Understand how adults learn helps extension professionals plan their extension initiatives.  Malcolm Knowles was an expert in adult education who led the adoption of the theory of andragogy, which is the science of supporting adults to learn.  As compared to pedagogy, which is supporting children to learn.

Knowles’ theory centres around six key areas that relates to the motivation for adults to learn:

  1. Need to know: Adults need to understand and recognise the need for and reason to learn something.  Adults will best learn when they believe they have a need to learn.
  2. Foundation: Direct experience of something (including making mistakes) provides the basis for adult learning activities.
  3. Self-concept: Adults need to be responsible for their own decisions in relation to their education; they need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction experience.  They need to be partners in their education.
  4. Readiness: Adults are most interested in learning about things that have an immediate relevance and impact for their occupation and/or their personal lives.
  5. Orientation: Adult learning is focused on problem solving.  Adult learning is ofter initiated by a problem, which they are then motivated to learn about through educational activities that can help solve the problem.
  6. Motivation: Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators.  They get engaged in learning activities when they have identified the need, not by top down approaches, where they are told or directed to do so.