://elearninginfographics.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Adult-Learning-Theory-Andragogy-Infographic.jpg)

Phillips, P. (2017, January 4). Personalizing professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdSurge News. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-04-personalizing-professional-development-for-teachers-by-teachers

Pike, R. (2013, June 3). Creative training techniques 101: The basics [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bobpikegroup.com/blog/78

Siko, J. P., & Hess, A. N. (2014). Win-win professional development: Providing meaningful professional development while meeting the needs of all stakeholders. TechTrends, 58(6), 99-108. doi:10.1007/s11528-014-0809-7

Strickland, C. A. (2009). What is high-quality professional development for differentiating instruction. In Professional development for differentiating instruction: An ASCD action tool. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109042/chapters/What_Is_High-Quality_Professional_Development_for_Differentiating_Instruction.aspx

Swanson, K. (2014). EdCamp: Teachers take back professional development. Educational Leadership, 71(8), 36-40. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/Edcamp@-Teachers-Take-Back-Professional-Development.aspx

Washington State Legislature. (2016). Adopting a definition and standards of professional learning (HB 1345: 2015-16). Retrieved from http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1345&Year=2015