Adventures in Learning: Would the Real Andragogy Please Stand Up?

This discussion follows close on the heels of my discussion of is there an "adult learner" post (to which I largely say no).  Thus, if there is no adult learning, I wonder if we can have a theory of adult-teaching (andragogy).  Our look at pedagogy and andragogy seems to bring this point home for me.  In last week’s class (9/27), andragogy was explained as using the leaner's own knowledge and experience to better align with or integrate it with the new information, content, ideas, etc of what the course content is focused on.  Of course, that seems to be realistic way of approaching teaching in general—not just something geared specifically towards adults.  Helping children translate knowledge from something they know to something new doesn’t seem to be a particularly adult-specific approach.  A lot of learning we do with children is analogically based (a good example is how parents try to explain death to a child; “you’re grandmother’s ‘gone away’ for a long time.”)  However, one supposed element of andragogy is that it’s about leveling the class, removing hierarchy, and shifting to a student-centered approach.

That the classroom of the adult learner is less hierarchical seems to be a fiction.  Our class the other night is a great example of that.  Students had questions about how to do one thing or another.  They wanted to verify different elements of the course.  They were concerned and wanting to make sure they understood the expectations so they could do the work right.  Our instructor (engaged in the practice of andragogy) lightly laughed and said that we were worrying about it too much and she wasn't too worried; it will all get worked out, she assured us.  She was essentially embracing the idea of peership within the course.  Our investment in our education would guarantee our success in the challenges she provided.  Or at least on its face value, that's what it appeared.  But that's not entirely true.  The classroom, adult or otherwise, is still largely hierarchical  Like many other instructors have said, "this might be a benevolent dictatorship, but it is still a dictatorship."  And no, I'm really not trying to call our instructor a dictator exactly.  However, for all the talk of us being responsible for our own learning, for our meaning making, and self-direction, we're still at the instructor’s mercy.

We are at her mercy for our grades and the ways in which she chooses to evaluate us.  She defined our goals and proofs of achievement (assignments).  She sets the agenda and decides how we move through it.  She may ask us, but that asking is still a choice of hers to grant or not grant.  But most interestingly is that example I identified above.  We asked and she relieved our worries.  We couldn't and wouldn't take it for granted that we can relax about learning and approaches to assignments.  That is, our instructor and others may establish a facade of levelness between student and instructor, but it's not inherent.  If one has to grant freedom to his or her peers, then there is no freedom to be granted.  The instructor still rules the course and whether that approach is pedagogical or andragogical, it's still not genuine decentralizing of the instructor-centered teaching.  The instructor chooses to draw on students' experiences or chooses not to.  But even if the instructor does make all these decisions, the power differential is still there and explicitly directional.  In any course or classroom setting can there be any true de-centering of power?  If so, it probably lies in borrowing from the idea of the "un-conference."

A good example of this was Thursday (9/27's class).  The instructor had decided upon activities we would perform.  Her checking in with how we felt about the activities in lieu of other ways of digesting or engaging in the material was fleeting or came with it, a sense of coercive agreement, something along the lines of "How does that sound?"  as we were already being directed into our groups.  No one felt they had the power to say no to it.  After all, she was the authority who had said “this is what I have planned.”  To be frank, while I found the activity interesting, I don’t think it did particularly well to actually engage, challenge, and think more deeply about the idea of ages, adults, experience, and learning (More about that in the side note).

With one activity going over time, and the other one pushing us to 7:00pm (and nowhere near complete to the degree that the instructor defined complete) we were given a scrap of time to meet with our groups.  But the decisions were largely controlled by the instructor.  Given the choice of breaking up the class time, most of us would have preferred to truncate the activities in lieu of getting some face to face time with our groups.

Even the second activity of approaching teaching through an andragogical or pedagogical model felt weak.  First, there appeared to be many people groaning about having to do it and reasonable confusion about how to do it.  For myself, if I have questions and concerns about andragogical approaches, jumping into an activity even before getting to discuss it in a meaningful way seems pointless; especially when the readings themselves provide mixed messages about andragogy.    There’s been a lot of information thrown at us and very little opportunity to process it or engage with it.

In the end, while I can appreciate the idea of andragogy and the ways it plays upon concepts of democracy and equality, but until there’s substantive redevelopment of education (currently based on an industrialize model), it feels like a benevolent dictatorship.


With regards to the first activity, I tend to think it more likely did harm since it encouraged us to think more about age groups and to some degree, become more stereotyped about the age groups.  What I mean by this is that while each “generation” group offered up a self-definition as well as how the culture perceives them, it’s still problematic to have 5-8 individuals (largely perceived as highly-education, middle class, and white) to develop definitions of a generation that contains tens of millions people.  The concluding remarks of the exercise that these are things to keep in mind when planning lessons for adults ruined for me any real usefulness.  The activity at first seemed to be an attempt to break down stereotypes about generational difference, and yet we were left with only really replacing them with more inconsistent views of the generations (even if those newer ones were more positive; a positive stereotype still isn’t useful in dealing genuinely with people of any group). 

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. Are these ideas of learning seated in generational theory or neurological?


Post a Comment