Background In the 1950s, Knowles was the Executive Director ofthe Adult Education Association of the UnitedStates of America. He wrote the first majoraccounts of informal adult education and thehistory of adult education in the United States.Furthermore, his attempts to develop a distinctiveconceptual basis for adult education and learningvia the notion of andragogy became very widelydiscussed and used. His work was a significantfactor in reorienting adult educators from„educating people‟ to „helping them learn‟(Knowles 1950: 6).
Following college, Knowles joined the new National YouthAdministration in Massachusetts. His job involved him infinding out what skills local employers were looking for,establishing courses to teach those skills, and recruitingyoung people to take the courses. About three months into the work he met EduardLindeman who was involved in the supervision of trainingwithin the NYA. Lindeman took Knowles under his wing andeffectively became his mentor. Knowles readLindeman‟s Meaning of Adult Education: „I was so excitedin reading it that I couldn‟t put it down. It became my chiefsource of inspiration and ideas for a quarter of a century‟(Knowles 1989: 8).
In 1959 Malcolm S. Knowles joined the staff at BostonUniversity as an associate professor of adult education withtenure and set about launching a new graduate program.During his time there he produced his key texts: The ModernPractice of Adult Education (1970) and The AdultLearner (1973). These books were to cement his position atthe center of adult education discourse in the United Statesand to popularize the notion of andragogy. In 1974 he joined the faculty of the North Carolina StateUniversity where he was able to develop courses around„the andragogical model‟ (Knowles 1989: 21). He alsoupdated his key texts and published a new book on SelfDirected Learning (1975).
According to Knowles: The major problems of our age deal withhuman relations; the solutions can befound only in education. Skill in humanrelations is a skill that must be learned; it islearned in the home, in the school, in thechurch, on the job, and wherever peoplegather together in small groups.
This fact makes the task of every leader of adultgroups real, specific, and clear: Every adult group,of whatever nature, must become a laboratory ofdemocracy, a place where people may have theexperience of learning to live co-operatively.Attitudes and opinions are formed primarily in thestudy groups, work groups, and play groups withwhich adults affiliate voluntarily. These groups arethe foundation stones of our democracy. Theirgoals largely determine the goals of our society.Adult learning should produce at least theseoutcomes:
Adults should acquire a matureunderstanding of themselves. They shouldunderstand their needs, motivations,interests, capacities, and goals. Theyshould be able to look at themselvesobjectively and maturely. They shouldaccept themselves and respectthemselves for what they are, whilestriving earnestly to become better.
Adults should develop an attitude ofacceptance, love, and respect towardothers. This is the attitude on which allhuman relations depend. Adults mustlearn to distinguish between people andideas, and to challenge ideas withoutthreatening people. Ideally, this attitudewill go beyond acceptance, love, andrespect, to empathy and the sinceredesire to help others.
Adults should develop a dynamic attitudetoward life. They should accept the factof change and should think of themselvesas always changing. They should acquirethe habit of looking at every experienceas an opportunity to learn and shouldbecome skillful in learning from it.
Adults should learn to react to the causes, not thesymptoms, of behavior. Solutions to problems lie intheir causes, not in their symptoms. We have learnedto apply this lesson in the physical world, but haveyet to learn to apply it in human relations. Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achievethe potentials of their personalities. Every person hascapacities that, if realized, will contribute to the well-being of himself and of society. To achieve thesepotentials requires skills of many kinds—vocational,social, recreational, civic, artistic, and the like. Itshould be a goal of education to give eachindividual those skills necessary for him to make fulluse of his capacities.
Adults should understand the essential values in the capitalof human experience. They should be familiar with theheritage of knowledge, the great ideas, the greattraditions, of the world in which they live. They shouldunderstand and respect the values that bind men together. Adults should understand their society and should be skillfulin directing social change. In a democracy the peopleparticipate in making decisions that affect the entire socialorder. It is imperative, therefore, that every factoryworker, every salesman, every politician, everyhousewife, know enough aboutgovernment, economics, international affairs, and otheraspects of the social order to be able to take part in themintelligently.
Finally - The society of our age, as Robert Maynard Hutchinswarns us, cannot wait for the next generation tosolve its problems. Time is running out too fast. Ourfate rests with the intelligence, skill, and good will ofthose who are now the citizen-rulers. The instrumentby which their abilities as citizen-rulers can beimproved is adult education. This is our problem. Thisis our challenge.Malcolm S. Knowles (1950) Informal AdultEducation, Chicago: Association Press, pages 9-10.All information herein retrieved from: http://infed.org/mobi/malcolm-knowles-informal-adult-education-self-direction-and-andragogy/