Professional Development Platform

October 9, 2022 Reading Time: Minutes Contributor:

Andra… What?

Back in 2006 Forrest and Peterson highlighted their frustration with management educators continuing to use the archaic but more commonly understood term ‘pedagogy’ to describe their work in adult professional development. Sadly it seems that even in 2021 adult educators continue to ignore the field of ‘andragogy’ and its implications on professional development design and delivery.

What is it?

Andragogy and pedagogy are indeed similar words and share the same root—gogy—a Greek word for ‘leading’ which has more recently evolved to describe teaching, or instruction. “Peda” translates as child, making pedagogy the art and science of teaching children (Simpson & Weiner, 1989). However, “andra” is a form of the word adult and thus, andragogy literally means the art and science of teaching adults.

Malcolm Knowles brought the term back into popular use in 1970 with the publishing of his book ‘The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy Versus Pedagogy’. His use of andragogy unified the adult education field by providing a rallying point and separating the adult education principles from those of children. Knowle’s work was challenged and adapted by himself over time resulting in a set of assumptions that will be discussed later in this post.

Andragogy Vs Pedagogy

At first glance, the difference seems simple (teaching children Vs teaching adults) and many would then expect to see a set of different techniques to use with each group. The reality is more complex and Forrest and Paterson argue that the difference lies at a philosophical level with both approaches utilising similar strategies and techniques. Some of the agreed differences can be seen in the table below:

Self-conceptLearners are dependent on external sources such as an instructor to assess and provide their needs.Learners are aware of themselves and their needs and bring this knowledge to the educational activity.
Learner’s ExperienceLearners bring little experience to the educational activity and thus experience is not used in the learning process.Learners bring a wealth of usable experience and knowledge to the educational activity, thus experience is used in the learning process.
Readiness to LearnThe need to know develops from external forces; often an instructor mandating the learning process that should take place.The need to know develops from an internal need to better address roles and responsibilities the learner faces.
Learning orientation.Subject or Teacher CenteredProblem or Performance Centered

The Andragogical Assumptions

As previously mentioned, the research and literature surrounding andragogy have produced a set of assumptions regarding adult learners that must be considered by professional development providers. The core set of assumptions below emerged from the work of Malcolm Knowles (1977, 1984).

The figure opposite outlines the basic premise that as learners develop maturity their need for certain learning conditions increases.

Critics of Knowle’s work have focused on the ‘adultness’ of the assumptions and questioned whether they are limited to adult learners. Other criticisms surround the lack of empirical evidence and the presence of contradictory results.

Adults are self-directed learners

As a person matures his/her self concept moves from dependent to self-directed.

Unlike children who often just have the singular role of student, adults wear multiple hats (parent, spouse, employee) and must actively decide to become a learner. It is also often the case that adult learning is optional and although attendance at professional development activities is enforced the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills still remains within their control. It is therefore important that those teaching adults recognise this and involve them in the learning process wherever possible as partners, tapping into and developing self-awareness and self-directedness.

PD Considerations

  • How much involvement do adult learners have in the design of their professional development?
  • How much choice exists for adult learners within their professional development?
  • What self-study materials do adult learners have access to?
  • How well developed are adult learner’s PLNs (Personal Learning Network)

Adults have a wealth of experience

As a person matures he/she accumulates experience that becomes increasingly used for learning.

A key difference between adult and child learners is the amount of experience they have developed and how influential that is to their learning. Adults bring a wealth of life experience and varying levels of domain specific experience to each learning experience. They continually compare new knowledge to their own experiences and in a bid to increase their understanding and gauge the information’s credibility and usefulness. It is therefore important that those teaching adults recognise the presence of this experience and actively seek to utilise it. Creating activities that engage with learner experience naturally increases levels of involvement, engagement and possibly learning.

PD Considerations

  • How do you assess / understand levels of experience for your adult learners?
  • How do you link session content to that experience?
  • How do you facilitate the sharing of experience between adult learners?
  • How do you ensure activities build on levels of experience?

Adults must be ready to learn

As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes increasingly orientated to their roles.

The motivation to learn and to apply that learning is a key challenge for any teacher and perceptions about the relevance of content is a key driver. Adults more readily engage with content which is directed related to their current or desire roles. It is therefore important that those teaching adults recognise the importance of accurate participant selection and clear communication of the why behind each activity.

PD Considerations

  • How do you identify / understand the role-specific demands of your adult learners?
  • How do you ensure the highest levels of relevance within the training content?
  • How do you prepare adult learners to be able to maximise their engagement with training content?
  • How do communicate the importance of training content and specific activities?

Adults seek learning that is immediately applicable

As a person matures his/her learning priorities change from postponed to immediate application.

Closely related to the readiness to learn is the perceived applicability of professional development content and the sense that adults are progressively more interested in learning that helps them solve problems. In contrast to child learners where there is the promise of future use, adults typically seek knowledge and skills that will improve their immediate performance. It is therefore important that those teaching adults recognise the importance of conxtetualising concepts, using real-life scenarios and guiding learners to reflect on how they can apply new learning.

PD Considerations

  • How do you identify / understand the current challenges of your adult learners?
  • How do you break training down into easily applicable chunks?
  • How do you make training as contextually specific as possible?
  • How do you provide adult learners with the ability to transfer their training to the work environment?

Adults are more intrinsically motivated

As a person matures the motivation to learn becomes more internal.

Linking with the self-directedness of adult learning is the sense that motivation to learn increasingly must come from inside as opposed to external reward or recognition. Adults look more towards the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and the pursuit of self-actualisation, personal growth and fulfillment. It is therefore important that those teaching adults recognise the need to generate a sense of purpose and joy within learning activities.

PD Considerations

  • How do you currently motivate your adult learners?
  • How do you identify / understand the needs and personal goals of your adult learners?
  • How do you facilitate the growth of intrinsic motivation?

Reflective Questions

  • How would you describe your current philosophy for teaching adults?
  • How does your professional development reflect the adult’s need for self-direction?
  • How does your professional development embrace the wealth of experience adult learners have?
  • How does your professional development align with your learners’ roles?
  • How does your professional development enable learners to make immediate improvements
  • How does your professional development create and sustain learner motivation?
References – click to open

Forrest, S., Peterson, T. (2006). It’s called andragogy. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5, 113-122.

Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York, NY: Association Press.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From andragogy to pedagogy. New York, NY: Association Press.

Simpson J. A. , Weiner E. S. C. 1989. The Oxford English dictionary (2nd ed., Vol. 20). Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon