Malcolm Knowles: the Father of Andragogy


Low academic achievement, school safety, and student discipline, are some of the many issues that schools in America face today (Litvinov, Alvarez, Long, & Walker, 2018). The growing need to address these concerns have prompted federal, state, and local educational entities to adjust standard practices.
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In an effort to address literacy deficits, states such as Florida and South Carolina require some teachers to become literacy or reading endorsed. South Carolina’s Read to Succeed Act and Just Read, Florida! require teachers to complete additional coursework so that they can embed effective reading strategies and methods in instruction (South Carolina Department of Education, 2016; Florida Department of Education, n.d.). The belief is that if teachers have a knowledge base of the components of reading instruction and understand how to deliver that information to students, students’ level of comprehension will increase (Hillsborough County Public Schools, 2019).
Landrum, Sweigart, and Collins (2019), believe that schools are one of the safest places for students. Yet, school gun violence has affected the lives of over 187,000 students in America since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting (Litvinov, Alvarez, Long, & Walker, 2018). Although this is statistically a low number, school shootings stun the nation when they happen causing schools to reevaluate discipline systems, establish threat assessment teams, and train school personnel (National Council for Behavior Health, 2019). Although controversial, preparing for intruders through active shooter and lockdown drills is a common practice in schools for both teachers and students (Brown, 2019).
Suspending students to combat discipline issues is a common practice in American schools (Shollenberger, 2015). While it is necessary for schools to maintain a safe environment, suspension is widely associated with the school-to-prison-pipeline (STTP), a system bridging students in K-12 schools with the criminal justice system (McCarter, 2017). Sandick, Hahn, and Hassoun (2019) acknowledged that many schools are now using restorative justice practices to build relationships, confront conflict, and increase student accountability instead of using suspensions as the primary discipline method. While the idea of restorative justice practices is good in theory, a point of contention is whether teachers and school personnel implement the model effectively (Buckmaster, 2016).
The connection between requiring additional endorsements, participating in active shooter drills, and using restorative practices to curve discipline problems is the need for professional development so that there is fidelity with program implementation. Mizell (2010) defines professional development as the learning opportunities connected to a person’s job or career. He further explains that the outcome of professional development is for students and teachers to increase their knowledge and understanding of a specific skill. Professional development is the place where teachers become the students.
Teachers are not implementing the mandated reading curriculum in School District X with fidelity (Paur, personal communication, April 14, 2020). Several questions emerge. What is preventing teachers from fully implementing the program? Have teachers learned enough about the curriculum to use as an instructional guide? Have teachers received adequate training and coaching? How did teachers receive training? When considering content delivery in professional development, and how adults learn, Malcolm Knowles’ theory of andragogy emerges.
Contents [show]1 Biographical Information2 History of Adult Learning3 Andragogy Theory and its History
Biographical Information
Malcolm Shepard Knowles, husband and father of two children, was born on August 24, 1913 in Livingston, Montana. He earned an A.B. degree in 1934 from Harvard University, a M.A. degree in 1949 from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. degree in education from the University of Chicago. Additionally, he served his country as an officer in the United States Navy. Professionally, Malcolm Knowles worked in many capacities. His jobs and titles included being a professor at several universities and director of adult education programs (Bates, 2009; Malcolm Shepard Knowles, n.d.). In addition to being a professor, Knowles was also a writer. He authored hundreds of articles and several books including The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy vs. Pedagogy, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, and Andragogy in Action. Knowles died at the age of 84 on November 27, 1997 due to a stroke (Saxson, 1997).
History of Adult Learning
Adult learning is not a new concept. In the book, The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, the authors describe how three different ancient groups taught adults. The Chinese used a strategy called the case method where adults used parables to illustrate different circumstances. Then, then members of the group would investigate circumstances and work together to find solutions. The Greeks used the Socratic Dialogue. This strategy involved presenting adults with a question and having them think through the process together to answer the question. The Romans challenged the adults by making them state and defend their positions of a given topic. While different in approach, each method involved adults participating in the inquiry process to explore different phenomena as opposed to being given new information directly (Knowles, Horton, & Swanson, 2005).
In 1961, Cyril O. Houle, studied twenty-two adults and concluded that adult learners who continue their education can be categorized into three groups – goal oriented, activity oriented, and learning oriented. Goal oriented learners want to further their education because there is a specific objective or need that they want to address. Activity oriented learners continue their education because they enjoy the social interaction. There is no connection between the content of the learning and what the adult takes away from learning. Learning-oriented adults naturally seeking knowledge for themselves. They are intrinsically motivated to gain more information (Gordon, 1993; Knowles, 1973).
Allen Tough, a graduate student of Houle, furthered Houle’s studies and examined the motivation behind adult learning. According to Knowles (1973), Tough believed that adults related learning to completing projects broken into small components called episodes. The goal behind the projects is to learn more about a specific topic or skill or gather information to better oneself. Tough’s research supports the idea that adult learning is self-directed. Specifically, adults direct 70% of their own learning, leaving 20% to nonprofessionals and 5 – 10% to professional developers (McLagan, 2017; Roberson 2005).
Malcolm Knowles, another graduate student of Houle, looked past the why adults learned and their motivations for learning and took it a step further. Knowles studied how adults learned and he is responsible for the theory of andragogy.
Andragogy Theory and its History
Andragogy is the study of adult learning. Although Mathew Knowles is credited with being the father of the theory, the word andragogy can be traced prior to the birth of Knowles. Henschke (2009) traces the origin andragogy back to the 1800s. In 1833, Alexander Kapp, a German high school teacher, published a book titled Plato’s Educational Ideas. Kapp’s position was that education is a human value and men who have vocational training are the family father. Henschke also explains that andragogy appears again in 1925, when Rosenstock-Huessy encouraged German citizens to educate themselves and make the country better.
Rosenstock-Huessy believed that the practice of adult learning would make the country better and recover from the devastation of World War I. Eduard Linderman brought the concept of andragogy to the United States in the late 1920s. Based on the research, one may ask why Malcolm Knowles received credit for the theory of andragogy if andragogy existed before him. Knowles receives the credit because he was the person who first contrasted pedagogy and andragogy (Henschke, 2009).

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