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Andragogy: A Concept for Today Krishna Bista Foundations of Adult Education
“Andragogy was an unfortunately conceived and misleading concept from the outset” (Collins, 1998, p.108). Much has been written on the concept of andragogy over the last thirty years, including both supportive and critical analysis, but the question remains as to whether andragogy and its inherent assumptions is still a valid concept for today’s work with adult learners, learners from diverse cultures and learners who demonstrate numerous learning needs. I would suggest the answer to this question is yes. This paper will explore the theory of andragogy and its underlying principles, identify several of its criticisms, and demonstrate how andragogy continues to be a worthwhile concept when working with today’s adult learners. History & Definition In North America, the concept of andragogy was born in the late 1960’s when Malcolm Knowles attempted to distinguish between the schooling of children and the education of adults. According to Merriam (2001), the field of adult education, since its inception in the early 1920s, had been contemplating how adult learning differed from the learning of children. Knowles was attempting to provide a theory or set of assumptions to assist with this process, and defined his concept of andragogy in contrast with that of pedagogy, the theory understood by most educators at that time. The development of the concept of andragogy became an important component to position adult education as a distinct profession and academic field, separate from that of the education of children (St. Clair, 2002). In 1968, Knowles published his first article ‘Andragogy, Not Pedagogy’ after Duscan Savicevic, a Yugoslavian adult educator, mentioned the concept to him. According to Savicevic, the term was introduced in Europe in 1833 by Alexander Kapp, a German grammar school teacher. The term had derived from the German word ‘andragogik’, a
Andragogy word used to describe learning that occurs not only through teachers but also through self-reflection and life experience (Reischmann, 2002). Knowles continued to publish on the subject, completing his 1970 book ‘The Modern Practice of Adult Education, Andragogy versus Pedagogy’ and later his 1973 book, ‘The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species’. In it, he attempted to formulate a comprehensive adult learning theory based on the concept of andragogy. His concept, the “art and
science of helping adults learn” was built upon two key principles: that adult learners are self-directed, and the role of the teacher is as a facilitator of learning. These principles are fundamentally different than the focus and assumptions found in the concept of pedagogy. Pedagogy Pedagogy originated with the Calvinist’s belief that wisdom was evil and children needed direction, control, and limits on their learning in order to remain innocent (Conner, 1998). Further influence was the early belief that indoctrination had been used effectively on boys who were becoming priests, and as a consequence, organized schools adopted a similar approach years later, that of pedagogy. (Knowles, 1970) The definition of pedagogy takes its origin from the stem of the Greek word “paid” meaning child, plus “agogus” meaning leader of, consequently pedagogy has been defined as the ‘art and science of teaching”. Pedagogy, as teacher-focused education, is concerned with the effective transmission of content and how the content can be covered, organized and sequenced (Knowles, 1973). Principles and Assumptions “I am not talking about a clear-cut differentiation between children as learners. Rather, I am differentiating between the assumptions about learners that have traditionally been made by those who practice pedagogy in contrast to the assumptions made in andragogy”
Andragogy (Knowles, 1973, p.43,). Knowles intent from the onset was clear; to differentiate between the inherent assumptions of these two concepts. As both terms are defined as ‘the art and science of’ either teaching or teaching adults, what then are their contrasting assumptions? According to Knowles, five features distinguish adult education from the education of children; andragogy from pedagogy. Knowles (1973) suggests that in andragogy the learner is self-directed, problem-centred, and that their life experiences are seen as a major learning resource. As adults, they are internally motivated and want to learn the things they ‘need’ to learn. In pedagogy, the learner is considered passive and dependant, their previous experience of little value in the subject-centred learning process, and the application of their learning is postponed until later years. In addition to the fundamental differences in the basic assumptions about the learner, there exist differences in the identified power relationship between the teacher and learner. Pedagogy is teacher-dominant; the teacher sets the agenda and decides what and how something will be learned. In an andragological approach, learning content is determined by learners in collaboration with their teacher/facilitator; there exists less distinction between the teacher and learner. Important learning strategies in andragogy
are the ‘learning contract’, where the learner and educator negotiate what the outcome of the learning/teaching transaction will be, and a ‘portfolio’ which is used as evidence to demonstrate achievement of these mutually derived objectives. Another significant difference is the focus and direction of communication; pedagogy suggests one-way communication from teacher to learner, while in andragogy the facilitator encourages integrative learning. “The andragogical model is a process model, in contrast to the content models employed by most traditional educators.” (Knowles, 1973, p.102) Knowles (1973) redefined the role of the teacher as that of facilitator, responsible for the creation of a collaborative and informal learning climate, consisting of mutuality and respectfulness. Design elements in an andragogical environment include mutual planning, self-diagnosis, and negotiation. Content is developed in terms of learner readiness and as
Andragogy problem units, activities are experientially and inquiry based, and evaluations are a mutually agreed-upon measurement of learning. In an interview with Knowles later in his career, he stated that the big difference is that an educator who is dedicated to the
pedagogical model will do everything they can to keep the learner dependent upon them; the person following the andragogical model will accept dependence as necessary, but then do everything they can to move the learner to take increasing responsibility for their own learning (Knowles, 1988). In order to effectively evaluate the concept of andragogy for use today, it is important to understand its main assumptions and the implicit role of the educator within these assumptions. The first of Knowles’ assumptions suggests that as a person matures, they move from a dependent personality towards being a self-directed human being. Teachers/facilitators consequently have a responsibility to assist adults in this movement towards self-directedness. Knowles’ second assumption is that adults have an everincreasing reservoir of experiences which serve as an important resource to be encouraged and utilized extensively by the teacher/facilitator. Knowles then moves to a third assumption which is that as adults, we are ready to learn when it will help us cope with real-life tasks or problems. As we mature our readiness to learn becomes increasingly oriented to the various social roles in our lives and to the developmental tasks found within these roles. An adult learner sees education as a means to develop increased competence, which is Knowles’ fourth assumption. Time perspective also changes from one of postponed application to immediate application of knowledge, and the orientation toward learning moves from subject-centeredness to problem-centredness. (Knowles, 1973) As the facilitator of adult learning, our role is to provide learning opportunities which focus on real-life tasks and problems that are immediately applicable to our learners. These assumptions were a significant shift from the traditional or pedagogically-focused education of the time.
Andragogy Later in his career Knowles added two further assumptions regarding adult learners; that adults need to know the reasons behind what they are learning, and that the most critical motivators for adult learning are internal, such as self-esteem. (Knowles, 1984) Theoretical Foundations It is worth noting that Knowles’ theory of andragogy and his six principles were greatly influenced by the other theorists of his day, and his ideas fit succinctly with the 1970 Rogerian, person-centered approach. Knowles’ basis for defining the role of the teacher
in adult education has a humanistic, clinical psychology approach, which originated with Carl Rogers’ idea of the qualities of good facilitation. According to Rogers, “We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning. (Knowles, 1973, p.32) As a theory, andragogy is fundamentally based in the humanist approach to learning. The concept of the learning contract is a core value and demonstrates the humanist view of learners and their potential for growth. (St. Clair, 2002) Andragogy also incorporates components of the behaviourist approach, and many of its underlying assumptions are based within a developmental psychology approach to maturation. The developmental psychology influence can be seen through Knowles’ early work (1970) where he begins with a quote of Maslow and his ‘Hierarchy of Human needs’, and continues on to include Maslow’s dimensions for maturation. Behaviourist influences are also seen throughout Knowles’ work. The behaviourist theory suggests that human beings learn through reinforcement, and Knowles draws on this theory to highlight “the ways in which the learner’s environment acts on him.” (Knowles, 1970, p.52) It is interesting to note that Knowles used ideas from psychologists working in two different, somewhat opposing therapeutic traditions; the humanist and behavioural traditions. (Smith, 1999) Knowles added additional elements, such as those encouraging the learner to identify their needs, set objectives, and enter into learning contracts, elements which find their basis in both behaviour modification and a humanistic
Andragogy approach. Knowles was also influenced by Freire’s concepts although it has been suggested that he downplayed the radical context of adult education with his theory. (Spencer, 1998) In 1973, Knowles stated that Dewey’s concepts were ‘perhaps the most impactful system of ideas about effective teaching’ as they contrasted with those of pedagogically-focused education (p.68). Although there were many influences on Knowles, the humanist approach was clearly the most influential. A major shift occurred
in education in the 1970’s with his defining and popularizing of andragological concepts, moving adult education away from the behaviourist theories towards a more humanistic approach to learning. Critiques & Criticisms Initially the field of adult education embraced Knowles and his assumptions, but soon afterwards the trend was to criticize Knowles and discredit his concept of andragogy. The criticisms of Knowles’ work are varied and too numerous to refute individually, although in order to organize the concerns into a coherent format they can be categorized into 3 main areas; the question of whether andragogy is a theory or a set of assumptions and to whom the assumptions apply; the validity of Knowles’ individual assumptions, and the question of cultural concerns and implications. General criticisms suggest that there are many ways of categorizing educational thinking and practice that are more complex and useful than Knowles' setting of pedagogy against andragogy, and that what he has described as adult learning is not a different kind of learning than child learning. It is also argued that Knowles’ theory is only a set of assumptions and not a theory for adult learning, since it does not explain how or why adults learn (Smith, 1999). Another criticism led by Hartree (1984) suggests that it is not clear as to whether andragogy is a theory or set of assumptions about learning, or a theory or model about teaching. Others suggest that Knowles’ assumptions can be interpreted as descriptions of the adult learner and as statements ‘about what the adult learner should be like’ (Hartree 1984 quoted in Smith, 1999). It is obvious from these various critiques that Knowles’ assumptions are open to wide interpretation, but does this mean they are
Andragogy not a useful tool in working with present day adult learners? I would suggest this potential for such broad interpretation and series of questioning and comments only enhances the value of these assumptions for modern day use. The concept has been thoroughly criticized and yet many of these assumptions continue to provide a basis for how we as adult educators approach our work. Later in his career, Knowles (1980) stated that andragogy is a set of assumptions about learners to be tested out for different learners in different situations and that pedagogy and andragogy exist on a continuum, although his assumptions are more appropriate to adults. Critiques disagree with the notion of a continuum, stating that it is too simplistic and that learners are either pedagogically focused or andragogically focused or not focused in either area (Baumgartner, 2003). This concept of a continuum continues to promote ongoing discussion and research into learning and into the most effective teaching practices for today’s learners.
Another area of criticism suggests that Knowles’ assumptions about the learning of adults were not based on sound evidence or valid research. Additionally, each of his assumptions has been individually analyzed, and it has been argued that his first assumption regarding the self-directedness of the adult learner is not limited to adult learning as there are elements of self-directedness and independence found in children’s learning. This assumption regarding self-direction in adults was based on a developmental concept, not initially well researched, and it has been successfully argued that it could be applicable to both children and adults. Many adults are not self-directed in their learning and require structure and support to become self-directed, so the question of whether self-direction is the starting point in adult learning or the ideal has been raised in numerous reviews of Knowles’ work. Another argument questions whether the experiences of young people are any less real or less important than those of adults in the learning process. Children may not have the accumulation of as many years of experiences as adults, but their experiences still must
Andragogy be considered in the context of their learning. Similarly, Knowles’ belief that adults learn more effectively through experiential techniques such as discussion or problem solving (Knowles, 1980) may not be accurate. Experiential learning may not always be appropriate, specifically when significant amounts of information are required, and experiential learning is not limited to adults, as children also learn this way. There have been challenges to another of Knowles’ principles, that as a person matures his readiness to learn becomes increasingly oriented to the developmental tasks of his social roles. It has been argued that children also have to learn and perform social roles. Humphries (1988) argues that Knowles treatment of social roles - as worker, as mother,
as friend, and so on, accepts the legitimacy of the existing social relationships and there is a danger of reproducing the oppressive forms within our society. Feminists add to this criticism and accuse Knowles of overlooking the different learning needs of women, gendered structures and power in education. (Tisdell, 1993) Knowles’ assumption that as a person matures their time perspective changes has also been examined. Brookfield (1986) suggests that everyone can develop a problem-centred approach to learning, and he argues that Knowles’ focus on 'problem-centredness’ undervalues the large amount of learning undertaken by adults with no specific goal in mind. Frequently, learning is for pleasure, unrelated to life tasks, and represents a means by which adults can define themselves. Knowles focus on andragogy misses out on an understanding of adult education as a distinctive social activity. (Spencer, 1998) Tennant (1988, quoted in Smith, 1999) has also criticized the assumption that adults have a greater wish for immediacy in their learning and he suggests that a reverse argument can be made; that adults are better able to tolerate the postponed application of knowledge than children. Each of Knowles’ individual assumptions has been challenged and found wanting, yet they have promoted and encouraged the development of profoundly new and different
strategies for use in the classroom, regardless of the age of the learner. As the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy and the child-adult dichotomy has become less clear, the assumptions of andragogy have been subsumed as an inherent component of education, regardless of the age of the learner. The last series of criticism suggest that the concept andragogy is seriously flawed because it neglects the cultural dimensions of adult education. Critics argue that it does not meet the criteria of culturally-based education (Roberson, 2002) as it reflects only male-dominated Western values. Since it was created in the early 1970s and is based in the Western male concept of individuality, some argue that it is not applicable across cultures. Knowles is also criticized by critical theorists for oversimplifying the concept of individual freedom, and therefore the term only addresses certain types of learners at certain times. Not all learners share the white, male, middle-class background from which this theory originates. In addition, contemporary learning theories such as communities of practice challenge this approach by de-emphasizing individual learners and focus on group practices. These criticisms suggest that since the concept of andragogy originated in one culture, it is not transferable to learners from other cultures. I would suggest Knowles’ concept of the teacher as a facilitator of learning, not as a teacher in the pedagogical sense, addresses many of these concerns and allows for the transfer of the concepts cross-culturally. The depth and breath of these criticisms only serve to highlight the impact Knowles had and continues to have on the field of adult education.
Linkages and Challenges in the 21st century How should adult educators respond to the challenges of the 21st century? How does once make sense of, or find relevance in this widely scrutinized concept? Does Knowles’ concept of the educator as facilitator address the numerous criticisms? It is obvious from these and other questions that andragogy, as a learning theory, does not explain how or why adults learn, but serves well as a foundational theory and contributed significantly to the adult education movement. Andragogy is the basis for many present-day adult
learning theories including transformative learning, self-directed learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning, although these too, have been debated and criticized. If andragogy is approached as a set of assumptions, as Knowles intended, it provides a starting point for educators desiring a more humanistic approach to adult education and a touchstone for good practice (St.Clair, 2003), regardless of the learner’s disparate background and learning needs. Brookfield (1986) suggests “the concept of andragogy is one that has great emotional appeal to those involved in facilitating adult learning. It is learner-centred; it suggests all kinds of humanistically desirable and democratic practices” (p.96). As such, it has great application today, to all learners; learners who are physically or developmentally challenged, those with learning disabilities, and learners of different gender or from various cultures. Knowles assumption of self-directedness is a desirable or ideal condition, but personal experience and various critiques suggest it is seldom found in learners. “Its rarity, however, in no sense weakens the view that the enhancement of self-directedness is the proper purpose of education; instead it provides a compelling reason why educators should pursue this end with unflagging zeal” (Brookfield, 1986, p.95). Educators consequently have a responsibility to assist all learners in this movement from dependency towards increasing self-directedness, and develop and design courses with this goal in mind. The concept of self-directedness can also be applied cross-culturally and across genders, as it allows learners to focus their learning according to their own unique traditions, culture, learning style, experiences and needs. It is the basic responsibility of the facilitator to encourage learners so that their unique perspectives and understandings can be incorporated into the learning process. Nah (1999) suggests the concept of a selfdirected learner changes from culture to culture but is no less applicable cross-culturally. As an example, he points to Korean learners, for whom self-directedness is articulated in the awareness of others’ well-being. “The virtue of interdependence and the virtue of independence and autonomy are not mutually exclusive, within a self-directed learner.”
(Nah, 1999. p.19) Self-direction as an assumption is transferable outside the male, white, western culture. The broad scope of andragogy as a concept is fundamental to its strength, as it allows learners to be involved in their own learning experiences and help set the parameters of their experience. A second concept of Knowles that is also transferable across all learners is his belief that the vast experiences of an adult adds to knowledge. As we continue to grow as a racially and ethnically diverse nation, we need to acknowledge the varied socio-cultural context of our learners, thereby allowing the learner to bring forth their own culture, gender experiences and learning needs. Once again it is the educator’s role to encourage and utilize these experiences in the learning process and personal experience suggests that when educators accomplish this, the classroom becomes much more dynamic, more inclusive and a more effective learning climate. Knowles’ assertion that adults always seek immediate application to their learning or that adults are always problem-centred may not be universal, but these principles and his later assumptions regarding motivation and relevance for learning are still often considered in present day adult education The assumptions of andragogy are not culturally bound and are transferable to numerous disciplines; consequently, they have become both ageless and timeless. As a basis for good practice they continue to be used in North America and Europe, in a variety of disciples from the sciences to the humanities and for all learners, regardless of age. They now also find relevance in the e-learning era. Although the learning contract has been criticized as reflecting a linear and analytical perspective of western thought, it can also be a creative tool reflecting the individual needs of the learner, independent of gender or culture (Robertson, 2002). With the increased convergence of pedagogical and andragogical approaches to learning for all ages, andragogy is no longer age-restricted and its main aspects of climate setting, self-directed learning, use of contracts, individualized instruction, experiential learning, process design, peer helping, selfdiagnosis and self-evaluation are prominent practices around the world in education (Knowles, 1984).
The concept of a portfolio as a demonstration of learning is another of Knowles’ concepts that has made the transition to present day, having grown into the concept of an eportfolio. Technology advancements in education have supported, encouraged and been further encouraged by the assumption of self-directedness. In many ways the concept of andragogy has become even more relevant, as the aging baby boomer generation of adult learners demand autonomy and control over their learning; they have become life-long self-directed learners and their significant previous experiences serve as critical resources in their learning process. How does the concept of andragogy relate to experiences within the classroom and my personal philosophy of teaching? I too am a humanist at my core, both as a Child and Youth Worker and as an educator, and the principles of andragogy are inherent to both my teaching and clinical practices. As an educator, it is apparent that many of our learners do not exemplify the characteristics of a self-directed learner but as a facilitator I must scaffold their learning with this goal in mind. As an educator I recognize my responsibility to create a learning environment in the truest andragogical sense, and to move the learner to accepting increasing responsibility for their own learning. Simultaneously, it is imperative in a classroom of diverse learning needs and cultural backgrounds that I begin with the needs and desires of the learner and these interact and influence my curriculum design and development. “At times facilitators will be called upon to prompt adults to confront painful facts. Sure we must meet expressed and articulated learner needs but learner does not have complete control.” (Brookfied, 1986, p.97) He suggests that as facilitators we are professionally bound to not always to take learners’ expressions or learning wants and needs as the sole criteria for all curriculum development and instructional design. It is the interaction of these two that must define our classrooms be they ‘real’ or ‘virtual’. Learner desires and educator priorities must interact and influence each other.
Andragogy Although the field of adult education continues to struggle today as a profession, regardless of where education is delivered and by whom, in order to be effective it has
one main concept in common; learning is a process that must be learner-centred and this process is facilitated by the educator. The basis for this in education, regardless of its name or incarnation is andragogy. Reflective practice, a critical concept to education in the 21st century, can only be achieved through adherence to the concept of the educator as a facilitator, and effective facilitation can only be achieved through constant reflection. Throughout the last 30 years, Knowles and his concept of andragogy has supported, encouraged and continues to promote this reflection.
Andragogy REFERENCES: Baumgartner, L. (2003). Andragogy: A foundational theory/set of assumptions in adult learning theory: A primer, Centre on Education and Training for Employment, Columbus, Ohio State University Brookfield, S. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.,
Collins, M. (1998). Critical returns: from andragogy to lifelong education, In S. Scott, B. Spencer & A. Thomas (Eds.) , Learning for Life, (p. 46-58). Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc. Collins, M, (1998). Lifelong education as emancipatory pedagogy, In S. Scott, B. Spencer & A. Thomas (Eds.), Learning for Life, (p. 107-139). Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc. Conner, M. (2004). Andragogy and pedagogy. Ageless Learner, Retrieved May 12, 2005 from http://agelesslearner.com/intros/andragogy.html Hartree, A. (1984). Malcom Knowles, Theory of andragogy: a critique, International Journal of Lifelong Education, no 3, April-June, 203-210 Humphries, B. (1988). Adult Leaning in social work education: towards liberation or domestication. Critical Social Policy, No 23, pp 4 – 21 Knowles, M. (1970). The modern practice of adult education, andragogy versus Pedagogy, New York, Association Press Knowles, M (1973). The adult learner: a neglected species, Houston, Gulf Publishing
Knowles, M (1984). Andragogy in action. applying modern principles of adult education, San Fancisco, Jossey Bass Knowles, M (1988). Beyond the adult learner’s dependency. In Perspectives On adult education. Athabasca University. Merriam, S. B., and Caffarella, R.S. (1999). Learning in adulthood: a comprehensive guide, 2nd ed, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. Nah, Y. (1999). Can a self-directed learner be independent, autonomous and interedependent?: Implications for practice. Adult Learning. 11(1), 18, 19, 25 Reischmann, J. (2004). Andragogy. history, meaning, context, function. At: http://www.andragogy.net. Version Sept. 9, 2004. Retrieved May 10, 2005 from http://www.uni-bamberg.de/ppp/andragogik/andragogy/ Robertson, D. (2002) Andragogy in color, US Department of Education, (ERIC document Reproduction Service No.EADU 9020) Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999).Andragogy, the encyclopaedia of informal education, Retrieved May 12, 2005 from http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-andra.htm St. Clair, R. (2003). Myths and realities, andragogy revisited: theory for the 21st Century?, Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education, (ERIC document Reproduction Service No. ED 99-CO-0013)
Spencer, B. (1998). The purposes of adult education, Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.
Tennant, M, (1996). Psychology and adult learning, London: Routledge Tisdell, E., J (1993). Feminism and adult learning:power, pedagogy and praxis. NewDirection for Adult and Continuing Edcuation, 7, 91 – 103
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