Andragogy 101: Six Keys to Engaging Your Clients


Some words are much better off when put into practice than when used in casual conversation. Take, for instance, andragogy. It’s not a word you want to drop on friends during a dinner party. Enemies, maybe, but not friends. Sounds a bit like a disease you’d want to avoid.

Andragogy, however, plays a critical part of nearly every TotalSDI consultant’s practice and is a key driver of their success. Believe it or not, you already may be a natural at applying the principles—but let’s make sure you’re covering all the bases.

Andragogy refers to the theory of how adults learn. Unlike most children, adults learn best when they’re actively engaged in a process that lets them incorporate their experiences and readily apply what they’re learning to their lives. Instead of being buried with information, adults want to discover new ideas for themselves.

Malcolm Knowles, generally considered the father of andragogy, identified six assumptions in the andragogical model, and you can put to use in your coaching or consulting practice (not to mention during dinner parties):

  1. Uncover the need to know. Adults need to know why they need to learn something before they will invest in the learning process. In short, most adults want to know what’s in it for them. So the quickest way to get buy-in is to help them recognize how TotalSDI will help bridge a gap or achieve a goal that’s important to them. This might be a more productive relationship with a boss or co-worker, greater influence as a leader, or perhaps positioning them as more competitive for promotion. (This blog helps you apply sound theory to your clients’ needs, while warning you against the faux pas of using $50 words at dinner parties.)
  2. Encourage self-direction. Most adults don’t like to be told what to do. Instead, they want to feel responsible and to be treated as capable of making their own decisions. They also don’t want to feel dependent upon a teacher or looked down upon for not knowing the right answer. That’s why it’s important to give them ownership of the process by allowing them to drive activities and discussions. This is easily done in TotalSDI workshops because MVS, Conflict Sequence, and Strengths activities are built into every session.(Want a do-it-yourself activity from this blog? Click the hyperlinks to learn more.)
  3. Draw from their experiences. Adults bring an enormous amount of life experience into every session. It’s part of who they are, so you should constantly seek to tap into it through activities and discussions. Allow them to be the stars. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking questions like, “What have you found in your experience?” or “What has worked well for you?” (With that in mind, think of an example of when you’ve learned something as an adult. How were these principles playing out behind the scenes?)
  4. Make it real. Adults become ready to learn when they perceive that what they will learn will serve them in real situations. If adults don’t see relevance, they disengage and become passive. You can make it real with stories, opportunities for practice, and ideas for application. This is the idea behind our book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Likely Places, a business fable set in situations to which most learners can relate. (You can apply what you’re learning from this blog with every client in your portfolio.)
  5. Solve problems. Adults want to learn things that help them solve immediate problems or make them better at something important to them. For example, a manager who needs to give constructive feedback to a particularly challenging employee will see great value in understanding motivation and how to deploy strengths in her coaching conversations that will have a greater impact. (And hopefully you find value in learning how to better engage your clients in training.)
  6. Tap into their motivation. The SDI reveals what’s most important to each person, so why not tap into these values? If you’re using the online system, you’ll have each person’s results before the session, so put that incredible insight to good use. Adults with a more frequent concern for people will likely be attracted to how TotalSDI helps them connect relationally. Those with a more frequent concern for performance will like the fact that insights from TotalSDI allow people to get more done. And, of course, those who value process will appreciate the richness of the data TotalSDI provides. In short, there is something for everyone. (Regardless of where your MVS dot falls, hopefully I found a way to connect to what’s important to you.)

Andragogy is a cooperative venture where you and your clients informally seek to discover the meaning of their experiences and identify opportunities to apply what they learn so they can achieve better results.

As early educational theorist and philosopher Eduard Lindeman pointed out, this can be a humbling experience.

“None but the humble become good teachers of adults,” Lindeman said. “In an adult class, the student’s life experience counts for as much as the teacher’s knowledge. Both are exchangeable at par. Indeed, in some of the best adult classes it is sometimes difficult to discover who is learning most, the teacher or the students.”

Anyone who has led TotalSDI-based training knows this to be true. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes working with TotalSDI so rewarding.

Dr. Mike Patterson is a principal at PSP in Carlsbad, Calif. and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology.

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