As part of my ongoing teaching training I'm taking an accelerated course in andragogy -- or adult education -- and I'm going to use this space to talk about some of what I learn.
First, a historical note. "Andragogy" was coined by German education theorist Alexander Kapp in 1833 to describe Plato's theory of education.
Malcolm Knowles picked up the term and presented five assumptions made by andragogues(?):
- Self-Concept: As a person matures their self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
- Adult Learner Experience: As a person matures their accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
- Readiness to Learn: As a person matures their readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
- Orientation to Learning: As a person matures their time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result their orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness.
- Motivation to Learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal. (Knowles 1984:12)
These assumptions also suggest four principles that instructors should adhere to in designing their courses.
- Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
- Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
- Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
- Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (Kearsley, 2010)
It seems to me that the andragogical approach is less paternalistic than its pedagogical counterpart. It also seems to be less driven by a need to instruct values, since it's presumed that the adult learners already have a relatively fixed set of values.
I'm not sure to what degree any of Knowles assumptions are borne out, at least insofar as they apply to my own experience as a student. I guess I see how my learning has become more independent and informed by more experience. But just that fact, on its own, doesn't suggest to me that my own education ought to be any different. In fact, it might be better to reframe at least some aspects of my education in the opposite direction. Try to learn things for their own sake or to ignore my past experience.
I'm also curious what, if any, explanation Knowles gives for these assumptions. Are they just supposed to be axiomatic? Is there some reason why adult learners tend to be this way?