Models for learning

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Practitioners working in adult education recognise the need to actively assist learners to move from being dependent to independent learners, assisting them to become more self-directed. This is now recognised as especially important for online learning and environments where discovery and problem-solving is encouraged. Previous life experience can influence a learner's capacity for self-direction, and skills in self-regulation are necessary when becoming an expert learner.

However, independence needs to be scaffolded otherwise learners can become overwhelmed and give up before they even start. This means that supports for learning are put in place and then gradually removed once a task, skill or concept is mastered. This approach is used in conjunction with constructivism, cognitive apprenticeship and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

Previously, you were introduced to Knowles' work on andragogy. This has been critiqued and extended by other theorists, such as Brookfield and Mezirow, in order to clarify his ideas and bring practical application to them. For example, Stephen Brookfield (1995) considers four aspects of adult learning and why they are important. For more explanation, see Adult Learning: An Overview.

  1. Self-directedness - learners take control.
  2. Critical reflection - regarded as "distinctly adult" (p. 3).
  3. Experiential learning - experiences of learners are pivotal.
  4. Learning to learn - "skilled at learning in a range of different situations" and styles (p. 5).

Remember that one assumption in Knowles' work is that self-directedness is an innate characteristic of adults. However, assisting learners to develop this skill can be particularly challenging for practitioners working in adult language, literacy and numeracy contexts. How might you assist learners to develop self-directed learning skills?

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  • List some characteristics that you have observed in adult learners that are different to those of the typical secondary school student.
  • Based on Malcolm Knowles' assumptions about adult learners, what are the attributes that your learners tend to demonstrate?
  • Read Baumgartner, L. (2001). Four adult development theories and their implications for practice. See reference below.
  • Examine each of the four adult development theories outlined in Baumgartner.
  • Which one best matches your philosophy of teaching?
  • Discuss the implications of these models for your teaching practice on your blog, and share on the Moodle discussion forum for this module.


Extra resources


  • Baumgartner, L. (2001). Four adult development theories and their implications for practice. National Centre for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. Retrieved from
  • Brookfield, S. (1995). Adult Learning: An Overview. In A. Tuinjman (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, Pergamon Press. Retrieved from
  • Brookfield, S.D., 1991, Understanding and facilitating adult learning, John Wiley & Sons