What’s Up With Androgogy?

Andragogy is a term used to define an approach to adult education, as opposed to child education, which is often related to pedagogy. With the decline in adult education as a valued, broad asset in our economy, a re-definition ia called for.

The recent savage cuts made by the UK government have had a devastating effect on many public services, and ‘Lifelong Learning’ seems to have been morphed into ‘Work-based Learning’ to a large extent. With libraries, museums, community institutions all having to justify their existence, there is decreasing hope for the education of older adults unless an enormous change of perspective takes place.

This is not to say that it is non-existant, merely threatened by years of erosive neglect and the presumption that it should only be provided for the most hard to reach target learners. Whilst few would argue with that principle, hard to reach learners are not the only adult learners and we are failing by far the majority of adult citizens by a failure to provide a meaningful, relevant and effective service that caters for the real needs of adults.

There seems to be an assumption that educational activity can be run like a business – covering its operational costs immediately and directly. However, this is flawed on a number of fronts – no less so on the fact that real ‘Lifelong learning’ is a more continuous process than simply a set of isolated, finite experiences.

There is also a huge problem with deciding to whom adult education is accountable to. Currently everything is overseen within a model emphasising a top-down hierarchical approach. If we re-asses this, we can perhaps realise how false this is. Indeed, surely accountability should be directly to the communities in which education occurs, a model emphasising a more lateral approach.

How this could be considered is going to be interesting. Following on from the work of Prof. Etienne Wenger, I feel there is hope, providing we are prepared to step back and re-assess exactly how we are going about things in adult education. This may include considering:

  • andragogical approaches that are more formative as opposed to summative (less judgemental on achievement)
  • off-setting the value of activity against savings in other services
  • a consideration of how front-loading education to the first twenty years of life might not be the entire education potential
  • models of adult activity that are not solely based upon recouping costs directly
  • the availability of public spaces for the free and creative use of the public