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Coaching others to coach
Coaching others to coach

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5 How do adults learn?

Coach developers should understand their audience and be familiar with how adults learn. Malcolm Knowles (1990) proposed six principles that explain how adults learn and why their learning might be different to that of children. Knowles popularised the term andragogy, which means the method and practice of teaching adult learners.

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Figure 7 Do adults learn in a different manner to children? If so, what is distinct?

In the next two activities you will learn about the six principles associated with andragogy and how these can be applied to the design of learning environments. Then, using these principles, you will be asked to apply these to a workshop for coaches.

Activity 5 Introducing adult learning

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the following video from the start to 04:51. The six principles of adult learning from Knowles (1990) are explained and then applied to an imaginary workshop. Your task is to make notes on each principle and what you need to do to enhance coach learning.

Video 2: Introduction to Malcolm Knowles’s andragogy theory [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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You can see that, to enhance learning and development in coaches, you need to:

  1. Clearly explain the purpose of the learning and how it will benefit coaches.
  2. Draw on the considerable and varied experiences of coaches as a rich resource for learning and recognise prior knowledge in the tone of your delivery.
  3. Enable coaches to be responsible for their own learning and provide individual autonomy where possible.
  4. Relate the content you are presenting as being applicable to their world and to current issues and challenges.
  5. Use problem solving and task-centred approaches where possible.
  6. Build intrinsic motivation by providing positive and constructive feedback that enhances self-esteem.

The principles developed by Knowles have been adopted by the International Coach Developer Framework (ICDF) (2014) as recommendations to inform how adults learn best. These recommendations are summarised in the box below.

Box 1 Adult learning recommendations for coach developers (adapted from ICDF, 2014)

Main theme: Adult coaches learn best when motivated by the practical application to their coaching.

Coaches learn best when (words in bold connect to the video in Activity 5):

  1. They feel the need to know and understand the information.
  2. Their experience and abilities are recognised and they are helped to reflect on and build on this.
  3. They are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and development of self-concept.
  4. There is an immediate or obvious readiness and reason to learn.
  5. They have plenty of opportunity to engage in problem-oriented issues and practice in their own context.
  6. They experience some success and gain feedback that builds their intrinsic motivation and confidence.

You might want to print these recommendations or have them close to you for the activity in the next section where you consider the learning design considerations informing a workshop for coaches.