Have we Misunderstood Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? And What Does that Mean for Adult Education?


As students are returning to the classroom, we often think about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Many of us are familiar with the traditional pyramid, indicating the most basic physiological needs such as food and shelter must be met before a learner can move to full self-actualization.

What if we misunderstood this theory? Maslow's theory has been heavily criticized, indicating that lower level needs must be met before an individual moves into the next level. Consider the alternate image below. Current thinking reflects that individuals work through the levels at the same time. 

An alternate view of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs - showing the continuation of personal development across all life areas.

What does this new approach mean for our programming? We know that individuals need a purpose and social connection to succeed. Does this new understanding change your approach to adult education retention?

Kathy Tracey  

Image: Dynamic hierarchy of needs of Abraham Maslow referring to Krech, D./Crutchfield, R. S./Ballachey, E. L. (1962), Individual in society, Tokyo etc. 1962, S. 77


I think we go back and forth a lot, but a bottom line is that ... if somebody's not at all secure in the basic needs, they're not going to be doing so well tackling the higher level.s 

The re-presentation of the Hierarchy of Needs is a very good indication of the actual, as the intensity of Needs does lessen and then flattens over time as they are gradually met.  While they may no longer be of high importance, the Needs never-the-less remain necessary throughout work-life, especially.  As senescence or greater aging occurs, some of these needs decline into oblivion while others rise before flattening and then declining as well.  Additionally, the needs show up differently for everyone.