Profile of Influence

Malcolm Shepherd Knowles was best known for his contribution in the concept of self direction and andragogy in adult education. Born in 1913, Malcolm s Knowles started engaging in philosophical thoughts early in his life. As young as four years, Malcolm S Knowles would accompany his Veterinary dad in farms and ranches and they would discuss philosophical issues such as right and wrong, religion and other issues that would draw a child’s curiosity. His father allowed him to express his mind and draw his own conclusions from the discussions.

His quest for philosophical answers led him to Harvard, where he dad been offered a sponsorship, and he studied philosophy. In Harvard he not only attended lectures and other academic activities but actively participated in extra curriculum activities that were very important to him. He became president of the Harvard Liberal Club and general secretary to Phillips Brooks House.

In 1935 after graduating from Harvard, Malcolm S Knowles got a job with National Youth Administration in Massachusetts where his roles involves developing courses that young people could take. This was where he was first involved in adult education. It was here that Malcolm met his mentor in adult education: Eduard Linderman who greatly influenced him.

Malcolm was first involved with YMCA in 1943 when he was appointed as the director of adult education. During this time he was doing his master in adult education and read widely on this field. During his master program he was involved in a seminar in group counseling and he began to think on what is mean to facilitate learning rather than teach.

It was in 1950’s that Malcolm involved himself in various intellectual activities on adult

Profile of Influence

education. During this time he, his wife and children participated in summer sessions of National Training Laboratory. During this time Malcolm and his wife Hilda coauthored a book on leadership and another on group dynamics. These intellectual works became the basis under which Malcolm developed his concept in 1970.

It was in 1970,s that Malcolm wrote his books: The Modern Practice of Adult education and The Adult Learner. In these books Malcolm summarized his concept on adult education that he had learnt and experienced in his life. There books were revolutionary by advocating self direction in adult education and brought out the concept of Andragogy in adult education.

The concept of Andragogy brought about different approach to adult education than the approach taken in pedagogy. This concept was based on earlier approach of education used by Plato. The concept called not only called for different approach to adult education but also special teachers. The main assumptions taken by this approach are self concept, experience, readiness to learn and orientation to learn.

The concept given under Andragogy has provide the guide line for planning and organizing adult curriculum and has provided light on new way of viewing education and human development. It brought important insight in adult education which could be used a base for future adult education curriculums.

In its conception andragogy was viewed as opposed to pedagogy but in 1984 Knowles gave a distinctive light on the difference by saying that pedagogy was based on concepts while andragogy was focused on the process of acquiring knowledge. The concept of andragogy as postulated by Knowles has drawn debates that have led to development of a frame work for andragogy as way for adult education.

Profile of Influence

Adult education and the approach of that education today have borrowed highly from Knowles concept of self direction and andragogy. Although there are other contributors to the growth of adult education Malcolm Shepherd Knowles has the bigger share.


Infed (2009) Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy retrieved on 6th October 2009 from (2009) Biography; Malcolm Knowles; Retrieved on 6th October 2009 from http://www.