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Adult Learning Assumptions Research Paper

Six Key Assumptions Provided by Knowles

Knowles’s work is narrowed to the analysis of theories of adult learning. His concept of andragogy is the most well-known theory of adult development. Hence, the scope of Knowles (2005) model is based on the six basic assumptions concerning adults and their attitude to learning:

  1. Adults are more self-directed rather than dependent;
  2. The main resource for learning is constant accumulation of experience;
  3. Their desire to acquire knowledge and to learn is predetermined by their social roles;
  4. Adult are considered to be more subject-oriented rather problem-oriented in the course of learning;
  5. They believe that internal motivations are less powerful as compared with the external ones;
  6. Finally, it is important for adult learners to know why it is crucial to learn something (Knowles et al., 2005).

All these assumptions are considered to be critical for designing effective educational models for adult learners.

Analysis of the Assumptions with Regard to Other Critical Evaluations

The above-presented assumptions have been reviewed and evaluated by other scholars engaged into the study of adult learning, including various theories and models. Merriam et al. (2007) agree with some assumptions provided by Knowles. In particular, the researchers single out three main methods for transformational learning: development, experience and critical reflection.

They also consider experience as an important factor for creating a great opportunity for adult learners. MacKeracher (2004) also assumers that “Knowles clearly succeeded in encouraging adult educators to be more critically reflective about their assumptions about adult learners and adult learning” (p. 24).

Despite the fact that some assumptions are quite logical and consistent, Merriam et al. (2007) contend that Knowles succeeded only in introducing a teaching theory rather than the model for adult learning.

In particular, they state that there is an ambiguity in Knowles’s assumptions concerning the theory orientation. In particular, they believe that it is hard to define whether this theory is designed for teaching or learning, for adults or for children.

Knowles’s Two Assumptions That Almost Wrong

Much critics and discontent is connected with his assumptions about adults orientation on subjects and their readiness to move from dependence to self-directed approaches to learning. Therefore, the first and the fourth assumptions are considered to be wrong and this can also be proven by other scholarly researches in this field.

Hence, as it has been mentioned before, MacKeracher (2004) presupposes that these assumptions are quite controversial. In particular he believes that “[t]he change from ‘self-directed’ to ‘increasing self-directness’ and from ‘problem centered’ to ‘performance-centered’ did not satisfy those who saw the Knowles’ distinction between child and adult learning as being based on assumptions that would not hold up under close scrutiny’” (pp. 23-24).

Second, the falsity of assumption also lies in some psychological characteristic of a person. Hence, some adults are not self-directed because they need some support and guidance in learning, whereas there are children who are internally directed and independent in learning (Comings, Garner, and Smith, p. 203).

Knowles’ Two Assumptions That are Almost Right

With regard to the studies and theories examined by scholars (Merriam et al. 2007, MacKeracher, 2004, Comings et al. 2004), the second and the third assumptions are considered to be quite consistent and appropriate for andragogical learning conceptions. All of them agree with the assumption that experience is reservoir of knowledge and the main underpinning of a learning process.

Merriam et al. (2007) believe that a person’s accumulated experience provide relevant and effective opportunities and is closely connected with the learning process. The researchers also believe that experience is a significant aspect affecting adult learners’ ability to obtain, accumulate, and transfer knowledge.

According to MacKeracher (2004), “Adults accumulate experience and prior learning over their lifetime, the older they grow, the more past experience and prior learning they bring to bear on current learning” (p. 33).

Interpreting this, the researcher completely agrees with the fact that experience is the main underpinning for learners’ development. More importantly, experience is the source for creating and developing strategies and skills for reflecting and organizing reaction and interaction in the present.

Coming et al. (2004) support Knowles’s third assumption about the influence of social context on the learning process. The scholars insist on the fact that contextual environment play a decisive role in adults development and knowledge accumulation (Coming et al, 2004, 209).

Indeed, context based learning can tale place in the working environment where adults are interacting, becoming the parts of community. Therefore, the result of adults’ learning development largely depends on the social environment they are surrounded by as well as social roles adults perform.


Knowles’s (2005) assumptions about adult learning have created a plethora of contradictions that have been critically accepted by other scholars. Hence, his assumptions about adults’ self-directed orientation and problem-centered method of learning have not been supported by the other researcher.

This is explained by arguments correlated with psychological development of individuals. However, his arguments about experience and social role have been widely accepted by the scholars. In particular, they believe that social environment and experience accumulation are the main pillars for adult learners’ development and knowledge acquisition.

Reference List

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., and Swanson, R. (2005). The Adult Learner: the definite classic in adult education and human resource development. US: Butterworth-Heinemann.

MacKeracher, D. (2004). Making sense of adult learning. US: University of Toronto Press.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Coming, J. Garner, B., and Smith C. (2004). Review of Adult Learning and Literacy: Connecting Research, Policy and Practice: A Project of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. NJ: Routledge.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Adult Learning Assumptions'. 25 June.

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