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Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (August 24, 1913–November 27, 1997) was an American Adult Educator, famous for the adoption of the theory of Andragogy—initially a term coined by the German teacher Alexander Kapp.

Knowles is credited with being a fundamental influence in the development of the Humanist Learning Theory and the use of learner constructed contracts or plans to guide learning experiences.[1]


Born in Montana to Dr. and Mrs. A. D. Knowles, Knowles was an avid boy scout in his youth. The family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida and he graduated from Palm Beach High School in 1930.


He earned a scholarship to Harvard University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1934.


Shortly afterwards, he worked with the National Youth Administration in Massachusetts and was married to Hulda Fornell whom he met while studying at Harvard. In 1940, he assumed the position of Director of Adult Education at the Boston YMCA until he was drafted into the United States Navy in 1943. In 1946, he moved to Chicago to work as the Director of Adult Education at the YMCA while working on his M.A. at the University of Chicago, which he earned in 1949. From 1951-1959 he served as executive director of the Adult Education Association of the USA and pursued his PhD at the University of Chicago. In 1959, he accepted a faculty appointment at Boston University as an associate professor of adult education with tenure. He spent 14 years there. He became a member of the faculty of Education at North Carolina State University in 1974 to complete his final four years of academic work prior to retirement. After retiring, he remained active in the field into the 1990s. He taught at Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA (which offers degrees in clinical psychology and related subjects) and at the University of Arkansas.

He died in Fayetteville, Arkansas, of a stroke.[2]


  1. Smith, Mark K. Malcolm Knowles, Informal Adult Education, Self-direction and Andragogy. Encyclopedia of Informal Education. URL accessed on August 13, 2011.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named NYTobit


During his career he authored over 230 articles and 18 books, some of which include:

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