The Socratic Way and Adult Learning: Exploring a Nelsonian View of the Socratic Method in Self-Directed Learning Encounters.

The Socratic Way and Adult Learning: Exploring a Nelsonian View of the Socratic Method in Self-Directed Learning Encounters.

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8018-8.ch006
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Adult learning experiences seem to be influenced by the activity of self-direction on the part of their learners. Adult learners come to educational encounters motivated and possessing a strong sense of self and learning objectives. However, other educational experiences require teachers of adults to assist in the development of self-directed learning (SDL) in their learners. This chapter explores the possibility of how Leonard Nelson's theories concerning the Socratic method can initiate the possibility of SDL (self-teaching) in adult learners.
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Adult Education

Adult education emerged as a specific topic of study after World War II (Maehl, 2000). A clear elucidation of patterns and approaches to adult education were developed by Elias and Merriam (as cited in Maehl, 2000). These patterns were categorized as Liberal adult education, Progressive adult education, Behaviorist adult education, Humanist adult education, and Radical adult education.

Liberal adult education stressed the study of classic works, mastering content in an organized fashion and the development of the adult’s intellect. Progressive adult education focused on connecting education to reform and social issues; it found its intellectual origins in the thinking of John Dewey and William James. Behaviorist adult education was based on the scientific control of learning; its intention was to produce changes in behavior and articulates specific learning objectives and manages the learning process. Humanist adult education looked to the self-actualization of the adult learner; it championed autonomy, self-direction, independence and trust. This approach was also influenced by the work of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Malcolm Knowles. This approach has gained notoriety, as Knowles laid the foundation for a kind of adult education that promoted and implemented freedom and self-direction. Lastly, Radical adult education was based on the political and social movements throughout history; it recognized the relativistic nature of education and sought to educate those toward the importance of social change (Maehl, 2000).

The development of adult education was tempered by educational theorists investigating the differences between the learning processes of children and adults. From this inquiry emerged the concepts of andragogy and self-directed learning, both theorized and advanced by Malcolm Knowles (Maehl, 2000). Influenced by the ideas of Maslow and Rogers, and his own experiences and research in adult learning, Knowles ultimately argued that there were six fundamental principles in Andragogy: 1) the adult learner’s need to know; 2) self-directed learning on the part of the adult learner; 3) past experiences of the adult learner; 4) the adult learner being ready to learn; 5) an orientation on the part of the adult learner to learn and solve problems; and 6) a clear motivation to learn (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Meta-Dialogue: An stage in Nelson’s system that offers an opportunity for the person being questioned by the group during the Sopcratic dialogue to seek support if the person experiences any negative consequences during the dialogue.

Andragogy: The field of study that argues that adult learning is both a science and an art. This area of study was full explicated and promotod through the work and research of Malcolm Knowles.

Socratic Method: Explicated by several theorists in the chapter as a question and answer teaching and learning method supposedly first practiced by the philosopher Socrates. According to the author of this chapter, the questions seeks to uncover, challenge and critique accepted notions, dogmatic positions and illogical thinking. The intention is to create an atmosphere that promotes dialogue, the free exchange of ideas and the suspension, if necessary, of judgment and held positions.

Leonard Nelson: Early 20 th centiury German philosopher who was influenced by the Neo-Kantian movement and the Friesian School. He developed a specfici system to the Socratic Method expounded in his famous essay: “The Socratic Method.”

Maieutic: In educational circles, especially in the thinking of the late educational theorist, Mortimer Adler, a word used to describe the Socratic method. It comes from the Greek word maieutikos , which means midwife.

Regressive Abstraction: A crucial element in Nelson’s system of the Socratic method, whether the discussion leader (instructor) asks questions to the students, which go back to the basic presuppositions the student holds that leads him or her to the accepted position or belief.

Self-Directed Learning: A highly debated concept that several noteworthy theorists have attempted to define. For purposes of this chapter, we look to Susan Isenberg’s attempt to explain Tough’s view that SDL was basically self-teaching.

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