I, the Adult Learner: Focus on Margin Theory



Malcolm S. Knowles described andragogy as the psychological classification of adults. This theory states that a person becomes, psychologically, an adult when he/she arrives at a self-conceptualization. This means this person becomes responsible for his/her own life and is now self-directed.

Andragogy has been based on six assumptions of the adult learner. This is the most renowned model when it comes to the adult learning theory. There are, of course, other theories that also explain different perceptions on how adults learn.

McClusky, for instance, searched for ways in helping adults continue living optimistic lives. It was his Theory of Margin is relevant in understanding adults more so as they aged and begin facing pressures.

Just like McClusky, I believe that adults have to face a continuous transformation just to meet their day-to-day responsibilities. We may not always have control over certain issues in our lives but we have the capacity to meet predicaments that arise.

McClusky beautifully pointed out that the chief factors of adult lives are the loads that we bear and our power to bear these loads; and margin was viewed as a formula in communicating the relationship of the power to the load and vice versa.

So, since there is a formula, here it is and its interpretation –


M = L/P


This proposes that the margin becomes highly available the more that the power is related to the load. This load-power ratio is ever-changing throughout our adult lives. Based on this mathematical equation, the load factors are career, family, goals, socio-economic status, even our self-concept.

The power factors, on the other hand, are physical, mental, social, economic or skills-based (e.g. position, money, stamina, energy, health, reasoning capacity, etc.).

Margin Theory and Me

So how do I now apply the Margin Theory to my teaching tasks? Let’s take this as an example – when I am ill, I will not be able to function properly and my tasks will start piling up. These will soon begin to overpower me to the point that I would have to make a choice on what I must do and which tasks I can dispense with. Doing so will help balance my life once more.

I can choose to consult a doctor or just have a bed rest. Howard McClusky showed that the fulcrum of a balanced life is the key to having an adult learner that moves between the power and load of life in a balanced manner.

As a teacher, if I have personal strength, then I can better manage the changing school loads. I have taught theology classes for as long as I could remember (I began when I was in my early 20s) and I could say that I have grown in terms of teaching strengths. I can confidently say that I teach better now than when I was 21 years old – experience taught me this confidence.

This same confidence can be attained by someone who, at 50, decides to shift her career and be retrained as a teacher. This individual can even work hard to become the head of one of the school departments and could lead someone like me.

How we eventually react to the same stressful environment is dependent on our individual strengths and what we lack.


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