How Adult Learning Theory Influenced the Design of Our Learning Site

Posted by Jennifer Patterson  /  July 10, 2015  /  KnowledgeWave News, Training   —   1 Comments ↓

Hi, I’m the lead product manager here at KnowledgeWave, and I wanted to share with you some of the rationale and expertise that is behind the design of KLS, the KnowledgeWave Learning Site.Adult-Learning-Theory

I have always been interested in different approaches to teaching and learning. (So interested that I passed up scholarship money at a nearby college in favor of a school 2,000 miles away because it featured a fascinating academic schedule. Which I loved. But that’s a different story - back to KLS.)

Meet Malcolm Knowles

I’m still intrigued by various approaches to learning, and I now have an obvious professional interest in understanding how to help adults learn to use software technology. I recently spent time studying Malcolm Knowles, who used the term andragogy to describe his ideas about adult learning.

Knowles writes that andragogy is a "model of assumptions about learning or a conceptual framework that serves as a basis for an emergent theory."[1] Knowles was a pioneer in thinking about adult education and how it might differ from approaches to childhood education. Every training initiative geared toward adult employees can benefit from a working knowledge of his framework.

The 6 assumptions of andragogy

These 6 points sum up Knowles’ model of adult learning:

  1. Need to know: Adults are more motivated when they understand why they should learn something.
  2. Foundation: Adults have a deep well of experience that provide an important foundation for learning. Even mistakes are useful building blocks.
  3. Readiness: Adults are more motivated to learn subjects that have immediate relevance.
  4. Orientation to learning: Adult motivation is often more problem-centered, as opposed to subject-centered.
  5. Motivation: Internal motives are more compelling than external for adult learning.
  6. Self-concept: Adults need to be self-directed in their learning paths.

I find it interesting that some sources list only 5 cornerstones, not 6. Over the course of his career, Malcolm back-pedaled on the self-concept assumption. It turns out that lack of knowledge can hinder self-direction when learning new subjects. Having a subject-matter expert design the course of study can be helpful and motivating.

Adult learning theory and KLS

Andragogy has heavily influenced the design of the KnowledgeWave Learning Site (KLS).

  1. Need to know: We tie software training to job responsibilities as much as we can within our videos and webinars. In our remote classes, we also ask each participant to describe why they are taking the class and how the skills learned will be useful in their work.
    We also encourage your organization to explicitly communicate the link between learning opportunities that you provide and your company vision, team goals and job responsibilities.
  2. Foundation/Experience: Many of our videos have practice files available so that you can follow along with the lesson using your own copy of the software. Videos have the added benefit that you can go back and watch again to really cement the skills. Furthermore, our remote classes all have extensive hands-on practice exercises built in so you can get immediate feedback from the instructor.
  3. Readiness: On-demand videos meet this need perfectly. Learners can focus on the skills they need to learn, just in time to apply the skills in their work.
  4. Orientation to learning: On-demand videos fit here, too. Our video library allows your employees to maintain a problem-oriented focus, quickly absorbing the lessons that are most relevant to whatever they are trying to accomplish.
  5. Motivation: By providing achievements that people can earn, we are leveraging gamification, which is known to tap into adult motivation. We also send out a few messages a month to our members, reminding them of available training opportunities in an effort to connect with their internal motivations on an ongoing basis.
  6. Self-concept: There is plenty of research showing that employees want you to invest in their training, so it doesn’t take much effort to get them to engage in their own learning pathways. We encourage your organization to develop a culture of continuous learning and personal responsibility for learning. 

Do you want to learn more about the pros and cons of virtual training? Download our complimentary eBook, "Skills Training in a Box."

Skills Training In a Box, Download eBook

See my companion article: How Andragogy Can Help Super-Charge Your Employee Training Efforts which is graciously posted by the Vermont Chapter Association for Talent Development.

[1] Knowles, M. (1989) The making of an adult educator: An autobiographical journey (Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Topics: KnowledgeWave News, Training