Summary on Adult Learning Theories

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The central question on how adults learn has caught the attention of scholars and practitioners since the 1920s. Eighty years later, there is no single answer, theory or model that explains what the scholar and practitioners know about adult learners, various contexts where learning takes place and the process of learning. Until the mid-twentieth, in order to have an understanding of adult learning, adult educators relied on research in psychology and educational psychology. As part of the form to differentiate adult education from other forms of education, adult educators began to consider if adult learning could be distinguished from learning in childhood. The new focus of what was different about adult learning then emerged. And this led to the context in which two of the field’s most important theory-building efforts –andragogy and self directed learning emerged in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Andragogy and self directed learning were then eclipsed by transformational learning and other approaches in 1990’s. The three theories/models of adult learning, i.e andragogy, self directed learning and transformational learning are distinct in that each has been developed and promoted by adult educators interested in differentiating adult learning from the learning of children.

In 1968, Malcom Knowles proposed “a new label and technology” to distinguish from the preadult learning schooling. He defined the European concept of anadragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”. Five assumptions underlying andragogy describe the adult learner as someone who (1) has an independent self concept and who can direct his or her own learning, (2) has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning, (3) has learning needs closely related to...
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