Principles of Adult Education (Andragony)
Sep 15th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When we speak of instructional strategies, we often use the term pedagogy.  However adult learning is different and termed andragony.  I’ve been thinking about adragogical strategies and how to effectively apply them in my teaching of experienced teachers.  Below are some thoughts on the topic:


Noun: The method and practice of teaching, esp. as an academic subject or theoretical concept.


an· dra·go·gy/ änəˌgäjē /

Noun: the practice of teaching adults with emphasis on participation of students in the planning and evaluation

Adults have different expectations in learning than children do.  It is important to take into consideration the needs of the adult learner when engaging in professional development.  Androgogy is the term used to describe the methodology used in teaching adults.

Androgogy, the teaching of adults, contains the following important components and tenets.  Adult learning is voluntary and learner-oriented.  Education brings freedom to the learners as they assimilate learning with life experiences.  Androgogy encourages divergent thinking and active learning.  Often the roles of the learner and the teacher are blurred in the process.  Often there is an uncertainty about the outcome of learning, regardless of the curriculum content.

Research demonstrates that there is a difference in learning between novice professionals and expert professionals.  A professional developer should be aware of his audience’s expertise level and adjust instruction appropriately.  Three main aspects of performance change in novice to expert learners:

  • i.) the novice professional’s work paradigm focuses on abstract principles while the expert uses concrete past experiences;
  • ii.) the novice often views situations discretely where the expert sees situations as part of a whole;
  • iii.) the novice is often a detached observer where the expert is an involved performer (Daley, 1999).

A striking difference when considering novices and experts is that novices are often hindered by specifics of the job, where experts are often hindered by the system.  Novices prefer, and best learn formally, where experts learn best informally, often in conjunction with their peers.  Novice professionals prefer learning strategies like memory and therefore accumulate information, while the expert professional uses dialogue to create a knowledge base (Daley, 1999).

I think, most important to consider, are some practical aspects of facilitating adult learning.  According to Knowles, there are six assumptions related to motivation of adults:

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know)
  2. Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation).
  3. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept).
  4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives (Readiness).
  5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation).
  6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation).

Daley, B.J. (1999). Novice to expert: an exploration of how professionals learn.  Adult Education Quarterly, 49, 4, 133-147.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From. (Revised Edition). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge

Examining theory related to practice
Sep 12th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I began teaching  a graduate class in Instructional Leadership last week. I focused on the concept of teacher practice around the 21st century skill of collaboration. I structured an activity to allow educators to explore their views of collaboration: how does it manifest in the classroom, what are barriers and successes, and so on using the following prompts:

  • What is collaboration?  What is the role of collaboration in instruction?
  • How does collaboration promote and/or deter learning?
  • How does collaboration look at different age levels?
  • Provide an example/anecdote of collaboration in your own instruction.

Since this is the first class that the group of experienced teacher-practitioner doctoral students are taking, I wanted to take advantage of the expertise of the group by meaningful sharing.  The discussion was interesting – full of back and forths, and, as a teacher, what struck me most was how the questions lead to a perspective that I had not considered.  When writing the questions, I thought about collaboration from the student-student perspective.  Although that was a meaningful part of the conversation, I was struck by the “collaboration from teacher-teacher” perspective.  I am pleased, that as an instructor, I developed “ill-defined” (ala Jonassen, 1997) questions that lead to very meaningful discussions.

Once we had developed enough capacity around these ideas, I switched gears and related the concept of collaboration in instruction to Vygotsky‘s social learning theory.  I think we had a few “ah-ha” moments during that discussion:  good instruction is based on sound learning theory.

That’s not to say that you can’t have good instructional practice without explicitly knowing theory.  I think the message is that when you are more AWARE of the connection between research and practice, you can more purposefully think about the decisions you make as a practitioner to improve student achievement and engagement.

A very Facebook birthday
Sep 5th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I have been pondering what it all means. I received 79 posts and comments related to my recent birthday via Facebook – many from people I haven’t seen in 15-20 years. Of the 79, I spoke to 8 of these people personally that day by phone or in person. (I also spoke to many others who did not post on my Facebook page (and I am certainly friends with some of them (e.g., my mother).) The power of social networking links people together – but does it increase relationships or does it give us an insight into someone else’s life? Does it connect us in a more profound way or does it allow us to disconnect easier? Am I responsible for watching my news feed to know what others are up to?

There are a bit of philosophical questions here, but nonetheless, I am appreciative of the time that these people took to give a quick shootout. I’ll send a general thank you post. What does that mean?

Project-based learning and problem solving
Sep 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Today I conducted a project-based learning workshop for the Science Department at East Haven High School. It’s always a bit never-wracking to present on a new topic – although I have been under the influence of project-based learning almost my entire career.

It’s amazing to see what works successfully and how you question it. For example, when talking about problem solving, I always bring up alternatives to hypthesis-based strategies. For example:

Abstraction: solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
Analogy: using a solution that solved an analogous problem
Brainstorming: (especially among groups of people) suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until an optimum is found
Divide and conquer: breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
Hypothesis testing: assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
Lateral thinking: approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
Means-ends analysis: choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
Method of focal objects: synthesizing seemingly non-matching characteristics of different objects into something new
Morphological analysis: assessing the output and interactions of an entire system
Reduction: transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
Research: employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
Root cause analysis: eliminating the cause of the problem
Trial-and-error: testing possible solutions until the right one is found
Proof: try to prove that the problem cannot be solved. The point where the proof fails will be the starting point for solving it

I think it is important to give a tangible example as well. I am particularly fond of goal-oriented problem solving, which often takes the form of trial-and-error. Today I showed the square peg-round hole problem from the movie Apollo 13, and to follow up we made our own creation by just following oral instructions: an origami box. I am always curious/cautious to see what happens when I try a new activity. To my relief and surprise, I was informed that this was an activity some of the teachers were going to try on the first day of school. Glad it had an impact!

I think one of the things that made it a success, was that I was explicit about the reason for doing it: to promote spacial literacy – relationships of shapes – ability follow oral directions – and tactile development. I have found that many teachers fall short on the explicitly of learning. Students are often puzzled as to the reason for their learning – evident by “what do we need to know that for?” I have found that when students have a clear understanding of what they are learning and justified reasoning, they often engage better and are more accepting and willing.

Perhaps we all should do some origami today.

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