For my first blog post in EdTech 522, I want to reflect on my understanding of andragogy as it applies to online teaching and learning while also considering its criticisms. I feel these two topics will help me in my efforts to incorporate elements of online learning into the more traditional environment in which I teach.
Taylor and Kroth define andragogy as “the art and science of teaching/leading adults” (Knowles, 1980, p.43 as quoted in 2009). Because it is believed by some that adults learn differently than children, it may be important to differentiate instruction. Of course, this immediately calls into questions assumptions made when considering adult and child learning and I will discuss this later in this post. For now, I will explain Knowlesian assumptions of andragogy and how I believe they apply to online learning.
Because Knowles (and others) believed that learning processes are different between adults and children, he contended that teaching should be different. In order to understand this, it is important to look at Knowles six assumptions about how adults learn. The first assumption deals with an adult’s self-concept. Because adults are mostly capable of determining their own path in life, they are less interested in being told what is or is not appropriate. Second, adults enter learning environments with a considerable amount of life experience. The ability to draw on this experience holds enormous opportunity for promoting learning. Third, the situations in which adults finds themselves can promote a readiness to learn. Because of their social role, adult learners understand how enhancing their knowledge will help them perform better within the culture or organization in which they participate. Fourth, and quite in concert with the third, adult learners understand that new knowledge is capable of helping them deal with or overcome problems faced in their daily lives. This orientation to learn demonstrates how adults are motivated to immediately apply new knowledge. Fifth, and maybe most importantly, adults are driven to learn based on their own interests. They may feel it is necessary to learn a new skill to perform well at their jobs, or quite possibly, because they want to be the best at what they do. This type of learning feeds into an adult learner’s constant reconciliation between what is being taught and what they feel is necessary to learn (Taylor & Kroth, 2009).
Much of what I have read regarding how adults learn and how that relates to online learning makes sense to me. I agree that adults need to know why they are learning something and see how it fits into their immediate situation. Often, adults have a specific need for the information they are learning as it pertains to their role within their life, and they want to feel like they are in charge of their learning. Opportunities to learn come not just from the course materials but from the students in the course. Adults bring a wealth of experiences and knowledge to the learning environment and can share it freely and timely.
As these six assumptions imply, many adults enter learning environments with an agenda and require instruction that acknowledges their specific needs. Online learning, I feel, is an exceptional way to address these needs. Ko and Rossen give a practical description of the advantages online learning has on adults in their book Teaching Online, A Practical Guide. They explain that adults who work, raise families, or travel are able to incorporate studying into their already busy lives. They state, “School is always in session because school is always there” (Ko and Rossen, 2010). Because learning opportunities are almost always present due to the Internet, online learning offers more freedom to students. Therefore, it is necessary that instruction incorporate constructivist learning methods (Ko & Rossen, 2010). Teachers should move into the role of facilitator allowing students to actively create their own meaning from class materials and activities.
But is it fair to say that all adults or only adults learn as suggested by Knowles? Critics of andragogy would argue that all adults cannot be accounted for as andragogy would suggest. Learners come from diverse backgrounds and widely different experiences and may not share the same values or lifestyles. Moreover, it seems unfair to assume that children are not able to be self-directed learners, just as the opposite may be true about adults. And the shift in education today towards constructivist methods would imply that the boundaries between adult and youth learning are not so easily defined.
In my opinion, when looking at andragogy as a learning theory, I partially agree with the criticism. It does not take into account many adults who are not self-directed learner or youths who are. However, I do believe that in many circumstances, adults approach learning differently than children. And though it may not completely incorporate all adults, andragogy is important to consider when formulating online learning experiences.
Ko, S. and Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (3rd Edition). New York: Routledge.
Taylor, B., & Kroth, M. (2009). Andragogy’s transition into the future: Meta-analysis of andragogy and its search for a measurable instrument. Journal of adult education, 38(1).