Knowles’ Andragogy

{Cox, 2006. An Adult Learning Approach to Coaching. in Sober & Grant, Evidence-based Coaching Handbook.}

{Leary-Joyce & Wildflower, 2011. Theories of Adult Learning. In Wildflower & Brennan. Handbook of Knowledge-Based Coaching From Theory To Practice. Part Two: Human Interaction and Coaching.}

Andragogy refers to adults gaining knowledge and expertise. Adults actively construct meaning from experience, using it as a resource and stimulus to construct new learning based on previous understandings.

Readiness to learn is oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of the social role.

Andragogy principles emphasize experiential learning and encourage the learner’s ownership. With these two constructivist aspects, the facilitator perceives the learner as a mature, motivated, voluntary, and equal participant in the learning relationship, aiding them in achieving self-determined learning objectives.

Andragogy provides core principles underpinning adult learning and a coaching philosophy for adult learning situations. Many of the principles form key coaching elements translated into coaching tasks. Since coaching is an adult learning situation and andragogy is “helping adults learn,” coaching is a vehicle for andragogy.

For example, achieving client enrollment or buy-in is critical to coaching success. There must be true enrollment into the coaching and voluntary, intrinsic, not coerced, or extrinsic motivation.

Another example is the learning contract used in adult learning practice to negotiate learning programs. The learning contract lets learners control the learning event and plan subsequent activities. Coaching uses action plans to organize learning or performance effectively. The action plan indicates what clients will do to achieve their goals. Written, manageable goals bolster clients’ confidence in managing their progress and accomplishments.

Six assumptions characterize adult learning >> Informing the corresponding coaching principles.

Adults are goal-oriented and learn best if they know why they need to learn. Therefore, learning must be relevant and goal-oriented.

Coaching clients have their commitments and immediate concerns. Coaching links inner purpose to outer work.

Because adults have a formed self-concept, they prefer to be self-directing and feel in control of their learning.

The coaching client sets the agenda. The coaching relationship is a designed alliance.

Adults’ life experiences are a rich learning resource.

The client is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. The client is resourceful, and the coach unleashes the client’s resourcefulness. Clients are not empty vessels.

Adults generally learn to solve real-life problems. They tend to come to learning when they need it. Learning must be relevant.

Coaching means action and learning. Coaching is a collaborative, solution-focused, result-oriented, and systematic process.

Adults are interested in practical learning applications. They tend to be life-centered, task-centered, or problem-centered in their learning approach instead of subject or content-centered.

Coaching addresses the whole person; past, present, and future. People engage in activities that meet their needs.

Adults are motivated by an internal sense of purpose, and a desire to grow, develop, and progress. They respond more to intrinsic motivators, such as increased self-esteem and life quality, than to extrinsic motivators, such as qualifications.

Coaching connects a sense of purpose with a vision of a coaching result. It unlocks people’s potential to maximize their performance.

Coaching applications

Effective coaching involves developing a learning and behavior change plan that honors the andragogy principles and creates a foundation for mutual respect and clear agreement between coach and client.

Incorporate concepts of adult learning into your coaching plan. The issues addressed in the coaching engagement must be relevant and tailored to your client. The client should be a voluntary participant and intrinsically motivated to engage. Even in mandated situations, the coach’s first responsibility is to help the client see it as a learning opportunity.

The client is an expert on her life. Remain aware of their needs and responses. Honor the client’s agenda rather than your own.

Acknowledge life experiences as a knowledge resource. Encourage your client to use her experiences in exploring her coaching issues. Her knowledge is the primary information source for the coaching engagement.