Knowles' Six Principles of Adult Learning

Andragogy (adult learning) is a theory that holds a set of assumptions about how adults learn. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic (traditional lecturing or teacher "knows all" model), and also recognises more equality between the teacher and learner.

Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in 1950's and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970s by Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as "the art and science of helping adults learn."

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Intrinsically motivated students have a desire to achieve and learn for their own purposes while extrinsically motivated students want to impress others. The following examples can be used to help encourage self-directed learning:

  • Set up a learning program that moves from more to less structure, from less to more responsibility and from more to less direct supervision, at an appropriate pace that is challenging yet not overloading for the student.
  • Establish an environment where students feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves – have open lines of communication, involve all students and encourage group based problem solving.
  • Involve learners in mutual planning of the placement experience – be aware of student's previous experiences and discuss goals and expectations at beginning of placement. The use of learning contracts (see discipline specific resources) involves the students in diagnosing their own needs, encouraging internal motivation.
  • Involve students in evaluating their own learning – this can develop their skills of critical reflection. Use of diaries, reflection journals and problem solving sessions.
  • Encourage learners to identify resources and devise strategies for using the resources to achieve their objectives. Ensure students are aware of all resources available at the facility (Library, Cochrane Library, MIMS, X-Rays, Clinical Results, protocols and guidelines) and direct them to use these when there are deficits in theoretical knowledge.
  • Support learners in carrying out their learning plans, giving constructive (both positive and negative) and timely feedback.
  • Acknowledge the preferred learning style of the student (see Identifying Learning Styles).

Adults like to be given the opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and experiences gained throughout their life and apply it to their new learning experiences. As a clinical educator you can:

  • Find out about your student – their interests and past experiences (personal, work and study related).
  • Assist them to draw on those experiences when problem-solving, reflecting and applying clinical reasoning processes.
  • Facilitate reflective learning opportunities.

Adult students become ready to learn when "they experience a need to learn it in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems". Your role is to facilitate a student's readiness for problem-based learning and increase the student's awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented. As a professional practice supervisor, you can:

  • Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal, client and placement goals, as well as assessment.
  • Provide real case-studies (through client contact and reporting) as a basis from which to learn about the theory. students value anecdotes of your own experience.
  • Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry and further research.

Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. Ways to help students see the value of their observations and practical experiences, throughout their placement, include:

  • Asking the student to do some reflection, for example, on what they expect to learn prior to the experience, or what they learnt after the experience, and how they might apply what they learnt in the future, or how it will help them to meet their learning goals.

Students benefit from regular 'teaching sessions' – time spent debriefing about the experiences they have had during the day. Students can share the experience and brainstorm to problem solve together.

Through clinical placement, interacting with real clients and their real life situations, students move from theory knowledge to hands-on problem solving where they can recognise firsthand how what they are learning applies to life and the work context.

Respect can be demonstrated to your student by:

  • Taking an interest in the student.
  • Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the student brings to the placement.