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Category: Social Issues

Autor: anton 18 April 2011

Words: 3094 | Pages: 13

Contents Page

1 Abstract 2

2 Introduction 3

3 Behaviourism 4

Cognitive Psychology 5

Humanistic principles of learning 7

4 Differences of pedagogy and andragogy 9

5 Critique of Andragogy 11

6 Transformative Learning 12

7 Conclusion 13

8 Referencing 14


This paper will explore the different theories and models that relate to adult learning. The intention is to firstly explore the three main theories of human learning by describing, discussing and analysing each one. They are Behaviourism, Constructivism (cognitive) and Humanism. This will be followed by a critical analysis of Adult Learning (Andragogy) and will include a discussion of Transformative learning.


Andragogy was explained in 1920 by Linderman as “the true method of adult learning” (cited by Brookfield, 1987:127). This was to become one of the most important concepts in the field of adult education. There are many assumptions held that state there are specific characteristics of the way in which adults learn and this is said to differ from the way children learn. Knowles (cited by Atherton 2005) suggests there is a specific theory for adult learning and emphasises that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibilities for their decisions. Jarvis (1987: 185) comments:

“As a teacher, writer and leader in the field, Knowles has been an innovator, responding to the needs of the field as he perceived them and, as such, he has been a key figure in the growth and practice of adult education throughout the Western world this century. Yet above all, it would be perhaps fair to say that both his theory and practice have embodied his own value system and that is contained within his formulations of andragogy.”


Behaviourists believe the environment controls behaviour, and that humans adapt to the environment and life experiences they encounter. They are concerned with observing and measuring learned behaviour. How individuals learn is said to be through experience, developing skills and abilities are as a direct result of the learning experiences encountered. Skinner (1985) argued that learning is caused by the consequences of our actions. This means that people learn to associate actions with the pleasure or discomfort that follows. Skinner believed that learning could be explained using the idea of reinforcement which he referred to as �operant conditioning’. This is anything that can make behaviour stronger. Skinner’s work is used still today in many classroom settings. Students are motivated to complete a task by being promised a reward of some kind. On many occasions the reward takes the form of praise or a grade. Sometimes it is a token that can be traded in for some desired object; and at other times the reward may be the privilege of engaging in a self-selected activity. However, there are some limitations using this approach as the overuse and misuse of techniques have been argued by Kohn (1993). Most of the criticisms of the use of reinforcement as a motivational incentive stem from the fact that it represents �extrinsic motivation’. That is a learner decides to engage in an activity to earn a reward that is not inherently related to the activity. Kohn (1993) suggests that this approach has potential dangers, the behaviour shown by the student maybe only temporary. Students may develop a materialistic attitude toward learning. Kohn theory concentrates towards the reward not the learned behaviour. There are philosophical issues involved in �controlling’ by the manipulation of reinforcers. Does the right response received by the student clearly show that they fully understand the topic being taught?

The last point that Khon suggest has been significantly investigated by researchers. The results show that giving students rewards may decrease their intrinsic motivation for a task, but only when

1) initial interest in the activity is very high

2) the rewards used are not rein forcers

3) the rewards are held out in advance as incentive, and, most important

4) the rewards are given simply for engaging in activity (Cameron & Pierce, 1994;Chance, 1992)

These results strongly suggest that teachers should avoid the indiscriminative use of rewards for influencing classroom behaviour, particularly when an activity seems to be naturally interesting to students.

Instead as Morgan suggest: “rewards should be used to provide students with information about their level of competence on tasks they have not yet mastered” (Morgan, 1984)

This means giving students feedback.

Cognitive Psychology

Until the 1950s, behaviorism was the dominant school of thought in psychology. Some of the behaviourists themselves realised that their approach was not a complete explanation. This changed between 1950 and 1970 as there was a shift against behavioural psychology to what is known as cognitive psychology, this focuses on topics such as attention, memory, and problem solving.

“Behaviourism… has found the door, but it still lacks the key to what is beyond. �We’ do not just sit within the skin and observe. �We’ also infer and interpret what �we’ observe. And if �we’ are naught but representational processes, then �we’ exist because those processes think.” (Wyers, 1988, cited by Bloor & Lahiff, 2000:9).

A popular analogy is that of information processing and the input-output capacity of the computer. An example of this within the field of health and care can bee seen. A learner is seen very much like an information processor. They will listen to the information that they are given in class through their sense organs. They will start to process this information alongside the knowledge that they already possess and use this to answer questions in class. Skinner in particular, sought to rebut the arguments of the cognitivists. Skinner stated:

I like Marr’s statement that �modern cognitive psychology largely views the behaviour of organs as symptomatic of internal information processing – activities comfortably expressed in computer metaphor’. The important word is �comfortably’. The computer is a model of one kind of human behaviour, anticipated thousands of years ago with clay tiles in which information is �stored and retrieved’ for computational purposes. But it is not a useful model of the organism that engages in that behaviour and the comfort will, I am sure, be short lived. (Skinner, 1985)

Absubel (b.1918) has carried out much research in this field and suggests through his work that a condition for optimal learning is the placing of newly learned facts within a context for meaning. Following such learning, the student’s capacity to transform facts and integrate them into previously acquired experience will be increased.

Bruner (1960) suggests that students should be trained to develop their capacities to the full. Students should be taught how to analyse problems. Bruner’s cognitive theory is concerned with how one wishes to teach can be best learned; it takes into account both learning and development.

Piaget (1970) was a significant theorist within this field and he spent over 60 years observing children in the way that they learned and developed. Piaget believed that learning was an ongoing process right through to adulthood, with children needing to change their original ideas if they received a new piece of information that seemed to contradict their conclusion. Piaget believed there to be schemes with a �series’ of stages of how a child developed. He suggests that children’s development occurs through their active involvement in the environment around them. His view of how children’s minds work and develop has influenced educational theory and has been applied to all learners.

Humanistic principles of learning

The humanistic principles of learning focus on the role of noncognitive variables in learning. It assumes that students will be highly motivated to learn when the learning material is personally meaningful, when they understand the reasons for their own behaviour, and when they believe that the classroom environment supports their efforts to learn, even when they struggle.

“Learning is as much influenced by how students feel about themselves as by the cognitive skills they possess. When students conclude that the demands of a task are beyond their current level of knowledge and skill… they are likely to experience such debilitating emotions as anxiety and fear. Once these negative self-perceptions and emotions are created, the student has to divert time and energy from the task at and to figuring out how to deal with them. And solutions that students formulate are not always appropriate” (Boekarts, 1993, p149)

An example of this within the field of health and care is apparent. Students at present study a unit which relies upon them analysing their own concepts and beliefs. Many of the students find this very difficult and struggle with this concept. To the point that they reduce their efforts and settle for whatever passing grade they can get. Others in the class have given up entirely and this has become quite evident as they have missed class, and have shown to not complete set homework. A considerable amount of research from the health field has shown that people are more likely to use positive methods of coping with the stress of illness and disease when they perceive their environment to be socially supportive. The small amount of comparable research that exists on classroom learning suggests a similar outcome (Boekarts, 1993).

Theorists whom pioneered the humanistic approach were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Maslow’s work developed a model of human development in which he proposes a five level hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy, followed in ascending order by safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Maslow does explain that we all start from a basic need (lower level) and once that need has been satisfied we would then focus on the next higher level need and so on until we have reached the very highest level of self – actualization, Maslow suggests that once we have reached this point that people will naturally turn to learning for self-actualisation.

Carl Rogers was a psychotherapist and his main area of work was to help his patients cope more effectively with their problems this was referred to as �client-centred (or nondirective) therapy. This meant that the patient instigates coping strategies and the therapist role is merely to facilitate. Upon analyzing his experiences as a therapist, he proposed that this person-centred approach to therapy could be applied successfully to teaching (learner-centred education).

Roger argues (1980) “that the results of learner-centred teaching are similar to those of person-centred therapy: students become capable of educating themselves without the aid of direct instruction from teachers.” (p.273)

This relates to the theory of andragogy as described in the introduction of this paper

Differences of pedagogy and andragogy

Most theories of learning were based on psychology that is until the early 1970s. At this time work by Houles (1972) and Knowles (1973) described that the way that adults learn was different. This model which was outlined by Knowles is referred to as �Andragogy’. Merriam and Caffarella (1991: 249) have pointed out,

“Knowles' conception of andragogy is an attempt to build a comprehensive theory (or model) of adult learning that is anchored in the characteristics of adult learners.”

Andragogy is the way adults learn. According to Knowles (1983) he states there are five assumptions that can be made regarding adult learners which are different to the way children are perceived to learn (pedagogy) these are related to:

1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being

2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.

4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness.

5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).

Jarvis (1985) made a comparison of Knowles work in relation to the differences of pedagogy and andragogy. Some of the key differences between these two theories are clear. As an adult you will have experiences which you can draw upon to enhance the learning, through work commitments there maybe opportunities that arise such as promotion and the student needs to acquire the knowledge that is needed and as an adult you become a more dependent learner and less reliant upon the teacher.

Critique of Andragogy

Although there have been claims of the differences found between andragogy and pedagogy there has been much criticism. The model has been questioned whether �prescriptive’ rather than a �descriptive’ (Brookfield, 1994). It has been questioned whether the model is describing situations that learners are in however it does not describe the characteristics of the adult learner. For example the need to go back to education as the employment that they are in necessitates it. From personal experience this reflects the reasoning why I have embarked onto the degree. It was more for the need to possess a higher qualification. A further criticism challenges the need for a separate theory of adult learning. (Hanson 1996) argues that there is little evidence to suggest that adults learn differently to the way children learn. She argues that more emphasis should be placed on analysing individuals rather than having a generalized theory of adult learning.

She states “All-embracing theories only get in the way of developing an understanding of the differing strategies necessary to enable diverse adults to learn different things in different settings in different ways. There are differences, but they are not based on the difference between children and adults, of pedagogy and andragogy. They are differences of context, culture and power.” Hanson, 1996, 107)

This has also been backed by the empirical studies completed by Merriam and Caffarella (1998) in which the results obtained where inconclusive.

Transformative Learning

Other concepts have been employed to explain adult learning, such as Mezirows (1991) theory of �transformative learning’

Mezirow suggests that individuals can be transformed through a process of critical reflection. Adults may experience a dilemma that prompts them to critically reflect and develop new ways of interpreting experiences. As Mezirow outlines:

"Transformative learning involves reflectively transforming the beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and emotional reactions that constitute our meaning schemes." (Mezirow, 1991).

This theory of learning is reflected in the previous paper submitted �Personal and Professional Reflection and Development’. A dilemma transgressed at work which made me critically reflect on my current position where I knew that a dramatic change was needed.

Mezirows work was hugely influenced by the humanistic theory as described earlier in this paper. There is criticism to this theory as it was too focused on the individual and not the other factors which will govern whether transformation could be possible such as social and cultural factors. (Clark and Wilson 1991). Freire (1972) theory was a more conducive reflection of transformative learning. Friere believed that to unshackle people from oppression the role of the educator was vital. Frieire introduced literacy and numeracy skills being taught as way to empower individuals and to tackle the existence of social exclusion. “Education is not seen as something which the teacher brings along and deposits in the students – the �banking’ image of education.” Freire 1972

However transformative learning very much reflects an extension of andragogy.


To conclude this paper Brookfield (2000) suggests a possible resolution for criticism that has been made between the two models of Andragogy and Pedagogy �lifelong learning’ (seeing learning as a continuum throughout the lifespan. (p22). As we grow older the transformation of learning from child to adult becomes more apparent in today’s society. Adults are ready to learn and have the ability to think �dialectically and contextually’. Adults have the ability to be critically reflective due to the experience and knowledge they have acquired throughout the continuum of life for example as a child they do get opportunities to complete self directed studies through completing homework and projects. This happens at an early age however this is minimal. As an adult due to lifestyles such as families and work commitments there are much more need to be self directed and due to the experiences they have been through are able to reflect on what type of learning suits them as apposed to a single theory of Andragogy. So I feel that learning is a continuous process and individuals grow and develop new strategies throughout life. We are all on a journey of learning and that is lifelong.


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