Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in 1950’s and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970’s by Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defi ned andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Zmeyov 1998; Fidishun 2000).

What do you mean by ‘adult learning principles’?

Knowles (1980) identified the six principles of adult learning outlined below.

Want to know more?

Please take a moment to read the Reference Document 3.1: Clinical educators resource kit: principles of adult learning which the OTPEC-Q have applied to the role of clinical educator with students in clinical settings.

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them (Fidishun, 2000).

Your role is to facilitate a students’ movement toward more self-directed and responsible learning as well as to foster the student’s internal motivation to learn.

As clinical educator you can:

  • Set up a graded learning program that moves from more to less structure, from less to more responsibility and from more to less direct supervision, at an appropriate pace that is challenging yet not overloading for the student
  • Develop rapport with the student to optimise your approachability and encourage asking of questions and exploration of concepts
  • Show interest in the student’s thoughts and opinions. Actively and carefully listen to any questions asked
  • Lead the student toward inquiry before supplying them with too many facts
  • Provide regular constructive and specific feedback (both positive and negative)
  • Review goals and acknowledge goal completion
  • Encourage use of resources such as library, journals, internet and other department resources.
  • Set projects or tasks for the student that reflect their interests and which they must complete and “tick off” over the course of the placement. For example: to provide an in-service on topic of choice; to present a case-study based on one of their clients; to design a client educational handout; or to lead a client group activity session.
  • Acknowledge the preferred learning style of the student. A questionnaire is provided below that will assist your student to identify their preferred learning style and to discuss this with you.

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

  • Adults like to be given opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and experience gained from life experience, and apply it to their new learning experiences. As a clinical educator you can:
  • Find out about your studenttheir interests and past experiences (personal, work and study related)
  • Assist them to draw on those experiences when problem-solving, refl ecting and applying clinical reasoning processes. 
  • Facilitate reflective learning opportunities which Fidishun (2000) suggests can also assist the student to examine existing biases or habits based on life experiences and “move them toward a new understanding of information presented” (p4)

3. Adults are goal oriented

Adult students become ready to learn when “they experience a need to learn it in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems” (Knowles,1980 p 44, as cited in Fidishun, 2000). Your role is to facilitate a student’s readiness for problem-based learning and increase the student’s awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented. As educator, you can:

  • Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal, client and fieldwork goals as well as assessment and future life goals
  • Provide real case-studies (through client contact and reporting) as a basis from which to learn about the theory, OT methods, functional issues implications of relevance
  • Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry and further research

4. Adults are relevancy oriented

Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. One way to help students to see the value of their observations and practical experiences throughout their placement, is to:

  • Ask the student to do some reflection on for example, what they expect to learn prior to the experience, on what they learnt after the experience, and how they might apply what they learnt in the future, or how it will help them to meet their learning goals
  • Provide some choice of fieldwork project by providing two or more options, so that learning is more likely to reflect the student’s interests
  • Schedule some teaching sessions or inservices on specific topics e.g. cognition and assessment that assists with the transition of theory to practice

5. Adults are practical

Through practical fi eldwork experiences, interacting with real clients and their real life situations, students move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognise fi rst hand how what they are learning applies to life and the work context.  As a clinical educator you can:

  • Clearly explain your clinical reasoning when making choices about assessments, interventions and when prioritising client’s clinical needs.
  • Be explicit about how what the student is learning is useful and applicable to the job and client group you are working with.
  • Promote active participation by allowing students to try things rather than observe. Provide plenty of practice opportunity in assessment, interviewing, and intervention processes with ample repetition in order to promote development of skill, confi dence and competence.
  • Link your practice to a clinical model or encourage the student to select and use a model

6. Adult learners like to be respected

Respect can be demonstrated to your student by:

  • Taking interest
  • Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the student brings to the placement;
  • Regarding them as a colleague who is equal in life experience
  • Encouraging expression of ideas, reasoning and feedback at every opportunity.

It is important to keep in mind that the student is still developing occupational therapy clinical practice skills. However, with the theory and principles of adult learning in mind, you can facilitate the learning approach of the student to move from novice to more sophisticated learning methods. This facilitates greater integration of knowledge, information and experience; the student learns to distinguish what is important when assessing and working with clients; how to prioritise client needs, goals and caseload; when rules can be put aside and how/when the approach to occupational therapy practice and professional communication emerges from strict modelling of behaviour into a unique therapeutic and professional expression of self.

(Fidishun, 2000; Lieb,1991)