“adults are problem-centered, not subject-centered, and desire immediate, not postponed application of the knowledge learned.” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 53)
This quote summarizes the fourth assumption of Knowles’ work on andragogy – immediacy. Knowles posed that people as they mature become more self-directed, build on a reservoir of experience, develop a need to learn instead of being told they need to learn, and seek immediate application of their knowledge (Knowles, 1980). This also reinforces the idea that with a problem at hand, we are more motivated to seek out an answer (Merriam & Bierema, 2014) What really caught my attention was how Knowles further linked rapid cultural change (both social and technological) to an observation that rings truer every day and foreshadowed the challenges we see in the 21st century, namely “knowledge gained at any point in time is largely obsolete within a matter of years, and skills that made people productive in their twenties become out-of-date in their thirties.” (p.41)
As a result, we have to look at teaching that which students can apply immediately, and giving them opportunities to do so. With this comes a responsibility to adapt and update our material and lesson planning on a much more frequent basis, and failure to do so will put us at risk of irrelevance. I think about what I learned when I went to cooking school, and although the fundamental concepts are the same, I see students, some even in high school, regularly demonstrating techniques I didn’t learn until much later into my career, and re-interpreting ideas that I still think of as being new. Our students have immediate access to information from around the globe and if we are not prepared to at least keep up with them, we can’t be successful at helping them learn.
Not only are we tending to seek immediate application of the knowledge we gain, we have moved to a just-in-time learning model. When I read the quote, I immediately thought that not only do we as adults want to apply new knowledge right away, we can seek out information immediately for a task at hand. With technology, we have moved into a space where we no longer even need necessarily to learn how to do something before we attempt it. In many cases we can learn it as we do it, which has a fundamentally huge implication in how we might approach teaching in the future. Not long ago, we decided to upgrade the stereo in my older car. In a previous era (perhaps only 5 years ago) I would never have just assumed that we could go out to the store and purchase the stereo, drive home, take out a smartphone, and watch a YouTube video on how to install a stereo on my exact model and year of car while we put it in. Less than an hour later, we had a new stereo installed and a fine sense of accomplishment. What does this mean for us as teachers? Are we at risk of becoming obsolete, or do we have to embrace the reality and come up with creative ways to include this change into our classrooms.
One tech school in France, Ecole 42, had 70,000 applications for just 900 spaces last year. They have no books, no teachers, no tuition, and offer no degrees, yet they propose to turn out highly qualified software engineers who will spend 2-3 years solving increasingly difficult problems with their classmates, and finding all of their own resources to do so (venturebeat.com, 2014).
I don’t think this means that we will see droves of teachers showing up with no lesson plans or learning resources, assuming that they and their students will be able to find whatever they need through their phones, but certainly there are aspects of this that can be applied in every classroom. Consider setting out a task and seeing who can find the best online resource in the moment, or offering more experiential activities integrated with a theory lesson to build on that need for immediacy. For me, embracing the change is an exciting challenge, that also offers opportunity to learn myself.
Knowles, M.S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.
Merriam, S.B., Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Venturebeat.com. (2014) This French tech school has no teacher no books no tuition and it could change everything (June 13, 2014) Retrieved from: http://venturebeat.com/2014/06/13/this-french-tech-school-has-no-teachers-no-books-no-tuition-and-it-could-change-everything/