Adult Learning Theory

The TUHSD Wiki Project and Adult Learning Theory


Andragogy

Andragogy is a theory of adult learning developed by Malcolm Knowles, contrasted with pedagogy, the theory of child learning. An overview of andragogy can be seen in this video:

Video licensed under cc and found at http://youtu.be/vLoPiHUZbEw

The six assumptions made by Knowles in his theory, as outlined in the video are:
  1. The need to know: Adults must know why they are learning, what the benefits are for the learning, and what the risks are if they don't learn.
  2. Self concept: Adults are self-directed - they take ownership for learning, and they direct their own learning. This is context dependent.
  3. Experience: Adults have diverse experiences, giving them broad perspective but perhaps leading to ingrained ideas. Learning situations should be associated with their existing knowledge, and should be situated in real experience. Learning should be active, constructive and collaborative.
  4. Readiness to learn: Adult learners need learning to be timely and relevant. useful - Direction and support
  5. Orientation to learn: Adult learning is focused on tasks and problems rather than subjects, so learning needs to be contextualized.
  6. Motivation to learn: This may be extrinsic, but in adults it is more often intrinsic, including seeing the benefits to the learning.

The format of the proposed professional development wiki hits on several assumptions about adult learning. First, the readiness and orientation to learn through the wiki collaboration is entirely relevant to the teachers' jobs and focused on the tasks and problems associated with teaching. Teachers aren't learning theory of teaching, they are practicing teaching and learning through that process and through reflection. In addition, the wiki allows the teachers to bring their experience and knowledge to the learning while addressing the ingrained practices they might have by encouraging learning from others' experiences. Most teachers I know have an intrinsic desire to learn and improve their practice based on the students they see who are not successful in their classes. However, the wiki project also offers some extrinsic motivation. Knowing that their work will be seen by their colleagues and supervisors, the teachers also might have an increased inclination to present their best work and to participate fully in the process of curriculum development and review.

One criticism of andragogy is that it is a western perspective, based on the dominant culture of white males, and similarly, one criticism of online collaboration is that the experiences are designed without regard to the cultures of those participating. For these reasons, the designers of the wiki project must take into consideration various cultural perspectives when designing the space, and they must also develop norms for participation that take differences into account.

Constructivist and Social Constructivist Learning

Constructivist learning theory says that nothing is learned from scratch. Learning happens when a learner takes new information and relates it to what the learner already knows, combining the two sources of information to create new information. A quick explanation is provided in the following video:


Video by changelearning found at http://youtu.be/vLoPiHUZbEw

Social constructivism developed out of that theory, first through the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky saw learning as the interaction between what the learner knows and ideas and information from outside - his social and cultural context. Vygotsky conceived of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), the space between the learners current development and the development he or she could reach with the assistance of a teacher or more able peer. His theories have been extended and expanded upon to include the idea that culture and cognition create each other - that learning occurs always in the context of the environment in which it is learned. Scaffolding is one aspect of this theory. Scaffolding in education can be seen as the temporary supports used to elevate the learner through the learning activity, supporting her where her current knowledge is lacking. Distributed intelligence is another aspect of social constructivism, the idea that intelligence can be contained in non-human artifacts, symbols and design, left behind by the creators of those artifacts.

Huang gives a basic outline of social constructivism that says social constructivist learning is:
  1. Interactive: Learners don't learn in isolation from each other, but still need a guide or facilitator.
  2. Collaborative: Interaction with people and places is necessary for learning, and negotiating in social ways can cause reflection on learning.
  3. Facilitative: Learning happens in a positive and save environment, created by a facilitator.
  4. Authentic: Learning takes place when solving relevant, real problems.
  5. Learner-centered: Learners are self-directed and self-motivated.
  6. High-quality: The learning is useful and meaningful to the learner.

Huang's diagram lends understanding to the relationship between adult learning theory and social constructivism.


huang_chart.jpg
Again, we see the wiki project meets qualifications for a social constructivist learning experience as described above. First, the collaborative aspect of the wiki ensures an interactive learning experience that is authentic and high quality. Teachers interacting with each other will necessarily bring learning beyond the knowledge of any one participant. This is especially true through the versions aspect of the wiki that saves each version as a historical record, and serves as a scaffold in and of itself, as teachers can easily review the products that led up to the current iteration. The process can be facilitated by the teacher leaders and the administrators in charge of moderating different pages in the wiki.

The storage of and links to all of the curricular material on the wiki could be seen as distributed intelligence. Teachers don't have to worry about keeping the design theory in their heads, as it is laid out for them on the templates. Roy D. Pea makes a case that artifacts such as a template - or indeed a wiki space - actually contain the intelligence that was needed to design them. In this way, a wiki space can store the intelligence of the designers of the UbD framework and all of the participating teachers and administrators, expanding the learning capabilities of all who are using it. In addition, the design of the wiki itself adds to the collective intelligence of the group. Wikis are very easy to use, can store multiple forms of media, provide for easy communication, and are accessible anywhere the internet is available. For the TUHSD wiki project to be successful, the wiki will have to be laid out in a way that is manageable and makes sense to the users.
versionspic.jpg
This is a screenshot taken when I developed this wiki. Although I am listed as the only editor, it would show all the participants who edited.

Finally, the wiki allows teachers to bring different strengths to the learning environment, expanding the level of the development of the group. Instead of one master teacher in the traditional sense, the network of teachers supports each other. For example, a new teacher might look at an existing unit and quickly and easily see ways in which technology could support various aspects of student learning. A more veteran teacher could refine that inclusion based on her experiences with the students, existing technological capabilities of the school, and so on. In this way, each participant brings something of value to the experience.

A drawback to the wiki in this context is that the change could be created on the wiki without being vetted or agreed upon by the participants. Although previous versions are saved, the displayed version of the wiki contains the most recently edited version. A adult learner set in her ways could disrupt the evolution by continually re-versioning back to what she believed was right. If the wiki were designed and moderated correctly, however, this drawback would be avoided.

Community of Learners

Finally, we'll look at the theory of Community of Learners, developed by Barbara Rogoff. This theory notes that in most schools the theory of transmission is king, where adults (teachers) are the directors of learning, creating the goals and means of the experience for the students, and directing the experience alone. The opposite theory, acquisition, puts students in the center of their own learning, developing exploring and constructing their experiences, absent of much control from the teacher. In both of those instances learning occurs, but not necessarily learning that contributes to the transformation of understanding. A community of learners creates a transformation of participation which is not a blend or compromise of the two, but a theory outside of the two. Learning occurs in this context when people participate in the sociocultural activities of their communities. Participants in the community of learning take on different roles, leading the experience where their expertise is needed, and all are guided through the experience, transforming their understanding along the way.

The wiki acts as a perfect collaborative space for a community of learners. Depending on what the task is, guides could easily emerge from the group. If the data show that EL students are not successful in social science classrooms, a trained EL instructor could guide the social sciences department through incorporating strategies to support them in existing units of study. A new teacher could guide the incorporation of technology, someone who recently participated in a conference could guide the group through the new learning. The variation of the focus could extend the motivation for all learners, and the ability for each person to serve as an expert would also be motivational to an adult learner.

Effective Professional Development

In a review of effective professional development - professional development that changed knowledge, practice and student achievement - Laura Desimone concludes that there are common features:
  • Focus on content - how students learn the content.
  • Active learning - involvement from the teachers including opportunities to get and give feedback.
  • Coherence - should be consistent with beliefs, and state and district reform and policies.
  • Duration - at least 20 hours of time.
  • Collective participation - teachers across one grade level or curriculum group.

The TUHSD wiki meets all of those needs - it would be extended over the entire year, would involve groups in actively examining curriculum an d instruction, and the UbD framework is consistent with state and local policies. By focusing on actual units and lessons, the project takes teachers deeply into content-based practice. In order to ensure it reaches the student learning goals, examining student work would be built in to the process, again aided by the technology of the wiki.