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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Adults learn different to kids! What a load of androgogy

Previously I’ve had a look at models of learning that emanate from psychology; lately I have looked at models from adult education. This blog is a summary of information contained in the Tusting and Barton (2003) book ‘Models of Adult Learning: a literature review’.

Many parts of this blog are quoted verbatim from the book, this is not to pass the work off as my own, but so that I have an accurate overview of this literature review of adult education. [As a side note I have found blogging a useful tool in recapping, reflecting on and summarizing the reading that I have done]

The most famous model of adult learning will be Knowles (1973) model of learning called andragogy. A very brief summary is that adult learners are driven by an internal motivation, they bring their own experience to the table of learning and they need to know why the need to learn something as opposed to kids which are told what to learn by their teacher and they have got no choice to learn, it’s compulsory. Its funny that “YOU WILL LEARN!” yes please, can I have some more sir.

Critics of the theory include Brookfield (1994) who suggest it is more of an ideal state for adult learners to be in rather than a descriptive model of how adults learn and Hanson (1996) argues that there is little real evidence of an absolute difference between adults and children in terms of learning.

Knowles draws on humanistic psychology for his model. Humanistic psychology takes human potential and desire for growth as a basic assumption. Maslow (1970) and Rogers (1994) are out of this school and, both assume that people have an intrinsic drive towards growth and self direction.

Important elements of androgogy that have been developed in great depth in the adult education field include:

• Self directed Learning
• Learning how to learn
• Informal learning
• Reflective and experiential learning
• Transformative learning

Self directed learning
Has been represented in a descriptive way i.e that it is a characteristic of adult learners and in a prescriptive way i.e. that this a mode of study that adult learners should pursue. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) claim that there seems to be a link between self direction and positive self concept, and more tentatively between self direction and life satisfaction. They suggest that strategies to enhance self-direction include:
• Facilitating critical reflection through reading and writing.
• Promoting Rational thinking.
• Developing people’s helping skills.

Candy (1991) demonstrates how the concept of self direction is actually used to gloss over at least four distinct concepts. Two are activities
• Autodidaxy (the independent pursuit of learning outside of formal institutional structures)
• Learner control as a way of organizing instruction

And two are personal attributes or characteristics:
• Autonomy as a personal quality or attribute
• Self Management in learning, the manifestation of independence of mind or purpose in learning situations.

Candy claims that there are important constraints on the extent to which people can or should strive to be self directed, especially when learning formal or technical bodies of knowledge, as opposed to acquiring greater self-knowledge.

Learning how to learn
Through the study of self directed learning, the idea has developed that adults can and should become aware of their own learning processes and how to manage them.

Smith (1983) Suggests there are four distinctive characteristics of adult learners.

1. They have a different orientation to learning than children.
2. They have an accumulation of experience that forms the basis for new learning.
3. Different developmental tasks await adults at different points in their lives and education is sought during periods of transition.
4. Their learning is often characterized by anxiety and ambivalence related to negative experiences of early schooling, the contradictory status of being both an autonomous adult and a dependent student, and other similar emotional challenges.

Smith’S distinctive contribution to this field of study is that he is suggesting that by learning how to learn, adults can learn how to become autonomous learners.

Informal Learning
In their book “Models of adult learning: a literature review” Tusting and Barton (2003) identify that there is some overlap between the literature on self directed learning and that on ‘informal learning’. Informal Learning has been described in a variety of ways including:
• To describe the way adults learn outside formal provision.
• To refer to unplanned or unpremeditated learning.
• Learning which has not been formally structured.
• To refer to provision in the community as opposed to that which is provided by formal educational institutions.
• To refer to any non-accredited provision.

Coffield (2000) underlines the importance of informal learning in the formation of knowledge and skills, describing formal learning in institutions as being merely ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Through his research document ‘The learning society: knowledge and skills for employment’ he found that informal learning is often necessary to do the job, while formal learning is often dispensable.

McGivney(1999) has found that community based informal learning has wide ranging benefits in widening participation in signposting adults to formal learning and improving personal and social skills. Foley (1999) also shows that various forms of incidental learning take place when people become involved in social struggle and political activity.

Reflective and Experiential Learning
Dewey’s (1933) work ‘How we think’ underlies much of the literature on reflective and experiential learning. He identified five stages of thinking involved in the process of moving from an initial state of confusion to a final cleared-up, unified, resolved situation. These are:
1. Suggestions.
2. An intellectualization of the difficulty that has been felt into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer may be sought.
3. The use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea.
4. The mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition.
5. Testing the idea by overt or imaginative action.

The thinking is not ordered and simple as in the list above, but he describes the process of reflective thinking as dynamic and messy, and that it is having the clear gradually emerge from the unclear that concepts and ideas are formed and that learning happens.

In more recent years David Kolb is the name most closely associated with reflective and experiential learning. Kolb’s cycle of learning requires the resolution of four conflicting modes of adaptation to the world.
• Concrete Experience (CE)
• Reflective Observation (RO)
• Abstract Conceptualisation (AC)
• Active Experimentation (AE)

According to Kolb (1984) “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Smith (1983) states that Kolb’s work on learning styles underpins a great deal of contemporary ‘learning to learn’ practice.

Here is the rub with learning styles, Kolb believes that the ‘ideal learner’ far from favouring one particular learning style would develop a balance between all four stages of the cycle and therefore would master all four learning styles as appropriate. This goes slightly against the grain of the opinion that says ‘find a student’s learning style and cater for that style’.

Others who have developed ideas around reflective and experiential experience include Jarvis (1987) whose model of adult learning in social context is based on the idea that learning becomes possible whenever there is a disjuncture between biography and experience. Jarvis believes there are 9 potential responses to this disjuncture:
• 3 non-learning responses.
• 3 non-reflective responses.
• 3 reflective learning responses.

Tennant and Pogson (1995) examined various ways in which experience has been incorporated into learning, the most interesting for me was their view on how Rogers’ and Maslow’s theories stress the emotionally laden nature of the relationship between experience and learning. They point out that in order for learning to occur, the learner must in some way go beyond experience alone. Instead, experience must be mediated, reconstructed or transformed in some way. They therefore ask the crucial question, how and under what conditions can people reconstruct their experience and thereby learn from it. They identify 4 approaches to experiential learning:
• Linking material to prior experiences.
• Relating learning to current experiences.
• Creating new experiences from which to learn, through techniques such as role play and simulation.
• Learning from lived experience through talking about, analyzing, and acting on the implications of the experience.

Transformative Learning
Tusting and Barton (2003) state that critical reflection is central to those models that focus particularly on the transformative potential of adult learning. These theories see learning as primarily as a means of personal or social transformation.

Mezirow is the theorist most closely associated with personal transformational models of learning through his model ‘perspective transformation’. He suggests reflection has three primary purposes:
• To guide action.
• Give coherence to the unfamiliar.
• Reassess the justification of what is already known.

The third purpose is the one that is central to critical reflection and works to examine and potentially transform the structure of assumptions with which we make meaning. This structure of assumptions is acquired through socialization processes, and Mezirow suggests that in adulthood we reassess the assumptions that we acquired during our formative childhood years, often in response to disorienting dilemmas that challenge the notions of reality we had previously taken for granted.

Clark and Wilson (1991) note that Mezirow’s work has been criticized for being too focused on the individual and for not taking into account the social and cultural factors that govern whether transformation can be possible.

An alternative model of transformation is expressed by Paulo Friere (1972), who sees learning as central to transformation at the social level. in his work ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’

Frierian methodologies start from people’s lived experience, eliciting and working with words and concepts that are already familiar to people in their everyday lives. The teacher is expected to transcend the divide between themselves and the students by committing ‘class suicide’ as an educator and being reborn (through an ‘Easter experience’) as a joint educator/educatee with the students. (Taylor 1993)

Friere’s work has been criticized on a variety of front’s. His writing can be dense and unclear and verges in many places on the mystical (see Taylor 1993). Tusting and Barton (2003) note however, that his influence on the development of popular education, literacy education and adult education has been widespread and profound and he is one of the principal inspirations behind the radical and critical tradition of adult education.

An article of interest in relation to transformative learning is the following: Shaheena Abbas ‘Transformative’ models for learning, teaching and Academic Professional Development – A ‘Self-ish’ Approach

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