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Return to the One-Room School

one-room class
I don't know that anyone wants to literally return to the one-room schools of the past. This one is from 1940 in rural Kentucky, USA. But the concept may have present day applications.

According to Wikipedia, one-room schools were once commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including Prussia, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain.

In these rural and small town schools (some of which literally used someone's house), all of the students met in a single room. A single teacher taught academic basics to different aged children at different levels of elementary-age boys and girls.

I imagine that younger kids were hearing some of the older kids' lessons and older kids could get some remedial lessons when the younger kids were being taught. I think that could be an interesting model of learning. I also think it would be a challenging teaching assignment. It's a topic I delve into a bit deeper on my other blog.

Any debate about whether to group students by age or ability is hardly a new one. Terms like "performance-based" "ability grouping," "competency-based education" and "age-based instruction" pop up in lots of article, papers and dissertations. Classes and schools have been created around these ideas. And they still are being created - perhaps for different reasons than those that brought the one-room schools of the past into existence.

What is a school without grade levels? I read about a number of contemporary schools, including a district in North Dakota, that felt a drive to teach competencies meant eliminating age-based classrooms.

Back in 2016, I read an article in The Atlantic that asked "What If Schools Abolished Grade Levels?" Their panel concluded that sorting kids by age or ability creates problems.

What are some reasons to consider this approach to education?

In traditional classrooms, the learning is likely to be too fast or too slow for a good percentage of the students.

Rather than using "seat time" (students progressing through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair), base promotion onward on mastery of competencies and skills.”

Allowing students to learn at their own pace, including progressing more quickly through content they truly understand.

Those sound good. Are there any potential problems with this approach?

Grouping by ability rather than age could increase social interruptions. Having taught middle school and high school, I would tell you that there are some big differences between a sixth grader (typically 11 years old) and an eighth grader (at 13). Even more dramatic would be a class with two very good math students that are 12 and 16 years old. I actually saw that happen several times when middle school students were allowed to go to the high school (or even local college) for advanced classes. I know it works on television for Doogie Howser and Young Sheldon, but maybe not so smoothly in real life. Maturity, socialization and self-esteem are all considerations. 

Scheduling and assigning courses for each student becomes more complicated. 

But even if you question the pedagogy of this approach, what about the andragogy? When we train adult employees or our returning adult undergraduates and graduate students, how do we group? Do we put the 45 year-old woman working on her MBA separate from the 26 year old? Of course, we do not. Through some screening or admission processes, we often put learners in groups based on ability. For example, an employee is brand new to the software so she will go in level one training whether she is 22 or 55 years old.

The old one-room schools were primarily for the lower elementary grade levels, and they very much were products of economics, supply and demand, and necessity. Perhaps, new one-room schools would also work better at those levels rather than at the high school level. We already see some of this arrangement informally or just be accident in higher education and we certainly see it in training situations. This might be the time to reexamine the formal use of ability grouping at different ages and in different situations.

Tech Design for Seniors

In my previous post, I wrote about andragogy, the theories behind adult learning. Today, I'm writing about what might seem like an extension of andragogy, especially when dealing with technology.

Many (too many) people assume that learning about and using technology is very different for older adults. I am a "Baby Boomer," one of a large group born between 1946 and 1964. I consider myself to be very well versed in technology, but fter all, I have been using and teaching with and about technology for 40 years. But many of my peers are not so comfortable with technology and often come to me for recommendations and help.

Some companies have realized that generally companies and probably educational institutions are underinvesting in, and underserving, older adults. On the educational side, this is a great disservice to this large group of people. But on the marketing side, companies (and colleges?) have discovered a large market and opportunity with the growing over-65 population.

There are approximately 46 million people aged 65 and over living in the United States, and that number is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060.

This group grew up with 20th century technology that has radically changed in their lifetime. Think of the present-day automobile or phone. They adapted to banking via an ATM and cooking with a microwave — though they may still prefer a teller and a gas oven.

Looking back on those andragogical principles and moving the adult number up 44 years, some seem particularly relevant. For example, when the content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.

Designers and technology entrepreneurs are most often in their 20s, 30s or 40s. They are not thinking about older generations. But they should. 

 

Adult Learning and Andragogy

adult child learningYou hear the term "pedagogy" fairly often in education. It literally means "leading children" and is usually defined as the art or science of teaching children. Though it is studied and used from pre-school through college, the term "andragogy" is not as well known as it should be.

Andragogy was a term coined to refer to the art/science of teaching adults. Malcolm Knowles and others theorized that methods used to teach children are often not the most effective means of teaching adults. In The Modern Practice of Adult Education (1970), Knowles defined andragogy as "an emerging technology for adult learning."

Knowles arrived at 4 andragogical assumptions:

1) He felt that adults move from dependency to self-directedness; 
2) draw upon their reservoir of experience for learning; 
3) are ready to learn when they assume new roles; and 
4) want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately.

Though many people still consider andragogy to be the adult version of pedagogy, more recently it is sometimes considered to be an alternative to pedagogy. In that newer view, andragogy is viewed as a more learner-centered/directed approach to learning for people of all ages.

This view doesn't necessarily mean that all the studies done on pedagogy are invalid, but the sense that it is more of a teacher-centered or directive style of learning started to fall out of favor in the last three decades., and andragogy as "learner-centered/directed."

In my first encounter with andragogy in a workshop, I recall the presenter saying that while adult learners can learn when presented with theory presented before practices, children have little tolerance for learning theory when they haven't seen it in practice. Of course, anyone who has taught adults for a few years will tell you that some adults seem to learn better when treated as children.

If you are teaching at the college level, you can be considered to be at the edge of child and adult learning, especially if you still consider age 21 to be the entry point of adulthood. But since we are seeing fewer traditional fresh-from-high-school freshman and more over-21 undergraduates, adult learning is a greater concern. This is especially true in online education.

Andragogical principles that should be considerations in designing courses are based on studies of how and when adults learn most effectively.

Adults generally learn best when:

  • They feel the need to learn
  • They have some input into what, why, and how they learn
  • Their schedule and learning styles are taken into account.
  • Course learning objectives are based on the learners' needs and interests based on prior evaluation.
  • To obtain objectives, there are sequential activities
  • The learning’s content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.
  • Their experience is used as a learning resource in the course.
  • The course content relates to the individual’s current life situation and tasks.
  • They have as much autonomy as possible
  • The learning climate minimizes anxiety
  • Freedom to experiment is encouraged

Of course, I believe children can benefit from some of these andragogical principles too.

And Then, There Is Heutagogy

You have heard of pedagogy. You may have heard of andragogy.

Pedagogy is the art or science of teaching and really has always focused on children. Andragogy is the theory and practice of teaching adults, and it comes directly out of pedagogy that did not address the specific needs in the education of adults.

Pedagogy is very old but andragogy only appeared as a field in the mid-1800s and in a more recent approach in the 1960s with the work of Malcolm Knowles.  

Some of the basic principles of andragogy are that, compared to children: Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn. They are practical in their approach to learning. They will more easily accept learning a theory before that theory is applied to a situation than a child. They bring more experience to learning and that will both aid their learning and bring biases that hinder new learning. Even more than children, they learn by doing. Adult learning focuses on problems and the problems must be realistic. They do not need as much sequential learning or formal curriculum.

With children and adult learning covered, what is heutagogy? 

Heutagogy is not age-based. It is the study of self-determined learning. It challenges some of the ideas about teaching and learning that are rooted in the teacher-centered learning that most of us experienced.

There has been some natural movement from andragogy to heutagogy that has been generated by technology (media, Internet, online learning, MOOC) and by changes to formal education. This is especially evident in higher education where discussions of alternative degrees and ways of measuring mastery of learning and the patch to a degree are being discussed seriously.

Hase and Kenyon (2000) coined the term heutagogy as self-determined learning which essentially means that a learner (rather than a teacher or institution) should be at the center of the learning. This learner-centric approach is very much a 21st century approach and is particularly popular in e-learning environments.