Andragogy and Pedagogy: Similarities in Teaching Adults and K-12 Students
Teaching and Learning
Learning, as a phenomenon, is not restricted to the classroom but happens everywhere. I am using the wide definition of teaching as any interaction between the teacher and the students, and the broadest definition of learning as “any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change“(Illeris, 2007, 3).
If teaching is seen as imparting or transmitting knowledge into students, then one could easily argue how different it is to teach adults or graduate students than students in K-12 system, simply because of the quality and amount of knowledge among student population. However, when teaching is seen primarily as an attempt to empower students to learn autonomously by providing support, feedback and resources for that learning, there is not a big difference in teaching adults or kids, apart from the obvious: chosen materials and age appropriate activities.
Formal education can be seen as an intervention to the natural learning process in order to ensure cultural progression and having productive members for the society in the future. Education is built of two basic components, teaching and learning. Therefore interactions between the teacher and student are the basic fabric of education. Ideally these two components are well balanced and complement each other, providing effective teaching results with meaningful learning experiences. In less than ideal situations the balance between teaching and learning is missing: learning turns out to be a measured product, or externalized performance of the student, instead of the growth process is should be.
Deep learning happens in the same way in children and adults: student finds learning material interesting and becomes engaged beyond the minimum requirement to complete the task. This presents the need for learning environment to be emotionally safe and supportive in order to encourage additional exploration. We might connect this need of support with children, but in my experience many adult students are more fearful towards open-ended questions and tasks – simply because they have been conditioned to think there is a single one correct answer. Children don’t suffer as much from this mental block before they have been taught to do so.
Our knowledge and beliefs are references to the life we live, so living and learning cannot be separated from each other, no matter whether you are focusing on pedagogy or andragogy. Concept development begins in early childhood, which means K-12 students have already fairly well established worldviews and beliefs that sometimes get in the way of learning, just like adult students do get tangled in the dissonance their own thoughts or opinions create with the learning materials.
Simply measuring up to a performance standard, or creating a product (essay, project, worksheet, etc.) asked by the teacher shouldn’t be the end result of learning. Outcomes should be seen as new configurations of students’ own knowledge, instead of superficial external measures. Transformative learning is “a rational, metacognitive process of reassessing reasons that support problematic meaning perspectives or frames of reference” (Mezirov, 2009). To be effective our educational systems must provide opportunities for this reflection and promote deep learning that produces creative/critical thinkers.
Conclusion: even though there are apparent differences between children and adults as students, the same basic principles of meaningfulness and personalized learning must be present for both groups to prevent potentially transformative learning from turning to an externalized performance.
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 Illeris, K. (2007). How We Learn: Learning and non-learning in school and beyond. London/New York: Routledge.
 Mezirov, J. (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In Illeris, K. (Ed.) Contemporary Theories of Learning (90-105). London/New York: Routledge.