Thursday, February 17, 2005

Teaching Adults: Is It Different?

Teaching Adults: Is It Different? I have worked primarily with 18-19 year old students when it comes to library instruction. However, I have many experiences with older students including graduate students and adult learners from the community. There is a big difference in how these students respond. The 18 year old student is still very much in a pre-adult learning mode while the older students have advanced into a more mature learning style. This article looks at this issue from the point of view of teaching adults.

From the site:

The adult education literature generally supports the idea that teaching adults should be approached in a different way than teaching children and adolescents, groups sometimes referred to as preadults. The assumption that teachers of adults should use a style of teaching different from that used with preadults is based on "informed professional opinion; philosophical assumptions associated with humanistic psychology and progressive education; and a growing body of research and theory on adult learning, development, and socialization" (Beder and Darkenwald 1982, p. 143). Following a discussion of the major model underlying this assumption, this ERIC Digest examines research that investigates differences in these teaching styles and suggests considerations for practice.


Malcolm Knowles (1980, 1984) is attributed with developing the most cogent model underlying the assumption that teaching adults should differ from teaching children and adolescents (Beder and Darkenwald 1982). By contrasting "andragogical" or learner-centered methods with "pedagogical" or teacher-centered methods, Knowles argues that adults differ from preadults in a number of important ways that affect learning and, consequently, how they approach learning. Therefore, according to Knowles, the more traditional pedagogical model is inappropriate for use with adults.

The following assumptions underlie Knowles' (1984) andragogical model:
- Adults tend to be self-directing.
- Adults have a rich reservoir of experience that can serve as a resource for learning.
- Since adults' readiness to learn is frequently affected by their need to know or do something, they tend to have a life-, task-, or problem-centered orientation to learning as contrasted to a subject-matter orientation.
- Adults are generally motivated to learn due to internal or intrinsic factors as opposed to external or extrinsic forces.

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