The aim of this paper is to discuss Maclusky’s theory of adult learning. The paper will firstly highlight on what other scholars have basically talked about and written about the development of his adult learning theory. This paper will also highlight on the background of the author, his achievements and many other developments in relation to adult learning theory. Without any doubt a good number of writers have written about Maclusky’s theory of adult learning and some of them have critically analyzed his works. The essay will also discuss the main proponents of the margin theory and face it in detail.
According to wikipedia, the margin theory is defined as follows:
Margin is a function of the relationship of load to power. By load we mean the self and social demands required by a person to maintain a minimal level of autonomy. By power we mean the resources, i.e., possessions, position, allies, etc., which a person can command in coping with load.3
The field of educational gerontology, like many evolutionary movements has always been under development for many years. This was developed due to the realization by the people in the society that older people are not fully utilized hence wasting useful human resource with potential. Braum (1978) argue says that;
People whose major professional commitment is channeled through institutions of education have begun to recognize that the values of study, learning, and intellectual growth are not restricted exclusively to the young but have relevance to persons of every age. No one person who has been involved with the development of educational gerontology both during the many years of evolutionary change and recent decade of activity better bridges all three areas of adult, continuing, and community education than Howard Yale McClusky.
For instance, McClusky’s theory of adult learning the ‘margin theory’ can be cited by the state of affairs in which Zambian Open University Students are found. They are given excessively much work load within a specific period of time. This directly affects the normal operations McClusky’s theory of adult learning.
In trying to highlight on McClusky’s theory of adult learning, Knox (1977) says the following, “it is impossible for us to speak of adult learning without proper reference of the theory of Howard Yale McClusky who was born in New York in 1900. McClusky received a bachelor's degree from Park College in Missouri in 1921 and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Chicago in 1929 where he was a Commonwealth Fund Fellow carrying out research in visual education, the forerunner of instructional media. His Professional education began at the University of Michigan in 1924 and few years became concerned with educational needs of older youth, especially rural youth. In the early 1940's he began to develop his interest and expertise in adult education”
Studies have shown that Howard McClusky introduced the Theory of Margin in 1963. This particular theory was relevant for understanding adult’s lives, especially as they aged and various demands or pressures increased. According to McClusky (1974) the theory of Power-Load-Margin is valued very much. Rodger Hiemestra says;
The key factors of adult life are the load the adult carries in living, and power that is available to him or her to carry the load. Margin was conceived of as a formula expressing a ration or relationship between the "load" and "power". Load is the self and social demands required by a person to maintain minimal level of autonomy and Power is the resources, abilities, possessions, position, and allies that a person can command in coping with load. In his formula for margin (M), he placed designations of Load (L) in the numerator and designations of Power (P) in the denominator, thus M=L/P.3
However, the formula suggests that the greater the power in relationship to the load the more margins will be available. For instance, in our daily lives, the load-power ratio changes and adjusts throughout the adult years with changes in any of the power or load factors. Knox argues that “the Surplus power provides a margin or cushion to handle load requirements. Margin can be increased by reducing load or increasing power. “
Mcclusky (1974) has highlighted on a number of factors which were further dived into two groups of interacting element:
1. External - tasks of life such as family, career, economic status.
2. Internal - self-concept, goals, personal expectations.2
Power consists of a combination of external resources and capacity as family support, social abilities, and economic abilities. Also, including internally acquired or accumulated skills and experiences contributing to effective performance, such as resiliency, coping skills, and personality.
Power factors in include:
1. Physical - strength, stamina, energy, and health.
2. Social - ability to relate to others.
3. Mental - ability to think and reason.
4. Economic - money position, and influence.
5. Skills - what an individual knows how to do.2
The best Example can be the one given by (Hiemstra and Sisco, 1990) who said “a person's performance will be a function of various loads dimensions and values, as well as a capacity to carry the load. Margin can be increased by reducing load or increasing power, suggesting that surplus power is always needed to provide enough margins to meet various load requirements of life emergencies”.
McClusky’s main theory about adult learning is the ‘Margin theory’ as explained above. This particular theory can be use in research and other practical fields.
For example in a home, we know that a parent has got a lot of responsibilities like running a family, business, and many other private issues like correspondence distance learning which also requires attention in order to accomplish the given learning task.. This implies that he has to reduce the load and increase power so that there is effectiveness.
In conclusion, many of McClusky’s works, has demonstrated that throughout his adult life, he has exactly shown the processes through which adult education learners pass through including the different processes involving both challenges and possibilities in the education circles’. He has shown that each person has an endless potential, vitality, and resiliency. His contributions to educational gerontology due to his early work in adult education have helped to foster a rapid growing discipline and have motivated a lot of scholars to write a lot of materials and develop theories about adult education life.
Baum, J. "An Exploration of Widowhood: Implications for Adult Educators." In Proceedings of the Annual Adult Education Research Conference. San Antonio , Texas , 1978.
Cross, K. P. Beyond the Open Door: New Students to Higher Education. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1971. .
Cross, K. P. Adults as Learners: Increasing Participation and Facilitating Learning. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1981.
Hiemstra, R. "The Contributions of Howard Yale McClusky to an Evolving Discipline of Educational Gerontology." Educational Gerontology, 1981, 6, 209-226.
James, J. M. "Instructor-Generated Load: An Inquiry Based on McClusky’s Concept of Margin." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wyoming , 1986.
Knox, A. B. (ed.) Enhancing Proficiencies of Continuing Educators. New Directions for Continuing Education, no. 1, San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1979.
Knox, A. B. Helping Adults Learn. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1986.
McClusky, H. Y. "The Course of the adult Life Span." In W. C. Hallenbeck (ed.), Psychology of Adults. Chicago : Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. , 1963.
Roger Hiemstra is professor of Adult learning and instructional design at Syracuse University , Syracuse , NY .
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