ERIC Identifier: ED305495
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Teaching Adults: Is It Different? ERIC Digest No. 82.
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.
THE ANDRAGOGICAL MODEL
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: o
Adults tend to be self-directing. o Adults have a rich reservoir of experience
that can serve as a resource for learning. o 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. o Adults are generally motivated to learn due to
internal or intrinsic factors as opposed to external or extrinsic forces.
Although the assumptions underlying the andragogical model have to do with
how adults learn, the model has clear implications for teaching practice: if
adult learning differs from preadult learning, then it follows that adults
should be taught differently (Beder and Darkenwald 1982; Feuer and Geber 1988).
Since he first proposed the model, Knowles has gradually modified his
position regarding the contrast between how preadults learn (pedagogy) and how
adults learn (andragogy). According to Feuer and Geber (1988), "[w]hat he once
envisioned as unique characteristics of adult learners, he now sees as innate
tendencies of all human beings, tendencies that emerge as people mature" (p.
33). Nevertheless, the andragogical model has strongly influenced the adult
education field, with one result being the assumption teaching adults should
differ from teaching children and adolescents.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Although the andragogical approach
to teaching adults has been widely espoused by adult educators, until recently
there has been no effort to test whether teachers do actually use a different
style when teaching adults. Two studies (Beder and Darkenwald 1982; Gorham 1984,
1985) examined this area by investigating the following questions: Do teachers
teach adults in a different way, and if so, what are these differences? In both
studies, subjects were teachers who taught both adults and preadults. In the
Beder and Darkenwald study, information was collected solely through a
self-report questionnaire. Gorham used an adaptation of Beder and Darkenwald's
questionnaire for the initial phase of her study, followed up with classroom
observations of a small number of her sample for a second phase.
In order for the instruction of adults to differ from the instruction of
preadults, teachers have to perceive that there are differences in how adults
learn. Both studies investigated perceptions of these learning differences and
found that teachers believed adults to be significantly more intellectually
curious, motivated to learn, willing to take responsibility for their learning,
willing to work hard at learning, clear about what they want to learn, and
concerned with the practical applications and implications of learning than were
children and adolescents.
In both studies, as a result of these perceived differences in how adults and
preadults learn, respondents reported significant differences in teaching
styles. As compared to teaching children and adolescents, when teaching adults,
they spend less time on discipline and giving directions, provide less emotional
support to students, structure instructional activities less tightly, and vary
their teaching techniques more. Beder and Darkenwald also found significant
differences in adult classes in greater use of group discussion, more adjustment
in instructional content in response to student feedback, and a greater
relationship of class material to student life experiences.
The self-reported differences in teaching behavior were not verified through
Gorham's (1984, 1985) follow-up classroom observations. Although she found that
with preadults, teachers tended to provide more emotional support and overtly to
be more directive, overall, the use of directive teacher behavior was
essentially the same with both preadults and adults. In interviews, teachers
"spoke often of the responsiveness of adult students and of the quality of
discussion in adult classes...[but] these differences...did not appear to
influence teachers to adopt the less directive, more student-centered approaches
to teaching adults they had reported" (1985, p. 205).
The only exception to the lack of congruence between self-reported and
observed behavior was in the classrooms of teachers who changed their classroom
environments when teaching adults. Gorham (1984) observed that a nontraditional,
less-formal room arrangement (e.g., chairs in a circle) that put the teacher in
closer proximity to the students led to a "clear use of the more
student-centered approach prescribed for teaching adults" (p. 79). Furthermore,
Gorham noted that in her study only female teachers made such adjustments.
Additional findings related to Gorham's analysis of the classroom
observations are as follows: o Teachers with more formal training in adult
education tend to use student-centered approaches the least. o Differences among
teachers, in both adult and preadult classes, are more pronounced than
differences between the adult and preadult classes. o Teachers who are the most
flexible and responsive in both adult and preadult classes are in the following
groups: less-experienced teachers, female teachers, teachers who taught personal
enrichment adult classes, secondary teachers, or teachers reporting high
teaching differences between how they taught adults and preadults.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR PRACTICE
Is teaching adults different?
Based on the literature discussed here, the answer is both yes and no. Although
teachers perceive adults as being different, these perceptions do not
automatically translate into differences in approaches to teaching.
Perhaps a better way to frame the question is to ask "Should teaching adults
be different?" According to Darkenwald and Beder (1982), "the real issue is not
whether learner-centered methods are universally applied by teachers of adults,
but rather for what purposes and under what conditions such methods, and others
are most appropriate and effective and in fact used by teachers" (p. 153).
Gorham (1985), in citing studies that identified interaction patterns of
"master" preadult teachers as being less directive and more student-centered
than those of "average" preadult teachers, suggests that "the most cogent
prescription might be to define responsive teaching techniques as the approved
practice for educators at all levels..." (p. 207).
Based on these observations, some considerations for practice emerge. 1.
Determine the purpose of the teaching-learning situation. The andragogical or
learner-centered approach is not appropriate in all adult education settings
(Feuer and Geber 1988). The decision about which approach to use is contextual
and is based upon such things as the goals of the learners, the material to be
covered, and so forth. 2. Provide opportunities for teachers to practice
learner-centered methods. Gorham (1984) suggests training teachers in techniques
especially suitable for adult students, such as small-group discussion methods,
effective use of nontraditional room arrangements, and so forth. 3. Select
teachers on the basis of their potential to provide learner-centered
instructional settings. Gorham's (1984, 1985) study identified some
characteristics of teachers who seemed to be more flexible and responsive in
adult settings. However, she also suggests that more research is needed.
Beder, H. W., and Darkenwald, G. G. "Differences
between Teaching Adults and Pre-Adults: Some Propositions and Findings." ADULT
EDUCATION 32, no. 2 (Spring 1982): 142-155. (ERIC No. EJ 262 809).
Feuer, D., and Geber, B. "Second Thoughts about Adult Learning Theory."
TRAINING 25, no. 12 (December 1988): 31-39. (ERIC No. EJ 381 416).
Gorham, J. "A Current Look at 'Modern Practice': Perceived and Observable
Similarities and Differences on the Same Teachers in Adult and Pre-Adult
Classrooms." In PROCEEDINGS OF THE ANNUAL ADULT EDUCATION RESEARCH CONFERENCE
(25th, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, APRIL 5-7, 1984). Raleigh: Department of Adult
and Community College Education, North Carolina State University, 1984. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 269 554).
Gorham, J. "Differences between Teaching Adults and Pre-Adults: A Closer
Look." ADULT EDUCATION QUARTERLY 35, no. 4 (Summer 1985): 194-209. (ERIC No. EJ
Knowles, M. S. THE MODERN PRACTICE OF ADULT EDUCATION. Rev. ed. Chicago:
Association Press/Follett, 1980.
Knowles, M. S. "Introduction: The Art and Science of Helping Adults Learn."
In ANDRAGOGY IN ACTION: APPLYING MODERN PRINCIPLES OF ADULT LEARNING, by M. S.
Knowles and others. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984.