Adult learners have suffered under the spell of pedagogy for many years. It is time for instructional designers to take an active role in making sure executives and those around them understand the fundamental differences between adult learning and pedagogy.
The word “pedagogy” is derived from the Greek words paid, meaning child (the same origin as the word “pediatrician”) and agogus, meaning “leader of”. In essence, pedagogy means the art and science of teaching children. This model of education has been around for a long time (started between the seventh and twelfth centuries evolving from the monastic and cathedral schools in Europe) and it has remained the dominant model of education since. Still today, there are millions of adults being taught like children.
What is the problem with teaching adults like children? There are quite a few, but I want to focus on the most fundamental one in my opinion. In the pedagogical model, the teacher is assigned the full responsibility for the what, the when and the how of the learning that is to take place. It is a teacher-directed education where the learner essentially takes a passive role. And this is where the problem begins. As an adult, we have the need to be self-directed, as Malcolm Knowles emphasized, because being an adult in the first place, according to its psychological definition, is to arrive at the self-concept that we are responsible for our own lives.
In other words, if we break this paradigm and make the clear distinction between adult learning and the pedagogical model, we would start by shifting the responsibility of the learning back to the learner or the adult. We have seen learning and development departments designing eLearning courses, instructor-led training, virtual classroom sessions, and blended learning programs where little to none of the responsibility has been given to the learner. Basic steps to provide the learner with a sense of self-directedness are missing.
An effective instructional designer needs to start by thinking how the learners can take ownership for what is to be learned and how to facilitate* this process. Specific techniques, like allowing learners to pick and choose different delivery methods or engaging in different learning activities that are part of a bigger picture, make a difference and have an impact on the bottom line. Recently, we implemented a simple strategy in this direction at a global manufacturing company which resulted in increased productivity. We assigned ownership to the learners of creating their own support manual relevant to their own needs, thereby reducing their dependency on external support while improving their productivity.
To summarize and extrapolate from Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, “Hey! Teachers! Leave them <adults> alone!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR5ApYxkU-U
*Facilitator – We can’t force an adult to learn anything but we can facilitate the access to knowledge for those who want it. This concept is behind our name Facilitador, which means facilitator in various languages.