Adult learning began to be viewed as a separate field of learning in the 1970’s, when nontraditional students prompted by social context, demographics and technology began to seek continuing education or higher education in record numbers. Androgogy, a theory of learning proposed by Malcolm Knowles, “became a rallying point for those trying to define the field of adult education as separate from other areas of education” (Merriam, Caffarala, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 85). Attempting to distinguish adult learning from preadult learning, Knowles based his theory on a set of six assumptions that he believed were fundamental to the design of educational programs for adults (Merriam,et al., 2007, p. 84). Those six assumptions are that adults are self-directing, possess a reservoir of experience as a resource for, have a readiness to learn based on his social role, need to apply knowledge learned immediately, are intrinsically motivated and need a reason for learning new things (Merriam, et al., p. 84). Androgogy is “a set of assumptions about adult learners that learners and educators alike can use to strengthen the learning transaction” (Merriam, et al., 2007, p. 104).
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how my experience in a traditional learning context did not facilitate learning and would have been different if my teachers, fellow learners and I had employed the six assumptions of Knowles’s framework.
Traditional Learning Context
I worked for a couple of years as an insurance agent, selling health insurance products as well as life and long term disability insurance products. Since insurance sales is such a highly regulated field, mandatory training sessions were conducted frequently. Since sales is such a competitive business, the regional director for my company held mandatory motivational meetings at a conference center near headquarters on a weekly basis, often conducting training sessions after the business meeting.
Every meeting began with a motivational message which the regional director presented as a quote, a picture, or a video and then expanded upon with examples from her own life. The regional director always made the presentation. After that, she shared sales reports for the week, the month, and year-to date with the sales team, which was a diverse group composed of about sixty agents ranging in age from mid-30’s to late-60’s. She praised top sellers and exposed those with low sales. She carefully reiterated expectations and talked about consequences of not meeting those expectations. She developed sales methods and trained everyone on the same methods, providing scripts as she thought appropriate and warning that there would be no deviations from those scripts. No one was allowed to challenge the methods or share different but equally effective ones. These meetings were strictly lecture and no discussion was welcomed.
Knowles’s first assumption is that...