Theories Associated With The Adult Learner Education Essay

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Jarvis expanded theory of transformation of the person through learning is an argument for the andragogical model and highlights the way in which adults learn. The quality and extent of experiences an adult gains throughout their life are fashioned and formed by public roles and tasks. These experiences according to Knowles (1984) will be used as a source for learning. A desire for knowledge or to engage the learning process, often identified as an eagerness to learn, is stimulated by experiencing motivating shifts in one developmental task to another or by an important life episode, creating an adjustment in behavior leading to self betterment. Laher (2007) indicates that when an individual transitions from a subject-centered academic orientation to a problem-centered academic orientation they are in essence responding to life changes.

This paper will evaluate the role that social change plays from an anadragogical approach with adult learners, the responsibility of higher education institutions in facilitating adult learning, and will also briefly compare the approaches of pedagogy and andragogy in facilitating learning.

Social Change And Adult Learners

There are several factors that need to be considered when studying the affects of social change on the adult learner. First, you must consider how each individual responds to their social surroundings. Then barriers they might encounter to the learning process become clear. Once these can be identified, it then becomes possible to reach even disadvantages learners, enabling critical reflection and ensuring an experiential learning process. Adult learners can then prepare for community action and development. All of these efforts would serve to contribute to the value of college education among adult learners. Mason (2003) notes that one assumption that should be considered is the readiness of learners to be self-directed, self-motivated, and personally resourceful.

Those disadvantaged learners or those who have limited access to educational opportunities and thus may lack experience may feel insecure or uncertain when approaching self-directed academics. Their feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem, borne out of their disadvantage, may jeopardize or halt their motivation for learning. Therefore, Merriam, et al. (2007) and her colleagues suggest that empowering learners to act involves a number of tasks. Developing the appropriate academic environment will be key in getting adult learners to develop the skills necessary for meaningful participation at the university level. Having the student play a role in problem-definition, problem solving and identifying adult student needs will increase the personal investment on their part as well as allow them to become more invested in the educational process itself.

Engagement at this level will provide a sense of academic cohesion among its members. Groups of adult learners working to carry out social change and individual learners moving to address this populations' academic needs will help facilitate a learning environment in which adult students can build up their confidence and reach their academic goals.

Education or more specifically experiential learning also assists those adult learners in identifying their skills and strengths in order to become "agents of their own learning" (Connolly, 2002, p. 7). Such learning is not only the responsibility of the individual learner, but must have a conduit by which learning is facilitated. The following section of this paper will address the responsibility of those higher academic institutions in accommodating adult education and the individual learner.

Responsibility of Higher Education Institutions

This section of the paper suggests that institutions of higher education have an important role to play in providing and facilitating adult education. Their ambitions should be to customize the course curriculum to suit their adult learners and provide as many opportunities for their students to build and integrate the new and old material by designing curriculum that is appropriate for the learner's developmental stage.

With the rapid shifts in the job market, new technological demands, and movement of employment overseas, adult enrollee numbers will continue to increase. Merriam, et al. (2007) and her colleagues indicate "two best predicators of adult participation in a state's higher education system were availability of undergraduate education (number of seats available, public and private) and educational attainment of the state's adult population (percentage of adults with high school or higher)" (p.69). Whether it is in response to normal life shifts or in a quest for more education in order to maintain employment or to adjust careers, many adults have needed or desired to return to college. It is the responsibility of higher education institutions to modify teaching tactics, curriculum, goals, and objectives in order to support learning in adult students.

To endorse external social change and to provide optimum learning environments for older adult learners requires adjusting strategies in curricula and delivery of the curriculum. Therefore, the next section of this paper will address the important characteristics of the adult learner and the beginning of the andragogical theory.

Pedagogy Verses Andragogy

This section of the paper will briefly review insights between the principles of pedagogy and andragogy and the adult learner. The leading form of teaching in America is pedagogy, or didactic, conventional, or teacher-directed method. A different method in terms of instructing adult learners is andragogy. The purpose of this section is to provide the reader with background information regarding both instructional forms.

Pedagogical Assumptions. The pedagogical paradigm of teaching was initially developed from Greek, implying the "art and science" of teaching children. In the pedagogical technique, the teacher is solely accountable for the process of learning, the content, the way in which it will be learned, and the course content to be discovered. Knowles (1984) indicates that the Pedagogy model puts students in a passive role that requires complete compliance with the teacher directed information. One of the major arguments against pedagogy is that students can only obtain the knowledge or information that the teacher deems necessary for them to obtain.

Pedagogical strategies have been used among both younger and older students and is born from the philosophy that "one size fits all". Knowles (1984) would argue that such an approach is unacceptable and inadequate for the adult learner. He suggests that as adults mature and become more independent, have more self-direction and feel personally responsible for their own learning, they become increasingly stifled by such teacher directed instruction, They are often motivated to learn by a sincere desire to solve immediate problems in their lives. Additionally, they have an increasing need to be self-directing. In many ways, the pedagogical model does not account for such developmental changes on the part of adults, and thus produces tension, resentment, and resistance in individuals (Knowles, 1984).

According to Ozuah (2005), pedagogical approach underscores five major positions: 1) lack of experience, 2) dependency (in terms of self concept), 3) external motivation, 4) content oriented learning, and 5) readiness to learn (Conaway, 2003, pp. 223-24). Children often look to adults for objective assistance, especially in the case of academic guidance. Young people depend on teachers for instruction and are motivated to accomplish educational goals set by school districts, boards, and teachers alike. Berk (2004) insinuates that many youth tend to be concrete, operational thinkers, living in the "here and now" and are unable to apply present learning events to future life experiences. Given that assumption noted in the previous paragraphs are true, Imel (1989) suggest that Knowles Andragogy principles strongly contrasted with that of pedagogy and believed by making a through comparison between methodologies, differences between the two approaches would become self-evident for adults and children.

Andragogy Assumptions. Andragogy was pioneered in the United States by Malcolm Knowles. Knowles, a professor of adult education at Boston University, launched the term "andragogy" which he defined as the "art and science of helping adults learn" in 1968. In 1980 he recommended the following:

". . . andragogy is simply another model of assumptions about adult learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model, thereby providing two alternative models for testing out the assumptions as to their 'fit' with particular situations. Furthermore, the models are probably most useful when seen not as dichotomous but rather as two ends of a spectrum, with a realistic assumption (about learners) in a given situation falling in between the two ends" (Knowles, 1980, p. 43 ).

The andragogical model as envision by Knowles is based on four hypothesis about adult learners:

Their self-concept moves from dependency to independency or self-directedness.

They accumulate a reservoir of experiences that can be used as a basis on which to build learning.

Their readiness to learn becomes increasingly associated with the developmental tasks of social roles.

Their time and curricular perspectives change from postponed to immediacy of application and from subject-centeredness to performance-centeredness (Knowles, 1980, pp. 44-45).

The development of andragogy as a form of education has advanced the teaching of adults. Andragogy serves as a set of assumptions where in some countries it is seen as adult pedagogy, the term auto didactic is used in some countries and in others it is refer to as andragogical science (Knoll, 1981, p. 92). Beyond the shores of North America there in fact is two dominant perspectives: ". . . one by which the theoretical framework of adult education is found in pedagogy or its branch, adult pedagogy . . . and the other by which the theoretical framework of adult education is found in andragogy . . . as a relatively independent science that includes a whole system of andragogic disciplines" (Savicevic, 1981, p. 88).

Knowles (1975) makes it clear that a distinction should be made contrasting the child learner from that of the adult learner. Knowles notes that adult learners evolve in the area of self-directed learning, and makes the case that individuals who take the initiative in their own educational activities seem to learn more information at deeper levels than those who are passive participants in the classroom. An additional explanation is that self-directed learning appears "more in tune with our natural process of psychological development" ( p. 14). In conjunction with these factors, Knowles continues to hypothesize that maturation is the natural ability to take increasing responsibility for one's life. Additionally, educational institutions have evolved to offer many non-traditional academic opportunities for those students who do accept major responsibility for their own academic learning.


This paper has provided a review regarding the research on approaches to adult learning in theory and practice. Additional consideration was given to the role social change has played in adult learning and the various community outreach opportunities for this population. The review of literature also confirms how community education works particularly for those adult learners who have experienced educational successes in high school and who have access to affordable college courses.

Malcolm Knowles is credited with bringing extensive awareness to adult education. Practical application of andragogical methods to teaching can have a powerful impact on the adult learners and their college experience. Knowles' assumptions regarding andragogy was based on the learning differences between adults and children. He noted that with adulthood, a person perception of the self becomes less dependent and more self directed and in the process of life experiences the individual gains valuable information upon which to draw that aids the learning readiness. Lee (1998) informs the reader that Knowles postulates that adults search for learning opportunities to fulfill social roles or knowledge to apply to daily problems. Lastly, learning is a process that becomes less subject-oriented and more problem-centered for the adult learner (Lee, 1998). In 1984, Knowles added a fifth assumption that suggested that adults are internally motivated rather than externally motivated, and in 1990 a sixth: the need to know why something must be learned prior to learning it and its justification for being learned (Fall, 1998).