A Bloggish Look At Knowles’ Conclusion

The Greek roots of “Pedagogy” translate to “leading a child.” In that respect—a teacher leading a learner—not much has changed in the shift from pedagogy to andragogy, or from “teaching” to “adult learning,” even if the methods have.

Malcolm Knowles’ conclusions about andragogy versus pedagogy is primarily three points: Dependence, Prior Experience, and Application. Knowles would have liked the “one person leading another” paradigm to change. He placed much emphasis on self-direction.

Thinking about self-direction

Leaving Knowles aside for a minute, what is the difference between teaching a child and teaching an adult? Imagine a kid in a classroom, and imagine someone in an organisation, about to learn a new concept or skill.

First and perhaps most important, the child believes that the teacher knows much more about the world than he does; this creates dependence, perhaps helplessness. Second, the child typically doesn’t think about why something is being taught to him—he has no inner motivation to learn it; he’s doing it anyway because he must. Also, the application of what is learnt is limited, or sometimes it’s like a game. There is usually no direct real-world application.

With these real differences, let’s ask: Would your method of teaching differ in the two cases?

Probably not.

I’m looking from the fact that... We don’t see courseware designed with the particular idea that it would be used by an adult and not by a child.

To clarify: The setting in which you’d teach would differ. What you’d teach would differ. When your instructional sessions happen would differ. But as for how you would teach differently... think about it: Your learner perceives you differently in the two cases. Your learner’s motive in accepting you as a teacher/instructor is different. Your learner’s use for what you teach, hand out, impart... is different. But that can’t change how you go about it, can it? (Unless you were to really go into psychology, theories of the brain, and so on.)

But, of course, teaching adults and teaching kids is different.

How come? If you look to the heart of it, it might boil down to self-direction: The instructor as facilitator. Engagement by virtue of personal interest or a sense of wonder. The learner's learning as part of his life's continuum.

Knowles’ reasons for looking hard at self-directed learning seem prescient. In particular, the futuristic idea that innovations in education, like open universities and non-traditional classrooms, assume that learners would take on the initiative to learn what they did. That observation was in 1975; thirty years on, we can see that in the case of, say, open courseware. The materials aren’t “designed for adults”; the fact that they’re there assume that learners want, on their own, to learn on their own.