Published on 2012/03/15

A Paradigm Shift: Teaching Adults As Children And Children As Adults

A Paradigm Shift: Teaching Adults As Children And Children As Adults
When teaching adults who are returning to a formal learning environment, perhaps for the first time in a long time, education practitioners must focus on providing a more holistic approach to learning to secure buy-in. Photo by My Southborough.

I believe that there are noted differences between andragogy and pedagogy, because they both are shaped entirely by different assumptions about the learner. I make this assertion because the techniques and strategies employed by proponents of both these theories are geared toward promoting learning within a predefined context and targeted toward a specific audience.

For instance, instructors who ascribe to an andragogic theoretical framework focus more on a holistic approach to learning; they allow the adult learner to have more autonomy over the learning process, acknowledge the learner’s life content and make provisions for blending life experience with the instructional modality. The learner is presumed to have some insight into what his/her instructional needs are, and how they would like those needs to be met. The pedagogy practitioner, on the other hand, retains ownership of what is taught, how it is taught and how consequences are to be administered. Students are treated as having no insight into what they want to learn, or how they want to be taught. Learners are usually children whose life content is considered irrelevant or non-existence.

I believe that there are elements of both andragogy and pedagogy that are useful to both targeted audiences. In the case of the adult audience, there are times when it is perfectly acceptable for the andragogy practitioner to retain ownership of most, if not all, aspects of the learning process. This may be true in instances where the learners lack motivation, when the learning is mandatory or when there is immense resistance to the entire learning process. It’s also possible, in such cases, that the learner has some prior dysfunctional learning experiences and is fearful of venturing into another learning situation, or that the learner is exposed to something entirely new and hasn’t found the connecting points to his/her life content.

However, the adult learning practitioner must be attuned to what is unfolding with the learners and be willing to adapt as necessary. There should never a case to try to fit everyone in the same paradigm, so there may be instances where some individualized attention might be warranted for the accelerated learner or for the hesitant learner. Two cases where I believe a pedagogical approach might be helpful for teaching adults is when working with students in a language acquisition class and for helping adult learners returning to school re-acclimate to nuances of being a student again.

Like andragogy, pedagogy has it place in the teaching and learning discussion, however, children’s teaching practitioners can no longer assume responsibility for all of the learning content of their students. Today’s students are learning from a myriad of sources and are exposed to many avenues for expanding their life content. There is a major paradigm shift which is driven by technology and the effects of it are not in the future, but are unfolding right now in the present.  The things learners are exposed to informs what it is they want to learn and how receptive they might be to what being taught.

Enjoining young students in a more meaningful way to the learning process can be beneficial by considering some andragogy strategies. We live in a time where parents are younger and are viewed more as peers than parents; children are engaged in war or are forced to fight or be killed; children who are displaced by cartographies or political squabbles; and those who have lost both parents to AIDS or war must grow up very fast and embrace adult responsibilities. These experiences are real to these children and they inform every aspect of their lives. They will influence the way they look at and respond to the world around, so to reach these students, pedagogical practitioners may have to blend their strategies with an andragogy frame. These students are not in faraway countries anymore, but any live right here all over the United States and elsewhere.

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Readers Comments

Frank Palatnick 2012/03/15 at 2:18 pm

Student-centered pedagogy has been in place for some time. True, it is not practiced in every school yet. However, since its beginning via the ‘ Reggio Emilia ‘ approach, it is having much success. Believe it or not there are primary and secondary school students who are aware of what they need. We are not treating them as children. We are beginning to treat them as thinking individuals who can alter their thinking through project based tasks.

    E. A. Harewood 2012/03/25 at 5:53 pm


    A student-centered approach is the best way to prime learners for the realities of a work-world where they will have to function as adults and engage collaboratively.

Paul Maurice 2012/03/17 at 7:21 am

OK, but what if there are five varying needs shared among the varying students? How can you center learning around five separate sets of needs?

    E. A. Harewood 2012/03/25 at 5:50 pm

    Use varied instructional strategies to reach as many learners as possible. Remember, learners have different learning styles and life content that inform their approach to learning. Its is important for facilitators to know this and be willing and able to varied their approach to meet students where they are as best as possible.

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