This strange word andragogy was popularized in the early 1970’s by educational researcher, Malcolm Knowles. It is etymologically rooted in the Greek language from two words “aner”, which means “man” and “agogos”, which means “to lead”. Fused together, andragogy means “leading men”, or to paraphrase, leading or educating adults. Andragogy is often contrasted with pedagogy, typically referring to the education of children.
Knowles observed that adults learn differently from children in at least the following five ways:
- Adults want to know why they are learning a topic. When school children ask their teacher, “Why do we need to know this?”, they are often told, “Because there will be a test on it next week.” Adults are different. Their time and energy are limited; therefore, adults need to understand the relevance of a topic before investing the energy to learn it.
- Adults start their new learning on a larger foundation of knowledge and experience than do children. Therefore, it is easier for adults to connect their new learning to some previously gained understanding or experience. This connection process facilitates adult learning in ways children cannot typically take advantage of.
- Unlike children, adults are independent and responsible for the planning, selection and evaluation of their education. This autonomy sets the table for a more vigorous approach to learning.
- Adults have a better sense than children of the specific problems in their life or work that the new learning will help them solve. This desire to solve those specific problems creates a readiness to learn and motivates adults in ways that are difficult for children to apprehend.
- Children tend to be motivated by external incentives and rewards. Adults on the other hand are better at developing intrinsic motivations to learn e.g., the desire to set and achieve goals, the desire to better oneself, etc. Instead of looking externally for the reward of learning, adults better understand that learning is the reward.
Instructors, managers, and mentors can benefit from understanding these andragogical assumptions by designing their training materials and informal sessions around them. For example, the use of real case studies when teaching technical topics may remind adults of similar challenges they have faced in the past and help point them toward similar situations in their workplace. Similarly, offering adults students “launch points” into deeper studies may appeal to their sense of autonomy.
The only goal of teaching, coaching or mentoring worth pursuing is that effective learning would take place in the minds of those receiving it. By understanding how adults learn, instructors of all kinds can facilitate the growth and opportunities their students’ desire.
Ray Harkins is a manufacturing professional and online educator. He teaches a variety of low-cost, high-quality manufacturing and business-related courses at Udemy.com. Click on the following coupon codes to receive substantial discounts on courses such as Root Cause Analysis and the 8D Corrective Action Process.