“Adults are problem centered, not subject – centered, and desire immediate, not postponed application of the knowledge learned.”
Problem centered or subject centered?
The quote above takes me back to my days in university, when I lived in the dorms. This was my first experience living without my family, and which also meant it would be the first time I would be cooking my own dinner! If you ask anyone that knows me well, they will tell you that I can’t cook to save my life! However, with the help of a few DIY (Do It Yourself) YouTube videos & help from my dorm mates I was able learn some basic recipes.
Adults are problem centered. I would never look up recipes or, watch videos on preparing my favorite chicken alfredo pasta in white sauce if, I didn’t have to cook dinner myself. It was only when I realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my days eating ready-to -eat noodles or takeaways that, I decided to learn how to cook. Therefore, adults also seek knowledge that they can immediately apply to the situation they are facing.
On the other hand, my friend absolutely enjoys baking and cooking for her family and friends. She is always watching cooking shows and YouTube videos in her spare time to learn new recipes. In the case of my friend, her learning is subject centered she uses the resources available at her disposal to build on her existing skill. Does this mean that there can be exceptions to the rule? The answer is, yes!
Andragogy is the art and science of helping adults learn. The term was first coined by Alexander Kapp in 1833 (Howard, 1993). In 1926, Eduard C. Linderman extended the idea, and in 1956 Malcom Knowles developed a set of assumptions to reflect the difference between how adults and child learn (Chan, 2010). These assumptions were developed to fill gaps in the pedagogy model of education which is art and science of teaching children. The monasteries in the 7th century used the pedagogy model to establish schools for children (Thompson & Deis, 2004). Here, importance is placed on the role of the teacher in education. The teacher determines what the students need to know, how they are taught and when the teaching and learning process should begin. The Andragogy model on the other hand is based on the humanistic framework where the learner is the center of the learning transaction. It recognizes that not all learners are the same. In fact, in the 1920’s teachers of adult learners began experiencing several problems with the pedagogy model. The teachers noticed that students would often resist strategies of pedagogy which include fact laden lectures, assigned readings, rote memorizing and examinations. Adult learners wanted more than this and the dropout rates were significantly high (Chan, 2010).
In 1977, Malcom Knowles developed a set of assumptions about adult learns. His model although in academics is considered “dated” it is still widely used as a reference in books, articles and papers on adult learning (Thompson & Deis, 2004). He is no doubt the founder of the adult learning doctrine and, his work played a pivotal role in terms of a shift in the educational paradigm. It was quite interesting for me to learn that no one has actually refuted his claims but, only support them with additional arguments.
What is Andragogy?
According to Knowles perspective, andragogy is based on the following assumptions (Merriam, 2001):
Self-concept Adult learners are self-directed and independent. They have a deep psychological need to be perceived by others and treated by others as independent contributing members of society, capable of taking responsibility of themselves and others.
Role of Experience Adult learners have a reservoir of experiences which is a rich resource for learning. As an adult assumes life roles, they accumulate life experiences. They draw on these experiences during learning situations.
Readiness to Learn Adult learners are ready to learn only when they perceive they need to know. Roles that individuals play in adulthood create a need for learning. For e.g. If an adult is expecting a baby he/she will want to learn more about parenting.
Orientation to Learning Adults are problem focus, task centered and life focused. They learn to apply that knowledge immediately than for future use. For e.g. If an adult is advised by the doctor that his cholesterol or sugar levels are high, he might researching for foods that can contain his blood sugar or cholesterol levels.
Internally Motivated Adults are internally motivated. They value self-direction and independence which leads to personal growth and fulfillment. Adults are free to choose what they need to learn. For e.g. pursuing a master’s degree or certification to increase one’s chances of being promoted.
Need to know Adult learners need to know why the value of learning and why they need to learn. For e.g. Employees attending a training workshop on using the automated purchasing system will be motivated to attend if, the workshop addresses the challenges they face while using the system in their respective jobs.
So, what do we understand about learners based on the assumptions above? As individuals progress in life they become increasingly independent and responsible for their actions. They are committed to solving immediate problems in their lives which is ultimately the key motivator for their learning. They have a need to be self-directing. The pedagogical model does not address these developmental changes. To address this gap andragogy presents an alternative model of instruction to improve adult learning (Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence).
The term andragogy has evolved and it now has a wider meaning. It now more often referred to as learner focused education for all ages. Knowles himself defined andragogy as a model that is not independent but, one that needs to be used alongside the pedagogical model based on the situation an adult educator is faced with. The models represent two ends of the spectrum with realistic assumptions about learners in a given situation falling in between the two ends (Knowles, 1980).
Who are Non - traditional students?
Classrooms today are not what they used to be not only have demographics of the student population changed dramatically over the last 30 years but, advances in technology have led to changes in the field of education as a whole. On line learning has brought about virtual classrooms, on line discussion forums, virtual group meetings, etc. adult learners have a greater autonomy and freedom when it comes to learning.
In the 1960’s enrollments in colleges increased in the U.S as baby boomers reached college age. Economic changes over the last few years has made it attractive for baby boomers to go back to school. Also, social changes in the 1960’s and 1970’s led to an increase in female enrollment as well as, that of older adult students into higher education and these trends continue today (Thompson & Deis, 2004). So there is a need for new models of learning in higher education based on the theory of Andragogy.
Learners are becoming more and more non - traditional. The National Center for Education Statistics narrows down the definition of non - traditional to a student having one or more of these characteristics: delays enrollment, is a part – time student, works at least 35 hours per week, is financially independent, has dependents or, a single parent, married, or doesn’t have a high school diploma (National Center for Educational Statistics , 2002). Therefore, the term non - traditional is a continuum where a student can be classified from minimally to highly nontraditional based on how many characteristics him /her possess. From 1970 to 1999, the percentage of students over the age of 25 years attending college increased from 28% to 39% and females enrolling jumped from 42% to 56%. In between 1999 – 2000 73% of undergraduates were non-traditional students and possessed at least one non-traditional attribute (National Center for Educational Statistics , 2002). With the increase in enrollment rates of nontraditional learners over the last couple of years, it is important for adult educators to understand their needs and use the assumptions of the andragogy model as a guide in teaching.
So, what about institutions where there is a mix of traditional and non-traditional students? In this case, an effective instructor would adapt to the changing needs of the learners and understand the difference in their learning styles. For example: Full time students (traditional) may need more pedagogy and part time students (non-traditional) usually working adults may need more andragogy.
Andragogy in Action
In the Andragogy model the learner plays a pivotal role in acquiring new knowledge or skills. It is characterized by problem based orientation, the use of experienced – based techniques and, facilitation of self– motivation to encourage learning. Andragogy’s popularity has spread to many countries and research on it is still growing. It has been adopted in several European countries like Germany, England, Netherlands, France, Poland, etc. Its approach has been adopted in multiple disciplines such as medicine, criminal justice and, management (Chan, 2010).
Although most adult educators are trained to use a variety of teaching methods to encourage student involvement in learning, most adult educators have difficulty incorporating these strategies into their classroom (Harris, 2003). This is especially the case with novice teachers in higher education. Some adult educators also, have a tendency to slip back into adopting a more traditional method of teaching that they experienced as students (Clynes, 2009).
So, how can adult educators overcomes these challenges? An evaluation – understanding – action framework can be used by adult educators (Rolfe, 1998). This process consist of three cycles as stated above to solve a perceived problem along with the students (learners). For example: If an adult educator is faced with the problem where, students feel that their interactions are very limited. Following the 3 stages: First, the educator can evaluate the problem by having an open discussion with the group of learners about the problem, this way the educator has a clearer understanding of how the learners feel, and the third stage would be to collectively come up with an action plan or solution. In this case, it would be more group discussions, brain storming sessions, etc. to increase interactions (Clynes, 2009).
Adult educator should create an environment where the learners are respected and their contributions are valued. The instructor should allow the learners to use their experience when participating in group discussions, brain storming, etc. This way learners are much more motivated to contribute since, they feel their experience is accepted and valued. Also, asking learners to contribute based on their opinion makes them feel more comfortable as there is no defined wrong or right answer.
Adult learners need to know the relevance of their learning and how it ties into their experience. Instructors should allow the learner to connect his/her experience with new concepts, theories and experiences through experiential learning or through stimulation. For e.g. using role plays, case studies, etc. where learners can apply knowledge and skills learned therefore, encouraging a deep approach to learning and enabling them to become lifelong learners. This is essential considering the times we live in today where, change is constant. By helping adults “learn how to learn”, they are more likely to cope with change and can be much effective change agents themselves (Clynes, 2009).
The model of andragogy is not bullet proof, there have been a few criticisms to this approach as it is not the means to end. Some researchers argue that it doesn’t consider social and political contexts in adult learning while others say, the linear thinking of Knowles perspective model emphasizes western concepts of reasoning and analysis. It doesn’t account for cultural differences (Chan, 2010). However, as research continues the effectiveness and scope of this model will also improve.
Chan, S. (2010). Applications of Andragogy in Multi-Disciplined Teaching and Learning. Journal of Adult Education, 25 - 35.
Clynes, M. P. (2009). A novice teacher’s reflections on lecturing as a teaching strategy: Covering the content or uncovering the meaning. Nurse Education in Practice, 22-27.
Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence. (n.d.). Andragogy form Subject Centered to Problem Centered. Retrieved from University of Central Florida: https://education.ucf.edu
Harris, S. (2003). An andragogical model: Learning through life experiences. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 38-41.
Howard, S. (1993). Accreditation of prior learning: Andragogy in action or a 'cut price' approach to education? Journal of Advanced, 1817 - 1824.
Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education (revised and updated). Chicago: Associate Press (originally published in 1970).
Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of Learning Theory. New Direction for Adult and Continuing Education, 3-13.
National Center for Educational Statistics . (2002). Findings from the Condition of Education 2002; Nontraditional Undergraduates (NCES 2002-012). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, NCES.
Rolfe, G. (1998). Expanding Nursing Knowledge Understanding and Reseraching your Practice. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Thompson, M. A., & Deis, M. (2004). Andragogy for Adult Learners in Higher Education. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 107 - 111.