Adult Learning Theories – Andragogy

Andragogy – andr means ‘man’ and agogos meaning ‘leading’

Pedagogy – ped- means ‘child’ (see Davenport 1993: 114).

For Malcom Knowles, andragogy is premised on at least four crucial assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners on which traditional pedagogy is premised. A fifth was added later.

Exploring a comparison of the assumptions of pedagogy, andragogy following Knowles (Jarvis 1985: 51) and my own learning experiences before I read about these theories:

Pedagogy (passive learner) Andragogy              (active learner) My view as an adult learner
1. Learner Self-concept – As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. Dependent. Teacher directs what, when, how a subject is learned and tests that it has been learned. Moves towards independence. Self-directing. Teacher encourages and nurtures this movement. As adults we still do need a level of guidance. “My best teachers were when I was in year 6, home economics teachers and my aromatherapy lecturer – what they all had income was ‘empowering us with info’, by giving us a lot of material to study/work, so that we were prepared for the exams.”
2. The learners experience – As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Of little worth. Hence teaching methods are didactic A rich resource for learning. Hence teaching methods include discussion, problem-solving etc. I learn through reflective practice. “Today I obviously do learn differently compared to when I was a child. Now, I have found my own strategies how to learn and also experienced what works for me.”
3. Readiness to learn – As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles. People learn what society expects them to. So that the curriculum is standardized. People learn what they need to know, so that learning programmes organised around life application. Now as a mature learner I’m more capable to reason out things and find a way to learn. If it’s possible I will be a selective learner, however if the need is to learn what society expects, I will do what’s necessary.
4. Orientation to learning –  As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness. Acquisition of subject matter. Curriculum organized by subjects. Learning experiences should be based around experiences, since people are performance. centred in their learning. “Now that I have a stronger will to learn, the experience which strategies work for me to learn; my main challenge to learn at this time of my life is ‘TIME’, continuously trying to find a balance between work-family-learning.

Being an adult with a career, my only possibility of learning is that of an online learning. I would expect to be taught very similarly to when I was young, as in being given the right resources and pushed to finish the assignments with deadlines. However deadlines should be a personalised to my needy lifestyle – as I that work 9 to 7 plus family commitments, is far more difficult to have time to research and learn than someone who is at home earlier and doesn’t have family commitments…”

5. Motivation to learn – As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal ”The ambition of achieving what I’m working for, was always my motivational driver before and to date”.

I think that Knowels theory of andragogy is very realistic, as I when I compared my experiences as an adult learner I have paired close with his assumptions. Obviously not every being has the same history of experiences, level of maturity, motivation to learn and learning strategies/problem solving.

This is why then the lecturer needs to recognize the needs of the learners by checking on them, asking them if they are learning and if there’s the need of further help, etc. This reasoning can take us close to pedagogy, however I believe that even when adults are learning something new, some level of nurturing is needed!

An important contributor to education theories, Paulo Freire, in working with peasants in Brazil, saw education as a route to liberation, especially liberation from poverty and oppression.  The ideas that Freire used to capture this were:

  1. His emphasis on dialogue. That education is a route to liberation and not banking (putting in learning and getting out a compliant learner).
  2. Praxis –Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. Reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it. It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality.  They must act together upon their environment in order to critically reflect upon their reality and to transform it through further action and critical reflection.
  3. The idea of building a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ or a ‘pedagogy of hope’. That education is an intervention and a catalyst for change.
  4. Situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants has opened up a series of possibilities for the way informal educators can approach practice.
  5. Teachers and learners can be transcended. That there is a flat/equal relationship between student and teacher – each learning from and respecting the other

Freire named the fact that education was primarily about liberation, and mainly about the liberation of the collective (villagers, peasants). He also explored ideas about internalised oppression, conscientization, praxis and equality between student and teacher as significant concepts for community education which seeks to challenge inequality and oppression in society.


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