The word of the day is andragogy


First a quick update. Massachusetts is great and thankfully its been a pretty mild winter. I’ve recently started working part time at Springfield Technical Community College as the Learning Advancement & Engagement Coordinator. In English this means I am doing faculty development work, though right now we’re still mostly in the planning stages. I’ve been doing a bit of reading (finally getting to all those teaching and learning articles that I had collected over the years but never read) and I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned.

The word of the day is andragogy. This word was new to me until recently. Now, thanks to Google, I know that andragogy is adult learning theory. This is compared to pedagogy which is focused on child learners. This makes sense since the prefix “ped” means child, like a pediatrician is a doctor for children. The prefix “andr” means man or masculine, like androgens are male sex hormones. But we’ll ignore the man-only roots of the term andragogy and generously include women as adult learners as well.

I’m thinking about andragogy along two levels. First, many students at community colleges are nontraditional students and fall into the category of adult learners, so I am creating faculty development material to help faculty here better serve adult learners. Secondly, the faculty in our faculty development workshops are adults, so I think it is important to consider the characteristics of adult learners as we design faculty development activities.

My objectives for this post are to review the principles and assumptions of adult learners (according to one theory) and discuss how to apply this knowledge to faculty development workshops. My motivation for this post is to a) Say “Hi” to my fellow ICbGers b) review what I’ve been reading and put it into my own words so I actually remember it and c) reach out and reconnect – I’m currently feeling a bit isolated.

4 Principles and 5 Assumptions of Adult Learners (according to American educator Malcolm Knowles)

Principle #1: Adults should have a hand in the design and development of their learning experience.

What this means for us: We should regularly ask workshop participants for feedback regarding the design of workshops and then respond to this feedback. For example, does the blog work for people? Should we post more material online? Are refreshments important? Silly question – of course they are!


Principle #2: Experience is key

What this means for us: Workshop participants need to gain experience practicing the ideas being presented. I think we usually do a good (great!) job of modelling active learning techniques, but we don’t always give participants the opportunity to apply the techniques themselves in the workshops. So perhaps we could include role playing activities. Or we could ask each participant to list one action item that they are going to act upon in their classroom in the following week, and then ask them to report back to the group.


Principle #3: Real life applications are important (we can call this the SENCER principle)

What this means for us: Keep doing what we are doing in our faculty development workshops. We encourage people to work on their own courses and we provide plenty of applicable scenarios. It is probably more important for us to make sure our classes include plenty of real life applications (for our students).


Principle #4: Memorizing stuff is stupid (I’m paraphrasing)

For example, asking people to memorize a list of active learning techniques would be a really dumb thing to do in one of our workshops. But you knew that already.


Assumption #1: Self concept –Adult learners see themselves as self-directed human beings who want minimum instruction and maximum autonomy (that’s why faculty meetings are so much fun! No one wants to be told what to do.)

What this means for us: Even though we might want to, we can’t force anyone to attend workshops and participate (and we knew that already). Perhaps we might want to give participants more choice in the active learning topics they explore? Or ask for more feedback regarding workshop topics?


Assumption #2: Adult learner experience – Adult learners have a lot of life experience. And those experiences are an important resource.

What this means for us: We could work harder to connect with workshop participants so that we know more about their backgrounds and what they can bring to the sessions. We could include a wider range of instructional design models (I can’t believe I just used the term “instructional design”) to accommodate the diversity of backgrounds and experiences.


Assumption #3: Readiness to learn – As we get older, our readiness to learn is tied to our social roles.

What this means for us: Socialization is good. Keep up the good working building community (even though it’s hard and someone has to organize everything).


Assumption #4: Orientation to learning: Adult learners want to immediately solve problems (rather than learn content that they may use sometime in the future).

What this means for us: We already do this – participants leave our workshops with a resource that they can immediately apply in their courses.


Assumption #5: Motivation to learn – Adult learners are more likely to be internally motivated.

What this means for us: Nurture that internal motivation (something I think we’re already pretty good at). We should be transparent and explain the reason behind specific activities or methods of delivery.


On review, I think we have been applying many of these principles and assumptions in our workshops – even if we didn’t know the word andragogy. And I think we also apply many of these principles in our classrooms as well (and I would argue that many of these principle and assumptions apply to all learners, not just adults).

Hope you all are doing well. I miss you!

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