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[Adult + HigherEd] What Is Andragogy and How Can It Be Applied to My Classroom?

[Adult + HigherEd] What Is Andragogy and How Can It Be Applied to My Classroom?

Adult learners are some of the most diverse and unique students you’ll ever encounter as an educator. They bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the learning experience that has helped them learn and grow throughout their lives. As an educator, it is important to develop lessons and curricula that will engage this varied group of learners as they work toward their goals.

To respond appropriately to an adult learner’s classroom needs, we need to look at how to best support an adult learner compared with a child. You’ve most likely heard of the term pedagogy, defined as the method and practice of teaching, but have you heard of andragogy? Andragogy is defined as the understanding of the science and practice of adult learning. While this term has been used for hundreds of years, adult educator Malcom Shepherd Knowles wrote on the topic, outlining both assumptions about adult learners and suggesting outcomes that andragogy should produce.

Here are Knowles’ assumptions of adult learners, as defined by eLearning Industry.

Knowles’ Assumptions of Adult Learners:

  1. Self-Concept: As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Adult Learner Experience: As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to Learn: As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
  4. Orientation to Learning: As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result, his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness.
  5. Motivation to Learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal.

Now that we’ve defined the characteristics of adult learners, what outcomes should andragogy produce when applied in the classroom? Knowles details seven from his research:

  1. Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves.

When learning, adults should have the ability to look at themselves maturely and objectively. Unlike younger students, adults are better able to understand their own needs, motivations, interests, and goals. Because they’re taking on the challenge of education, they’re clearly looking to better themselves and strive for new heights in their careers or personal lives.

How to achieve this outcome: Help your adult learners realize their potential through goal planning on a large or small scale. Each adult learner is in your classroom for a different reason. Acknowledge that, accept it, and help learners devise a plan to reach their goals.

  1. Adults should develop an attitude of acceptance, love, and respect toward others.

Knowles believed that an attitude of acceptance, love, and respect toward others is one on which all human relations depend on. He strongly believed that adults must be able to distinguish between people and ideas and to challenge ideas without threatening people. Cultivating empathy and the genuine desire to help others is important in this outcome.

How to achieve this outcome: Encourage respectful and civil debate in your classroom, if applicable. Challenge your learners to consider opposite viewpoints and to reflect upon their own opinions and why they believe in them.

  1. Adults should develop a dynamic attitude toward life.

Adults should accept that life is in a state of constant change and should think of themselves as always changing as well. Adults should look at every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.

How to achieve this outcome: Encourage your adult learners to reflect on their past experiences and identify how they’ve overcome difficult situations. Foster a classroom community that is full of learning and growth. Remind your learners how far they’ve come in their learning, especially when they begin to doubt themselves.

  1. Adults should learn to react to the causes, not the symptoms, of behavior.

Adults need to learn to recognize that the solutions to their problems lie in their causes. They also need to be able to identify the foot of their problems and fix them.

How to achieve this outcome: Have your learners identify their strengths and weaknesses. Self-reflection will help them (and you) better understand the areas that they need to improve in.

  1. Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials of their personalities.

Everyone has the potential skills and traits to help him or her contribute to his or her own well-being and to society.

How to achieve this outcome: While it is important for your learners to grow academically, they need opportunities to grow in other areas of their life. Provide learning experiences that aren’t always focused on academics, and consider lessons that teach soft skills that can be applied in vocational, social, and civic capacities.

  1. Adults should understand the essential values in the capital of human experience.

Adults need to understand that many experiences and a rich heritage bind us together to create the human experience and to respect those values.

How to achieve this outcome: Emphasize the similarities that connect groups of people, whether it be your students or groups that are featured in your lessons. Help your learners understand the context that ties many groups together and have them identify what helps bind them together with the people in their lives.

  1. Adults should understand their society and should be skillful in directing social change.

Adults should be able to understand various parts of the government, economy, international affairs, and other aspects of society in order to take part in them and should have a basic understanding of how they work.

How to achieve this outcome: Connect your lessons to current events in order to help your learners understand some context to these events. Help your learners understand what’s going on in our government and economy to help them make informed decisions as voters and consumers.

Looking for more real-world applications to help your adult learners grow in their skills? Check out these top five soft skills for career success and readiness