Last week’s post ended with an intention to return to 5 key Assumptions that underpinned Malcolm Knowles’ work on the distinctive needs of adult learners. So here goes…



The first two assumptions seem (to me at least!) fairly self-evident;

  • Unlike children (who up to a point in time participate in school lessons uncritically) we grown-ups are far less tolerant of learning without an obvious purpose to it.
  • As time is a most precious commodity in our fast-paced world, adults expect learning to be relevant, applicable and of some immediate use.

But then it gets a little more complicated…

The proposition that adults bring a wealth of experience to the table is both a defining feature of adult learning and a classic “double-edged sword”.

The experience adults possess is indeed a rich resource for learning, and when it is recognised as such and made use of – by trainers and adult learners alike – great things can happen in the collaborative training room.

Adults do indeed find their voice, and become more response-able and less dependent on the trainer of facilitator. In other words, more self-directing

However, as Knowles observed, prior experiences can also form considerable barriers to participation and collaborative learning. For some adults, accepting personal responsibility for learning can seem an alien concept, and may require some considerable unlearning first.

And then of course there is the whole question of Motivation.

But I think we will leave that one for next week…

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