Tony Gurr


In Adult Learners, Our Schools, Our Universities on 02/05/2012 at 12:16 pm

Some of us work with “kids”, others work with “adults”.

Some of these kids are far too “adult” for their own good…but many of the adults are often treated as “kids” (by teachers who define TEACHing as “pedagogy” – or worse “LEARNing by LISTENing”…to me, the teacher)…


I’ve often wondered…

…you know, kiddie LEARNers and adult LEARNers?


If we take a look at the stuff we are told about LEARNing adults in the classroom (as teachers)…we’re advised that we need to be thunking about “andragogy” – not “pedagogy” (even, after all these years I still bloody struggle to say these two words – especially, in the same sentence)…

The “principles” of LEARNing adults, we discover (after a bit of digital, self-directed LEARNing), go something like this:

Adult LEARNers…need:

  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their LEARNing needs
  • to participate in setting their own LEARNing goals
  • to be involved in the planning their LEARNing opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate LEARNing strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful LEARNing resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive LEARNers” (rather than “reactive students”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to LEARN in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the LEARNing process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to LEARN and keeps them actively involved in their own LEARNing 
  • to know why they should bother to LEARN something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and relevant) problems (not be spoon-fed content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to LEARN-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” teaching (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • instructional support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than memorisation)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from teachers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any curriculum and that self-direction is the core principle of any instructional methodology
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the LEARNing experience
  • to be involved in evaluating LEARNing outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and success

But…it is a “science” that many of our schools, colleges and universities still do not “get”!


Neither, it would appear, do they recognise that kiddie LEARNing really ain’t that different to adult LEARNing…and teacher LEARNing, for that matter! They all benefit from the same basic principles – they are just “managed” differently…

OK, I get that many lecturers have not had a lot of exposure to best practice in either andragogy or pedagogy (I’m not even going to touch on 21st Century “Next Practice”…I’ll give them a “pass” in this post) – but, what’s the excuse in our schools?

Why is it that we still have educational thinkers (and more than a few parents, these days) thunking things like:

And, why are we not asking these questions of our institutions…and ourselves?


It’s funny – many of the above “principles” were initially framed by Malcom Knowles (widely acknowledged as the “granddaddy” of andragogy) in his book The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (1973) – you can download a full version here.

He had, you see, got a bit pissed (sorry – it’s just the “right” word) that:

“We know more about how animals (especially rodents and pigeons) learn than about how children learn: and we know much more about how children learn than about how adults learn.”


We have LEARNed a great deal since 1973 (actually, he also produced another classic book in 1984 – Andragogy in Action – but, I can’t help you “steal” that one from the web). The problem is that we still don’t seem to be walking-our-talk despite everything we have LEARNedabout kiddies and adults!

But, hey – we are LEARNing orangutans today!

So, I guess all is well in the world of education…


As I looked at the “list” above – actually, I began to think about my own daughter (she was never a real “fan” of school and needed university to help her “get” LEARNing – she is one of the lucky ones as her programme doesn’t have a lot of need for the “…ogogies”). I wondered if I had asked her about the list, what would she have said – as a kid!

Now, I’m going to go-out-on-a-limb here – and say she would have wanted these things as both a “kid” and a “young adult”. Ben malımı biliyorum, yaa! And, I’m kinda guessing that most LEARNers would agree – if we gave them the choice.


Knowles dedicated his life (well, that’s what his wife says) to formulating a theory of adult LEARNing and creating principles that would help teachers make a difference to the lives of their adult LEARNers – IMHO, he did a bit more than that.

Isn’t it time we dropped the whole either/or bit and focussed on LEARNogogy – for both adults and kids?

  1. […] this post Learning Adults Tony Gurr questions if children and adults are really different or just should be managed […]

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