Andragogy – Definition:  the methods or techniques used to teach adults

Adult learning programs, according to the American educator Malcolm Knowles, must take into consideration two key differences in the ways that adults and children approach learning. These differences lie in the desires of adults:

  • To be self-directed
  • To take responsibility for decisions

One of Knowles’ key assumptions was that as a person matures, their time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result, their orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness.

In all of our consulting engagements, our goal is to catalyze the actions of participants. For us, this looks like having participants take what it is we have distinguished for them and immediately apply what they have learned to something they are working on currently. And they do this in the course of the work session, not after. Children learn mostly through practice and memory (again according to Knowles) and they generally learn from a teacher who is an authority figure. Adults on the other hand learn through experience and they learn from a teacher who is not a teacher but a facilitator. This application to real-world and relevant problems is what separates the work we do from most other management consultants’ methodologies.

Adult learning involves creating learning experiences that offer minimal instruction and maximum autonomy. It is also important to emphasize how the subject matter is going to solve problems that an adult learner will regularly encounter. The question in the background they will always be asking, whether they know this or not is, how does this help me? They have a need to know why they are learning something. If this question is not answered in some way then the likelihood of someone engaging is minimal or simply will not happen at all.

Some best practices to create the environment when teaching adults are as follows:

  • Encourage participation.
  • Facilitate more than you lecture.
  • Let the participants lead the learning.
  • Provide an opportunity for more people to have more “air time” to express opinions, add ideas, and ask questions.
  • Allow individuals to receive feedback in real-time.
  • Allow participants to learn from each other.
  • Create opportunities for more people to practice skills or apply knowledge at the same time.
  • Learning becomes more dynamic and active in small groups.
  • Encourage participants to know each other better, breaking down barriers and creating a more positive learning atmosphere.
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