EDTC 6106 Module 2: Breaking Down Adult Learning – Whole+Part+Whole

For the past two weeks I’ve been exploring the role adult learning principles should play in planning educational technology professional development for teachers.  This work caused me to reflect on my own professional development session design – asking myself, what principles do I consistently apply and which ones should I employ more?

Knowles’ Six Principles of Adult Learning
Motivated and self-directed
Experience and Knowledge Application
Goal oriented
Relevancy Oriented

Examining Knowles six principals, I learned that adults learners need motivation combined with self-direction, opportunities to apply their own experience and knowledge, goal and relevancy, practicality, and to be respected.  These principals alone, reveal the intricacy of andragogy (adult learning).


The complexity doesn’t stop with mastering these principals.  Designing professional development is an involved thoughtful deliberate process.  Reading Knowles work further, I discovered the whole-part-whole (WPW) learning model that dates back to the 1970’s.  “The WPW Learning Model purports that there is a natural whole-part-whole rhythm to learning.”  The first “whole” introduces new content to the learner and forms in their mind an organizational framework to take in the forthcoming concepts.  The middle “part” is when the segments of learning take place.  I think of this as the time students learn new techniques, practice, and apply them.  It’s the learning time.  The second “whole” is the “major component” (p. 383).  I think of it as what brings it altogether for the learner or as Knowles states, it links the relationship between the components together and provides “the complete understanding of the content” (p. 383).

Immediately, I sought to compare this to my own professional development session design.  The PD session that came to mind was my online SAMR course that I designed this past December.  Did it follow this WPW learning model?  Surprisingly, yes!  It follows it quite tightly in fact.

Here is what leads me to believe it aligns.   In design, I asked myself how I could help teachers understand the overall big idea of technology integration being a continuum.  To do this, I decided to have teachers practice inquiry.  They are first directed to figure out on their own what SAMR is, where it came from, and why it might be important.  Their task is to locate videos and articles online that explain SAMR.  As part of this, they are asked to post a detailed yet concise definition in their own words. After which, they can also read and interact with what peer colleagues, who are also taking the course, have posted.  Next, they view Dr. Ruben Puentedura explaining the four parts of the SAMR framework in detail.  This completes the first “whole.”

Following that, the teacher logs into Google Classroom and participates in five online question-based discussions.  Each prompt consists of either text, video, or a photo.  He or she submits an opinion with supporting evidence of which level of the SAMR framework the prompt represents.  This completes the middle “part.”  At this point, learning about each part of the SAMR framework is in process, but not necessarily synthesized.

Last, the teacher participant is asked to crystallize the learning by creating slides on a collaborative Google slide deck.  He or she develops a unique analogy for SAMR overall, including all four levels.  The teacher also completes reflection and next steps questions.  This is the concluding “whole” part.  From here, I can ascertain if learning has been solidified.

I found this process of analyzing my design of a professional development course valuable.  I hope you are drawn to do the same with a session you have designed.  ISTE Coaching Standard 4b of Professional Development and Program Evaluation tasks coaches with designing, developing, and implementing technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.  Reflection needs to be a part of this process as well!


ACU (Australian Catholic University). (2017).  Knowles’ six principles of adult learning. Retrieved from http://www.acu.edu.au/staff/our_university/faculties/faculty_of_health_sciences/professional_practice_resources_for_supervisors/interprofessional_resource_library/Facilitating_Learning/knowles_principles

International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (2014). The adult learner : The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. (8th ed.). London: Routledge.


Curtis, Lori. (2017).  Created and retrieved from https://piktochart.com/



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