Self-Directed Learning and Andragogy 4 pages

Self-Directed Learning and Andragogy

Self-directed learning

What do you think about self-directed learning in what and how we learn?

Self-directed learning is an often-unheralded part of learning. Out first learning experiences are self-directed — perhaps guided by a parent, but still ultimately self-directed in the way that these formative life processes are achieved. The way in which we learn to talk, to walk, and to engage with others is not learned in the classroom, but through self-directed trial and error — through experience. Encouraging students to feel confident about their ability to learn and encouraging them to use their learning in useful and meaningful ways is essential. Teachers must allow students to embark upon the learning process independently.

Students of all ages ask questions about the relevance of the knowledge they learn in the classroom and allowing them choice and autonomy facilitates their ability to make connections between the world of the classroom and their own, personal needs. A budding young chef is more likely to be interested in fractions if he or she understands how dividing can help him halve a recipe. Adult learners often come to the formal classroom environment with specific goals for their education and wish to understand how the diverse subjects they must study relate to that purpose. Allowing a future nurse in a speech class to choose her topic when giving a speech and to educate the students about Lyme disease prevention enables her to feel as if she is furthering her nursing education even in a class not specific to her discipline and purpose for getting her medical degree.

Can or should all learning be self-directed, why or why not?

However, not all learning can be self-directed. Not all aspects of a field of study will be equally interesting to a student. Additionally, some of the basics of grammar, math, and early language learning may be fairly technical and not lend themselves to self-directed learning. The direction of a teacher and the presence of other students can also be a powerful motivational device for the learner. Some students may not be ready to embark upon learning in a purely self-directed fashion or “psychologically prepared to take on self-directed learning…Initiative, independence, and persistence in learning; responsibility for one’s own learning; self-discipline; curiosity; ability to work independently; pleasure for learning; propensity to be goal-oriented; and tendency to view problems as challenges rather than obstacle” are all “psychological qualities involved in readiness for self-directed learning” (Conceicao, Simone & Rosemary Lehman 2003: 45).

Within the self-directed learning process, discuss the three types of models: linear, interactive, and instructional

In the linear mode of learning, students proceed through a specific, pre-determined syllabus without interacting with their professor or even other students very much. This is the ‘lecture class’ mode of knowledge transmission. Students must self-direct their learning and meet pre-determined standards, as on a test. The interactive method, however, depends upon interaction between students and teachers to set the goals of the classroom. Self-direction involves freedom of choice. A teacher might allow students considerable freedom in selecting what the class will read and in topics for final assignments. In the instructional model, the teacher still instructs the students, but tailors the instruction based upon student needs (Tapscott 2009).

How can adult learners be supported as participants to self-directed learning; by family members, employers, friends, instructors?

Family members can support the self-directed learner by allowing him or her to use classroom knowledge in real life activities, such as an art student teaching crafts to his or her child or painting a picture for the family living room. Employers can financially support self-directed learning activities that also have relevance to the workplace. Friends can likewise make creative suggestions about how hobbies can be integrated into what is learned in the classroom (like chemistry and cooking; personal journaling and literature; math and financial planning) and instructors can also encourage students to help create their own assignments that test the principles learned in the classroom.

Section II: Andragogy

Malcolm Knowles describes four assumptions of andragogy

Discuss those four assumptions and the implications for the design, implementation, and evaluation of learning activities with adults.

1st assumption- As a person matures, his or her self-concept moves from that of a dependent personality toward one of a self-directing human being

There is often a greater need amongst adults to see the relevance of what is learned in the classroom to their ‘real life,’ and they are also, based upon the confidence given to them by being independent in their jobs and family life, less likely to accept and obey what an instructor says unquestioningly. Teachers must give reasons for why what is learned is important to the student, and give students more freedom and autonomy in assignment design. According to the principles of the educator John Dewey, learning is not merely preparation for life — learning is life (Connor 2004). Synthesis is a critical aspect of all adult education. Students should be given evaluation assignments that allow them to put what they learn into practice, and the implementation of the curriculum should be founded upon a ‘back and forth’ dialogue between teachers and learners.

2nd assumption — An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning.

Rather than fight against the natural inclination of the adult to use his or her experience to inform the theoretical knowledge of the classroom, a teacher should embrace it. “Experience is the adult learner’s living textbook” (Connor 2004). Adult learners should not be discouraged from talking about how their life experiences are reflected in what is discussed in class, and can be given the option for assessment techniques that make use of real-life resources. A nutrition class could call upon learners to assess and compare the nutritional ratios of different family member’s diets and attempt to create a more balanced meal plan for the family, for example.

3rd assumption – The readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role.

Adults, regardless of their enthusiasm for the subject, often see their learning in the classroom as an extension of their social role. A nurse or a doctor is learning about how to better perform his or her social role as a healthcare worker; a mother returning to the workforce may see her ability to obtain a new career as critical to her improving the economic fortunes of her family. A teacher must connect the learning experience to the world outside, and bring in his or her own ‘real world’ examples to the classroom as well as encourage students to share their experiences from their own lives.

4th assumption – There is a change in time perspective as people mature-from future application of knowledge to immediacy of application. Thus, an adult is more problem centered than subject centered in learning (Knowles, 1980, pp.44-45).

An adult does not believe that the future is in the far, far distance like a child or adolescent. Rather, he or she believes the future is now. This sense of urgency of application should be honored, not ignored.


Conceicao, Simone & Rosemary Lehman. (2003). An evaluation of the use of learning objects as an instructional aid in teaching adults. Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education. Retrieved October 22, 2010 at

Conner, M.L. (2004). Andragogy and pedagogy. Ageless Learner. Retrieved October 22, 2010


Tapscott, Don. (2009). The impeding demise of the university. Edge: The Third Culture, 6 (4).

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