When determining Knowles' signature contribution to my views on teaching, I am torn between his views on self-directed learning and his efforts to fully developing the concept of andragogy. In the end, my experiences with teaching MBAs led me to hone in on andragogy, principally because of the flexibility it calls for when teaching mixed-experienced classes.
Knowles' foundation for andragogy is based upon five foundational views of the difference between adult learners and non-adult learners. These differences can be summarized as follows:
1. individuals become more self-directed as they mature
2. as a person matures, they develop a tool-box of experiences that provide more resources for learning
3. adult learners become more oriented toward learning associated with their professional and social roles
4. mature learners are more oriented toward immediate application of specific learning as opposed to delayed application of general knowledge
5. the motivation to learn becomes internalized as the learner matures
Knowles' views , and their impact on teaching strategy, were brought home to me when teaching a class on Quality Management ("QM") to a group of MBAs. Nearly ⅔
of the class were recent undergrads, all of whom lacked any general managerial experience, and certainly any experience with QM techniques. A handful of the class had meaningful management experience, but little in the way of QM. Then there were the three students who were all certified at various levels in Six Sigma, a particular form of QM.
It became apparent that a general approach to teaching QM, along with a set of undifferentiated outcomes, just wouldn't work for the class. The three Six Sigma experts needed little guidance in that field, but could use help extending their knowledge into other branches of QM. In addition, they were far more knowledgeable than me in the application of technique, and so could become a great learning resource for the rest of the class. The handful of experienced managers clearly wanted to learn the aspects of QM that they could take back to their jobs, echoing Knowles' view of adult learners being more oriented toward their social roles. Finally, the balance of the class was open to any and all knowledge of QM, with varying degrees of interest and aptitude. Lacking most of the characteristics of Knowles' adult learners, they were, for all intents and purposes, not
We ripped up the syllabus, set up some teams comprising inexperienced and experienced MBAs, established a "mentorship" role for the three Six Sigma experts, and reoriented the work toward hands-on practical situations. It worked out great, and really put Knowles' view of andragogy and the distinction between adult and non-adult learners into perspective.
The side note: it reminded me of why I try never to write a complete syllabus until I get to know something about the students. Different stages of life … different needs … different learning approaches.