Magazine article Training & Development Journal


Magazine article Training & Development Journal


Article excerpt


This tribute to Malcolm Knowles is a participative effort by many of his friends. Participation is a Malcolm value! This article is also an experiential expression of Malcolm's impact and contribution. Experiential expression is another Malcolm value!

The timing of this tribute is intentional. Malcolm's new and important book The Making of an Adult Educator: an Autobiographical Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass) has just been published. Reading it, you can't help but be awed by his massive contribution. The book reveals a person who is foremost a learner--perpetually reflecting, rethinking, and renewing. . .in a word, growing. And, it reflects the consummate mentor--one passionately interested and involved in helping others grow.

Malcolm--the facts

Malcolm is the epitome of authenticity. His realness is part of his educational values--not a hat he wears or a role he plays, but part of who he is. The fact that he is typically referred to just as Malcolm (as one refers to Caruso or Michelangelo) is a peephole into how others experience him. If people refer to him as Dr. or Professor Knowles, it's likely they haven't been with him in person.

Malcolm was born in 1913 in Livingston, Montana, the son of a veterinarian. In 1925 he moved with his family to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he completed public school. He entered Harvard University in 1930. Despite Malcolm's aversion to the intellectual snobbery characteristic of 1930s ivy-leaguers, he graduated from Harvard in 1934 and enrolled in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Later he went to work as Director of Related Training for the national Youth Administration, a position he held until 1940, when he became Director of Adult Education for the Boston YMCA.

When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, Malcolm put his educator skills to use as a communications officer in the U.S. Navy. When he left the Navy in 1946 as a Lieutenant Junior-Grade, he moved to Chicago with his wife Hulda and young son Eric. There he entered graduate school at the University of Chicago while working as director of adult education for the Central YMCA. He completed his M.A. in 1949 and Ph.D. in 1960, and joined the Boston University faculty. In 1974 he became professor of adult education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, a post he held until his retirement in 1970.

That quick overview of Malcolm's history provides resume facts, but it does little to telegraph his contributions. His books and articles are classics in the field, particularly his 1970 The Modern Practice of Adult Education (New York: Association Press) and his 1973 The Adult Learner: a Neglected Species (Houston: Gulf Publishing), now in its third edition.

Malcolm served as executive director of the Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. While he did not found the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences, he was an early pioneer in the field of laboratory education, and was a faculty member in the early 1950s. He served on the faculties of two external degree programs--Nova University and Fielding Institute. In 1985, Malcolm's colleagues selected him to be inducted into the HRD Hall of Fame.

Few know Malcolm professionally without feeling they also know him personally. He continues to live in Raleigh with his wife of 54 years, and pursues an active consulting practice. He has two children--Eric, a professor at the University of Arkansas, and Barbara, a school psychologist in Orange County, California.

For many years he has worn his trademark bolo tie, typically with a turquoise clasp. …

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