Approaching Theory in Adult Education

Topics: Adult education, Educational psychology, Education Pages: 12 (3975 words) Published: March 23, 2011
Approaching Theory in Adult Education: Humanism and Andragogy An analysis of adult learning theory serves as the springboard from which educators can begin to build a useful theoretical framework that focuses on the field of contemporary adult education. Both humanism and andragogy as theoretical approaches offer distinctive strengths and weaknesses, both function as a point of reference for practitioners. This paper examines the synthesis of humanistic and andragogical theory as an integrated approach in adult education, training and professional development. Introduction

This paper attempts to explore two major theories of adult learning (humanism) and adult education (andragogy). Much about adult education as a discipline and the current context within which it operates is dependent upon an understanding of humanistic learning. Similarly, fostering adult education has brought education practitioners into conflict with some of the prevailing beliefs about andragogical practices. Therefore, educators who make a deliberate choice to cultivate humanistic adult learning should explore the underlying assumptions inherent in both humanistic and andragogical learning theory. Brief History

Adult education is a hot topic. There are thousands of books and articles written on variations of the subject and a wide body of research from which educators and learners draw guidance. In reality, however, no single theory or set of theories provides the primary foundation for adult learning and adult education. Education theories originate from an integration of a wide range of disciplines, encompass a myriad of overlapping concepts and embody a broad variety of features. Similarly, education practitioners represent a diversity of academic fields and backgrounds, which also lends to an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for understanding and contributing to education theory. The principles of adult education theory mirrored many of the values articulated by the early Hebrews, Greeks, Renaissance Europeans, and various other educators and scientists who have attempted to study the human condition. Plato (1967), an early Greek scholar, teacher, and orator, worked his whole life on philosophical inquiry to develop the theory of dialectic (Golden, Berquist, & Coleman, 1997a). Plato has been called the original advocate of learning theory based on intellect. His student, Aristotle (1998), on the other hand, was a biologist, philosopher, and lawyer whose empirical observations became the basis for his scientific approach to rhetoric and theory of logical proof (Golden, Berquist, & Coleman, 1997b). Aristotle has been referred to as the original role model for learning theory based upon experience as the origin of knowledge and understanding. Ironically, Aristotle’s penchant for scientific investigation created a valuable resource for continuing education based on developmental education, life-long learning, and philosophy of life (Mayer, 1966). Many centuries after Plato and Aristotle’s day, adult education entered an era of formal recognition and growth with the establishment of university departments of adult education in the early 1900’s. At this time, the first doctorate degrees in adult learning and the creation of the American Association of Adult Education (Knowles, 1977) also came about. With such social change the progressive education movement evolved. Initially through the efforts of educational reformers and then through the work of theorists, such as Dewey (1938), Rousseau (1782), Froebel (1885) and Lindeman (1921), progressive education became synonymous with life. Lindeman (1956) stated, "all of life is learning, for this reason, education can have no end." It was around the turn of the 20th century that the prior educational focus on classroom management, curriculum, and competency assessment turned toward student-centered education, individualism, and experiential process...


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