Learning Theories and Andragogy: Teaching the Adult Learner

Learning Theories and Andragogy: Teaching the Adult Learner

Lawrence A. Tomei (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-824-6.ch002
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Abstract

The adult learner is a relatively new phenomenon in the annals of educational practice. How can this be considering we have been teaching adults for almost as long as we have been teaching children? – longer if you believe in the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. Still, any review of the educational literature on teaching and learning will show a preponderance of research and investigation concerning children and comparatively little specifics regarding adults.Andragogy. Until the 1960s, the models developed to teach children functioned equally for the teaching of adults. The first use of the term “andragogy” was attributed to Malcolm Knowles when, in 1968, he introduced the term androgogy (with an “o”) in the journal, Adult Leadership. His article was entitled “Androgogy, not Pedagogy!” and was followed promptly with a 1970 book in which he specifically defines the term as the “art and science of helping adults learn.” By the 1980s, Knowles’ thinking had changed considerably. In his text, Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, he recognizes the considerable debate instigated by his 1970 thesis and begins to suggest andragogy as an alternative teaching and learning approach appropriate for adult learners. Furthermore,
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Introduction

The adult learner is a relatively new phenomenon in the annals of educational practice. How can this be considering we have been teaching adults for almost as long as we have been teaching children? – longer if you believe in the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. Still, any review of the educational literature on teaching and learning will show a preponderance of research and investigation concerning children and comparatively little specifics regarding adults.

Andragogy. Until the 1960s, the models developed to teach children functioned equally for the teaching of adults. The first use of the term “andragogy” was attributed to Malcolm Knowles when, in 1968, he introduced the term androgogy (with an “o”) in the journal, Adult Leadership. His article was entitled “Androgogy, not Pedagogy!” and was followed promptly with a 1970 book in which he specifically defines the term as the “art and science of helping adults learn.”

By the 1980s, Knowles’ thinking had changed considerably. In his text, Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, he recognizes the considerable debate instigated by his 1970 thesis and begins to suggest andragogy as an alternative teaching and learning approach appropriate for adult learners.

Furthermore, he posits the following: “. . . andragogy is simply another model of assumptions about adult learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model of assumptions, thereby providing two alternative models for testing out the assumptions as to their 'fit' with particular situations., the models are probably most useful when seen not as dichotomous but rather as two ends of a spectrum, with a realistic assumption (about learners) in a given situation falling in between the two ends” (Knowles, 1980, p. 43).

He goes even further, defining the rationales that contribute to his theory. For example, as adults mature, they become increasingly independent and increasingly more responsible for their own actions. Adults are intrinsically motivated to learn by a desire to solve problems in their own daily lives. They evidence an increasing need to be self-directing. For the first time, an educator was able to posit, investigate, and report on the seemingly intuitive contention that the former pedagogical models did little to explain such complex developmental changes on the part of adults leaving pedagogy in the proverbial dust as a single explanation for all learning.

The contributions of andragogy as an alternative model of instruction have improved how we teach adults and certainly merit further study. Andragogy is predicated on four basic assumptions:

  • 1.

    The adult learner possesses a self-concept that has been advanced from dependency and reliance on others to independency and self-reliance.

  • 2.

    The adult learner, by the very nature of their experiences in the real world, has accumulated a cache of practice-based knowledge that can be used to build further learning (natural extension of cognitivism as we will see shortly)

  • 3.

    Readiness to learn becomes increasingly linked to the developmental tasks and social roles of the adult learner.

  • 4.

    The adult perspective, particularly with respect to the curriculum, changes from delayed gratification (children are often told that the value of what they are learning in the classroom will not be appreciated until they are much older) to one of immediate application (adults seek to use their learning immediately).

  • 5.

    The adult learner has moved from subject-centeredness to performance-centeredness.

Implications for the Adult Learner. It is clear that andragogy and Malcolm Knowles have brought a considerable awareness to adult education as a separate field of teaching and learning during the past four decades. What will become readily apparent in the next section of this chapter is the psychology of cognitivism and how it has further expanded success with adult learners.

Orientation to Cognitivism. The cognitive perspective began in the 1960s as a direct challenger to the shortcomings of behaviorism. It has risen quickly to become the dominant paradigm of educational psychology, overshadowing both its predecessor and many challengers during the remainder of the 20th century.

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