Adults and Children as Learners

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Adults and Children as Learners

Teaching adults should be different if adults learn differently than children do. Theories or perspectives on adult learning, such as andragogy, make a number of assertions about the characteristics of adults as learners: adults need learning to be meaningful; they are autonomous, independent, and self-directed; prior experiences are a rich learning resource; their readiness to learn is associated with a transition point or a need to perform a task; their orientation is centered on problems, not content; they are intrinsically motivated; their participation in learning is voluntary (Draper 1998; Sipe 2001; Tice 1997; Titmus 1999). For some, "the major difference between adults and younger learners is the wealth of their experience" (Taylor, Marienau, and Fiddler 2000, p. 7). For others, the capacity for critical thinking or transformative learning is what distinguishes adults (Vaske 2001). In contrast, pedagogy assumes that the child learner is a dependent personality, has limited experience, is ready to learn based on age level, is oriented to learning a particular subject matter, and is motivated by external rewards and punishment (Guffey and Rampp 1997; Sipe 2001).

If there are indeed "distinctive characteristics of adults, on which claims for the uniqueness and coherence of adult education are based, then one might expect them to be taken into account in all organized education for adults" (Titmus 1999, p. 347). However, each of these characteristics is contested. Courtney et al. (1999) assert that "characteristics of adult learners" refers to a small number of identified factors with little empirical evidence to support them. Andragogy has been criticized for characterizing adults as w...

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Taylor, K.; Marienau, C.; and Fiddler, M. Developing Adult Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

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Titmus, C. "Concepts and Practices of Education and Adult Education: Obstacles to Lifelong Education and Lifelong Learning?" International Journal of Lifelong Education 18, no. 5 (September-October 1999): 343-354.

Vaske, J. M. "Critical Thinking in Adult Education: An Elusive Quest for a Definition of the Field." Ed.D. dissertation, Drake University, 2001. (ED 456 251)

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