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Humanistic Theory ...


Knowles’ Andragogy
Reflective Practice
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Cognitive Theories
Humanistic Theory
Motivation to Learn

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Humanistic Theory

Humanistic "theories" of learning tend to be highly value-driven and hence more like prescriptions rather than descriptions.

  • It follows from this, they maintain, that learners need to be empowered and to have control over the learning process.
  • So the teacher relinquishes a great deal of authority and becomes a facilitator.

The school is particularly associated with Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow (psychologists), John Holt (child education) and Malcolm Knowles (adult education and proponent of andragogy). Insofar as he emphasises experiential learning, one could also include Kolb among the humanists as well as the cognitive theorists.

    While the tenor of humanistic theory is generally wishy-washy liberal, its approach also underlies the more committed stance of “transformative learning” (Mezirow) and “conscientization” (Freire).

My heart is with humanistic theory, but I sometimes find it hard to make connections with the reality of routine practice. Its most fertile ground is with intrinsically motivated adult learners. It is not as potent now as it was in the '70s, when it often seemed to be used as an excuse for the abrogation of the realistic authority of the teacher—or perhaps we have just become more mature in our use of it. As the politicized variants show, it poses considerable challenges not only to approaches to teaching, but also to the construction of the curriculum as a whole. As society has become more fragmented and "post-modern", these challenges have become even more problematic.


Figures in Humanistic models of Learning

Carl Rogers

(1902-1987) Principally known as the founder of person-centered psychotherapy and almost inventor of counseling, also a leading figure in the development of humanistic approaches to education. See Rogers (1980)

In the field of adult learning, do not confuse with Alan Rogers, or Jennifer Rogers!  



John Holt

(1923-1985) Radical thinker and math teacher, best known for How Children Fail

Paulo Freire

(1921-1997) Brazilian educationalist: pioneer of adult literacy programs as a means of raising the consciousness (conscientization) of South American peasants and urban underclass. Critic of the "banking" model of education, in which the elite own and construct the knowledge, and the poor are excluded. Very influential in politicized adult education. Not easy to read. See Freire (1972) 


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