Andragogy- Adult Learning
by Victoria Brodie
Andragogy is the method of teaching adult learners. Adults learn differently than children, so they need to engage in the learning process differently. Adults have accumulated a lifetime of experience and have a stronger self-concept which makes them crave understanding, why they need to learn and how what they learn will impact their lives. Experiential learning, where learning is centered on life situations, helps adults to see learning as a solution to a problem or task. Also, if adults view a potential career change or an increase in salary as a motivator, learning can be a means to an end in reaching those goals.
As stated by Knowles (1977), around the 12th century, the nobles of Europe decided that they wanted their children educated in a similar method to the monastic schools but in a secular environment. This led to the inception of our modern-day pedagogical model, which has existed in some variation since then. Pedagogy literally means “the art and science of teaching children” (Knowles, 1972, p. 34).
In the pedagogical method of learning, the learner is a passive receiver of information, delivered from a teacher or, as it is called at the institution where I teach, the “sage from the stage”. In this model, the teacher bares the full responsibility for what is to be learned, how it should be learned and when it should be learned. This methodology is widely used, as reflected in classrooms with chairs lined up facing the teacher at the front of the room. It is in this model that the learner is in a dependent role, with little to no value given for the learners’ previous experiences, they have to be ready to learn what they are told to learn; the goal is to accumulate subject matter, and the motivations for learning are extrinsic (Knowles, 1980). Pedagogy has been the standard learning model for many centuries.
By contrast, the andragogical model arose from the research based in the field of adult learners, who do not fit inside the typical precepts of the pedagogical model. In the andragogical model, the learner is an active participant in the learning process, fully engaged and intrinsically induced to learn. The learner is no longer a passive receiver of information but an active creator of learning through self-directedness. Although the adult learner is more inclined to participate in the learning experience, the pedagogical assumptions can still be used if appropriate. The underlying differences between the two models is that in andragogy, the learner takes increased responsibility for their own learning, whereas pedagogy involves primarily a passive role of learning creating learners dependent on an outside source, the teacher.
As a university professor, I am able to view my own style of teaching along with the styles of other professors with whom I interact. I consider it an asset to have come into the field from a professional, non-educational background, free from the standard pedagogical modeling. It is from this standpoint that I engage my students to create a space: where their experiences are valued and referenced, which explains the value in learning and how it applies to them, and which allows them to lead many of their own learning experiences. It is intuitive for me to teach in this way. Although I still lecture, it is a smaller part of my time with the students and the remainder is spent in ways that actively engage them in the learning experience.
Just over a decade ago, I spent some time learning from a leadership development group that was based in experiential learning. It was an entirely new experience for me and one that made an impact on my idea of how people learn. It helped me understand the power of learning with my peers versus from the one person at the front of the room, as well as how powerful exercises could be to enhance and deepen the learning experience. I would venture to say this experience is what shifted how I view learning and more than anything else impacted the style in which I teach.
Knowles, M. S. (1980). MY FAREWELL ADDRESS…ANDRAGOGY–NO PANACEA, NO IDEOLOGY. Training & Development Journal, 34(8), 48.
KNOWLES, M. S. (1972). Innovations in Teaching Styles and Approaches Based Upon Adult Learning. Journal of Education for Social Work, (2). 32.
Knowles, M. S. (1977). Adult learning processes: pedagogy and andragogy. Religious Education, 72(2), 202-211.