Model Two: The Nature of Andragogic Learning

Eduard Lindeman (1926), a contemporary and friend of John Dewey, was perhaps the first to think about education beyond or outside the structure of the higher education curriculum. He viewed education as a lifelong pursuit, where adults would derive learning from their experiences, where the instructor was as much a peer in the pursuit of new knowledge as instructional resource:

“A fresh hope is astir. From many quarters comes the call to a new kind of education with its initial assumption affirming that education is life – not merely preparation for an unknown kind of future living. Consequently all static concepts of education which relegate the learning process to the period of youth are abandoned. The whole of life is learning, therefore education can have no endings. This new venture is called adult education not because it is confined to adults but because adulthood, maturity, defines its limits . . .

Secondly, education [is] conceived as a process coterminous with life revolves about non-vocational ideals … Its purpose is to put meaning into the whole of life.

Thirdly, the approach to adult education will be via the route of situations, not subjects. Our academic system has grown in reverse order; subjects and teachers constitute the starting-point, students are secondary. In conventional education the student is required to adjust himself to an established curriculum; in adult education the curriculum is built around the student’s needs and interests. Every adult person finds himself in specific situations with respect to his work, his recreation, his family-life, his community — life, et cetera — situations which call for adjustments. Adult education begins at this point. Subject matter is brought into the situation, is put to work, when needed. Texts and teachers play a new and secondary role in this type of education; they must give way to the primary importance of the learner . . . The situation-approach to education means that the learning process is at the outset given a setting of reality. Intelligence performs its functions in relation to actualities, not abstractions.

In the fourth place, the resource of highest value in adult education is the learner’s experience. If education is life, then life is also education. Too much of learning consists of vicarious substitution of some one else’s experience and knowledge. Psychology is teaching us, however, that we learn what we do, and that therefore all genuine education will keep doing and thinking together.

Authoritative teaching, examinations which preclude original thinking, rigid pedagogical formulae – all of these have no place in adult education. . . . Small groups of aspiring adults who desire to keep their minds fresh and vigorous; who begin to learn by confronting pertinent situations; who dig down into the reservoirs of their experience before resorting to texts and secondary facts; who are led in the discussion by teachers who are also searchers after wisdom and not oracles: this constitutes the setting for adult education, the modern quest for life’s meaning.” (Lindeman, [1926], Online, pp. 4-7)

Malcom Knowles and Andragogy

Malcolm Knowles was greatly influenced by Lindeman. Knowles introduced his assumptions about how adults learn using the term “andragogy.” His concept of andragogy is based on the assumption that adults continue to learn in their lives and that they learn somewhat differently than children (pedagogy relates to children). The first of Knowles’ five assumptions is that adults move from being dependent learners to being self-directed (Knowles 1984, p.43). They may begin by wanting to be taught, but the instructor must lead them to self-direction. Knowles’ second assumption is based on the obvious (but often ignored) fact that adult learners have more life experience than do children. Educators of adults, therefore, should tie their teaching to the previous learning of the adult. Third, Knowles assumes that adults want to learn what is developmentally appropriate. Adults want to learn what is relevant to them. Fourth, adult learning is problem centered rather than subject centered. Fifth, adults are more intrinsically motivated than are children. (Knowles 1980)

Regardless of whether Knowles’ conceptualization of andragogy is a theory or a set of assumptions, we believe it is important to keep in mind that adults have the potential to develop learning capacities beyond children. Therefore, strategies need to be more advanced than what would be applied in the schools. Adults have different motivations for learning and have applications relative to their own contexts. Knowles contends that pedagogy is more teacher-centered, and that andragogy is more learner-centered. (Knowles 1980, p.59) Christian (1982) expands on Knowles’ distinction by suggesting that low andragogy and high pedagogy preferences produce students who are highly teacher-dependent. By contrast, high andragogy and low pedagogy inspires students to learn on their own.

Professional School of Psychology and Andragogic Learning

At the Professional School of Psychology we assume that most of our instructors would not want their students to be totally dependent upon them for all of their learning. Most instructors, we assume, would want their students to have some degree of independence both in gaining knowledge and in analyzing and synthesizing it. We also suspect that a large proportion of collegiate instructors would challenge the wisdom of complete student independence — otherwise, there would be no student requirement for higher education. What degree of independence is healthy? At what stage of learning can we expect a student to become more independent? How does the overlay of postmodernism play into the development of these adult learners?

The answers to these questions pushes us beyond the second, andragogical model of learning into a third model — one that embraces transformation and the reframing of responsibility for a student’s learning. In the following two sections, we set the frame for a more detailed description of the third model of postsecondary education by focusing on the processes of “transformational learning.”

Model Three: The Nature of Transformational Learning