What is Andragogy and How Can It Be Applied to My Classroom?

Oct 26, 2023
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You’ve most likely heard of pedagogy, defined as the method and practice of teaching, but have you heard of andragogy? If you work with adult learners, you probably already practice it. But what is andragogy, exactly? Simply put, andragogy is the understanding of the science and practice of adult learning.

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 that has helped them learn and grow throughout their lives. As an educator, it is important to develop lessons and curricula to engage this varied group of learners as they work toward their goals. That’s where understanding andragogy comes in. Getting familiar with its lessons and philosophies can help you support adult learners effectively.

What is Andragogy? Knowles’ Assumptions of Adult Learners

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. Adult educator Malcolm Shepherd Knowles famously wrote on this topic, outlining both assumptions about adult learners and suggesting outcomes that andragogy should produce.

Below is a quick look at Knowles’ assumptions of adult learners, which shape the principles and practices that define andragogy today.

Self-Concept: As a person matures, their self-concept moves from being a dependent personality to being a self-directed human being.

Adult Learner Experience: As a person matures, they accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

Readiness to Learn: As a person matures, their readiness to learn becomes increasingly oriented to their social roles' developmental tasks.

Orientation to Learning: As a person matures, their time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result, their orientation toward learning shifts from subject-centeredness to problem-centeredness.

Motivation to Learn: As a person matures, their motivation to learn is internal.

These ideas offer an insightful look into the realities many adult learners experience. Just as we might work to put ourselves in the shoes of a child learner, it’s vital to empathize with the adult learner’s journey. From there, it’s possible to adapt classroom material and teaching methodologies to appropriately address your students’ needs.

What Outcomes Should Andragogy Produce in the Classroom?

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

1. Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves.

When learning, adults should be able to look at themselves maturely and objectively. Unlike younger students, adults can better understand their 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.

2. 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. 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 reflect upon their opinions and why they believe in them.

3. 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 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.

4. 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 they need to improve.

5. Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials of their personality.

Everyone has the potential skills and traits to help them contribute to their 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 lives. 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.

6. 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.

7. Adults should understand their society and 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 to participate in them. As such, they should have a basic understanding of how they work.

How to achieve this outcome: Connect your lessons to current events 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.

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