Adult Learning Theory/Model
Learning & Learning Theories
• Although learning has been defined in a variety ways,
most definitions include the concepts of behavioral
change and experience. And has been of interest to
philosophers, psychologists, educators, and
politicians for centuries.
• The notion of change still underlies most definitions
of learning, although it has been modified to include
the potential for change.
• Likewise, the idea that having an experience of some
sort, rather than learning as a function of maturation,
is important. Thus learning can be defined as:
“ a process by which behavior changes as a result of
Learning & Learning Theories
• Learning as a PROCESS (rather than an end
product) focuses on what happens when the learning
takes place.
• Explanations of what happens are called learning
theories, and it is these theories that are subject of
this Adult Learning topic.
• Since there are dozens of learning theories and
volumes written describing them, this course chooses
4 orientations to learning that represent learning
theories in adulthood.
Learning & Learning Theories
4 learning orientations:
• Behaviorist
• Cognitivist
• Humanist
• Social learning
Learning & Learning Theories
The 4 orientations are based on
different assumptions about
nature of learning, the
strategies one might use to
enhance learning will depend
on one’s orientation.
Learning & Learning Theories
Social Learning
Pavlov, Watson,
Guthrie, Hull,
Thoman, Skinner
Koffka, Kohler,
Lewin, Piaget,
Ausubul, Bruner,
Maslow, Rogers
Bandura, Rotter
View of the
learning process
Change in
Internal mental
(including insight,
A personal act
to fulfill potential
Interaction with
and observation
of others in a
social context
Internal cognitive
Affective and
cognitive needs
Interaction of
behavior, and
Locus of learning Stimuli in
Learning & Learning Theories
Social Learning
Purpose of
change in
desired direction
Develop capacity
and skills to learn
Become selfactualized,
Model new roles
and behavior
Teacher’s role
environment to
elicit desired
content of
learning activity
development of
whole person
Models and
guides new roles
and behavior
Manifestation in
adult learning
•Competencybased education
development &
learning, and
memory as
function of age
•Learning how to
•Social roles
•Locus of control
Learning & Learning Theories
In brief…
Behaviorists define learning as a change in
behavior. The focus of their research is overt
behavior, which is a measurable response to
stimuli in the environment. The role of teacher
is to arrange the contingencies of
reinforcement in the learning environment so
that the desired behavior will occur. Findings
from behavioral learning theories can be seen
in training and vocational adult education
Learning & Learning Theories
In brief…
Researchers working from a cognitivist perspective
focus not on external behavior but on internal mental
processes. Cognitivists are interested in how the
mind makes sense out of stimuli in the environment –
how information is processed, stored, and retrieved.
This orientation is especially evident in the study of
adult learning from a developmental perspective. The
major concerns are how aging affects an adult’s
ability to process and retrieve information and how it
affects and adult’s internal mental structures.
Learning & Learning Theories
In brief…
Humanistic emphasizes on human nature, human
potential, human emotions and affect. Theorists in
this tradition believe that learning involves more than
cognitive processes and overt behavior. It is a
function of motivation and involves choice and
responsibility. Much of adult learning theory,
especially the concepts of andragogy and SDL, are
grounded in humanistic assumptions.
Learning & Learning Theories
In brief…
The perspective of social learning differs from the other
three in its focus on the social setting in which
learning occurs. From this perspective learning
occurs through the observation of people in one’s
immediate environment. Furthermore, learning is a
function of the interaction of the person, the
environment, and the behavior. Variations in behavior
under the same circumstances can be explained by
idiosyncratic personality traits and their unique
interaction with environmental stimuli. Social learning
theories contribute to adult learning by highlighting
the importance of social context and explicating the
processes of modeling and mentoring.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
• There is a dilemma of no single theory of
adult learning that includes all types of
• A phenomenon as complex as adult learning
will probably never be adequately explained
by a single theory.
• But many theories useful in improving our
understanding of adults as learners.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
• This section reviews seven different theory-building
efforts in adult learning.
1. Knowles’s andragogy
2. Cross’s CAL (Characteristic’s of adults as learners)
3. McClusky’s theory of margin
4. Knox’s proficiency theory
5. Jarvis’s model of the learning process
6. Mezirow’s perspective transformation
7. Freire’s conscientization
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
• How well the 7 theories explain adult learning?
• Is the theory comprehensive, includes all types of
• How practical the theory is?
• How universal its application might be?
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Adult learning theory can be divided into three
• those anchored in adult learners’ characteristics
• those based on an adult’s life situation
• those that focus on changes in consciousness
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on adult characteristics
• Andragogy (refer topic 2: andragogy ‘s critical
assumptions) – all of which are characteristics of
adult learners, has given them “a badge of identity”
• CAL model – offers a tentative framework to
accommodate current knowledge about what we
know about adult as learners.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on adult characteristics
• Consists of 2 classes of variables: personal
characteristics and situational characteristics.
Personal characteristics include physical,
psychological, and sociocultural dimensions (reflect
growth and development from childhood into adult
life). Situational characteristics focus on variables
unique to adult participants – e.g. part-time vs fulltime learning and voluntary vs compulsory
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on adult characteristics
• Cross believes that her model incorporates completed
research on aging, stage and phase developmental
studies, participation, learning projects, motivation, and so
• The model can also be used to stimulate research by
thinking across and between categories. It might be
asked, e.g. whether there is a “relationship between stage
of ego development and voluntary participation in
• Rather than suggesting implications for practice, as
Knowles’s andragogy does, CAL offers a framework for
thinking about what and how adults learn.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on an adult’s life situation
• McClusky’s theory of margin, Knox’s proficiency theory,
and Jarvis’s model of the learning process.
• McClusky’s - balance between the amount of energy
needed and the amount available. E.g. ratio between the
“load” of life and the “power” of life. We can control both by
modifying either power or load.
• May seem to apply more readily to formal learning
situations; informal learning can occur under conditions of
stress or, in McClusky’s terms, when load is greater than
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on an adult’s life situation
Knox’s proficiency theory
• Proficiency is defined as the capability to perform
satisfactorily if given the opportunity, and this performance
involves some combination of attitude, knowledge, and
• Explain “adult motivation and achievement in both learning
activities and life roles”.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on an adult’s life situation
• “all learning begins with experience”.
• Some experiences, however, are repeated with such
frequency that they are taken for granted and do not lead
to learning, e.g. driving a car, household routines.
• Throughout life, people are moving from social situation to
social situation; sometimes in conscious awareness but on
other occasions in a taken-for-granted manner.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on changes in consciousness
Have a stronger cognitive focus in that they deal with the
mental construction of experience and inner meanings
• Mezirow’s perspective of transformation – is the process of
becoming critically aware of how and why our
presuppositions have come to constrain the way we
perceive, understand, and feel about our world; of
reformulating these assumptions to permit a more
inclusive, discriminating, permeable, and integrative
perspective; and making decisions or otherwise acting
upon these new understandings.
• E.g. critically reflecting upon our lives, becoming aware of
why we attach the meanings we do to reality, especially to
our roles and relationships (not just adding to what we
already know).
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Theories based on changes in consciousness
• Freire’s theory – is more precisely a theory of education
(of which learning is an important component) in contrast
to Mezirow’s focus on learning process itself.
• Increasing awareness of one’s situation involves moving
from the lowest level of consciousness, where there is no
comprehension of how forces shape one’s life, to the
highest level of critical consciousness.
• E.g. Analysis of problems, Self awareness, and self
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Synthesis 1
Four of the theories (those of Knowles,
Cross, Knox, and McClusky) reveal
more about the learner’s characteristics,
his or her life situation, and the desired
outcomes of learning than they do about
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Synthesis 2
Three focus on the process of learning
itself – Jarvis’s, Mezirow’s and Freire’s
– but only one, Mezirow’s perspective
transformation, claims to explain
learning that is unique to adults.
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Synthesis 3
While most of these theories address
implications for practice, only Knowles’
andragogy has been widely applied in
Toward Comprehensive Theories
of Adult Learning
Synthesis 4
From the 7 theories, 4 components of adult learning
can be extracted:
1. self-direction or autonomy as a characteristic or goal
of adult learning
2. Breadth and depth of life experiences as content or
triggers to learning
3. Reflection or self-conscious monitoring of changes
taking place
4. Action or some other expression of the learning that
has occurred

Theories based on an adult`s life situation Knox`s