Andragogy, Pedagogy and Brain Based Learning

brain based adult learning

It has been a joy to learn about andragogy – teaching adults in contrast to pedagogy – teaching children. There are similarities between the two age-related groups and significant differences.

Brain-based learning has also intrigued me for some time. Actually, anything about the brain captivates my attention. Much about brain-based approaches to learning is rightfully aimed at children. When I am reading about brain-based learning, I mentally try to make the jump from pedagogy to andragogy. In practice, I find that adults respond to many of same strategies that children respond to. Adults need to be engaged, enjoy moving around, like the fun of games, solving puzzles, watching videos – strategies that support leaning but that are seldom intentionally implemented in adult learning situations.

There are significant differences between the age-groups. The list of characteristics of adult learners ranges from 5-11 characteristics. These “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners” by Christopher Pappas offer what I think is a thoughtful summary of adult learners. (eLearning Industry)

Adult Learners’ Traits:

  1. Self-direction

Adults feel the need to take responsibility for their lives and decisions and this is why it’s important for them to have control over their learning. Therefore, self-assessment, a peer relationship with the instructor, multiple options and initial, yet subtle support are all imperative.

  1. Practical and results-oriented

Adult learners are usually practical, resent theory, need information that can be immediately applicable to their professional needs, and generally prefer practical knowledge that will improve their skills, facilitate their work and boost their confidence. This is why it’s important to create a course that will cover their individual needs and have a more utilitarian content.

  1. Less open-minded and therefore more resistant to change.

Maturity and profound life experiences usually lead to rigidity, which is the enemy of learning. Thus, instructional designers need to provide the “why” behind the change, new concepts that can be linked to already established ones, and promote the need to explore.

  1. Slower learning, yet more integrative knowledge

Aging does affect learning. Adults tend to learn less rapidly with age. However, the depth of learning tends to increase over time, navigating knowledge and skills to unprecedented personal levels.

  1. Use personal experience as a resource

Adults have lived longer, seen and done more, have the tendency to link their past experiences to anything new and validate new concepts based on prior learning. This is why it’s crucial to form a class with adults that have similar life experience levels, encourage discussion and sharing, and generally create a learning community consisting of people who can profoundly interact.

  1. Motivation

Learning in adulthood is usually voluntary. Thus, it’s a personal choice to attend school, in order to improve job skills and achieve professional growth. This motivation is the driving force behind learning and this is why it’s crucial to tap into a learner’s intrinsic impetus with the right thought-provoking material that will question conventional wisdom and stimulate his mind.

  1. Multi-level responsibilities

Adult learners have a lot to juggle; family, friends, work, and the need for personal quality time. This is why it’s more difficult for an adult to make room for learning, while it’s absolutely crucial to prioritize. If his life is already demanding, then the learning outcome will be compromised. Taking that under consideration, an instructional designer needs to create a flexible program, accommodate busy schedules, and accept the fact that personal obligations might obstruct the learning process.

  1. High expectations

Adult learners have high expectations. They want to be taught about things that will be useful to their work, expect to have immediate results, seek for a course that will worth their while and not be a waste of their time or money. This is why it’s important to create a course that will maximize their advantages meet their individual needs and address all the learning challenges.

In his book, Adult Learning Methods, Galbraith (2004) offers four strategies to motivate or engage adult learners in an education setting;

  1. Establish Inclusion
    a. Multidimensional Sharing
    b. Collaborative Learning
    c. Participation Guidelines
  2. Develop a Positive Attitude
    a. Use Relevant Learning Models
    b. Ensure Successful Learning
    c. The K-W-L strategy
    • Learners identify what they think they Know about the topic
    • Learners suggest what they Want to know about the topic
    • Learners identify what they Learned about the topic
  3. Enhance Meaning
    a. Pose a Problem
    b. Creating a Simulation
    c. Provide Variety
  4. Engender Competence
    a. Provide Consistent and Prompt Feedback
    b. Authentic Performance Tasks for Assessment
    c. Early Clarification of Assessment Tasks and Criteria

These strategies are wonderfully brain-based. Establishing inclusion reduces threat, developing a positive attitude implies learner engagement, enhance meaning is another way of saying it needs to be relevant and engendering competence the “can-do” perspective.

Galbraith, M.W. (2004). Adult Learning Methods. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company
Pappas, C. (2013). 8 important characteristics of adult learners. eLearning Industry.


Leave a Reply