Andragogy: the art and science of helping adults learn
Andragogy is one of three main theories about how adults learn and apply education. Ross-Gordon cites research that "Adult learners who experience academic success in higher education tend to gain economic and personal benefits, which most likely provide social, political, and economic benefits for the broader society." (Ritt 2008).
These factors significantly increase the percentage of students who bring unique backgrounds, experiences and situations to the classroom, and emphasize the importance of incorporating adult learning research and theories into teaching practices. The most widely recognized theoretical approaches to adult learning include andragogy, self-directed learning, and transformative learning, which are discussed briefly by Ross-Gordon.
Self-directed learning (SDL) is a “process in which individuals take the initiative, without the help of others’ in planning carrying out, and evaluating their own learning experiences." (Knowles, 1975). In essence SDL is an informal process that primarily takes place outside the classroom and is an an important element of adult learning.
Transformative learning (TL): learning that changes the way individuals think about themselves and their world, and that involves a shift of consciousness.
Suggestions for applying these theories to writing instruction for adult learners include the following:
- Incorporate more writing in more contexts in the adult education setting to promote self-reflection and articulation of learning. Writing is a natural means of self-reflection, and sharing personal writing is a way to bring stories of personal challenge, growth, resilience, and dreams into dialogue.
- Engage adult new writers with online communities of writers, as contributors, readers, and peers, to foster their self-directed learning, self-study, and persistence. (For information on ways to incorporate technology into writing instruction, refer to the TEAL Center Technology-Supported Writing Fact Sheet.)
- entry to college delayed by at least one year following high school,
- having dependents,
- being a single parent,
- being employed full time,
- being financially independent,
- attending part time, and
- not having a high school diploma.
The fact sheet, Adult Learning Theories from the U.S. Department of Education explores these theories in more detail and how they can guide faculty in adopting effective practices in teaching adult learners.
How can we apply these theories to online learning?
Self-reflection and personal stories are a main-stay of online learning. Crafting discussion prompts that elicit a learners experiences related to the instruction will help engage and ground the student in the learning experience.
Using various community building tools such as discussion boards, chats, and forums help learners connect with others and share their experiences.
When instructors actively participate in the communities with feedback, learners experience a more “real” environment" (like their boss stopping by to give them advice!).
Here is a concept map that demonstrates the principles of andagogy and related theories and their impact on online learning.
The primary boxes reflected in the Concept map show the relationship between andragogy and related adult learning theories and how they affect and can be used in online learning to facilitate adult learning. The factors the differentiate adult learners are strikingly similar to the basic tenets of online learning: relevance, community, situation, flexibility and student-centered. Adult learners are reflected in the theories of self-directedness, transformation, and social styles, which can help inform and enhance the basic theory of andragogy. Instructional designers can learn from these theories to inform the practice and the benefit to adult learners.
Ross-Gordon, J. (2011). Research on adult learners: Supporting the needs of a student population that is no longer non-traditional. Association of Colleges & Universities.