Published 31st January 2021

What is Andragogy and Why Does It Matter?

You’ve heard of pedagogy, right? We often speak about pedagogy as relating to teaching in general and so, by extension, teaching English as a Foreign Language. But you might not realise that strictly speaking, pedagogy refers to the teaching of Young Learners. And while we need to be aware of issues relating to pedagogy because you might find yourself teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners, we also actually need to familiarize ourselves with andragogy. So, what is andragogy and why does it matter?

Read more: Top Tips for Teaching Young Learners

So what is andragogy?

The term pedagogy includes the Greek word for child (paidi) which is why it refers to how children learn – i.e. teaching children – and the term andragogy includes the Greek word for man (andras). So andragogy refers to how adults learn, and correspondingly how to teach adults.  

Why is andragogy important in TEFL?

As TEFL teachers this is important to us as it is likely you will teach adults at some point in your career. It is further important for us to consider as there are differences in adult and younger learners which means there are differences in how they learn, which in turn means there are differences in how we should teach them.

Adults and Young Learners differ in a number of ways, such as attention span, discipline, and cognitive capabilities. But, in essence, adult learners differ from younger learners in terms of their motivation and ability – two fundamental aspects of learning a language, or learning anything, for that matter.

Read more: 6 Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners

What is Andragogy and Why Does It Matter?

What do you need to know about andragogy?

So let’s talk about andragogy so we can better understand how adults learn and how this can help us if we are in the classroom teaching English to adults.

Adults are individuals

Yes, children are individuals too but they are not totally aware of that yet. Adults, on the other hand, are. They know and understand their learning preferences, interests, and capabilities. In the classroom, this means we need to make sure we take those into account both when planning lessons and when managing your classrooms.

Make sure you get to know your learners, their backgrounds, interests, and personalities. Doing this will help you tailor your lessons to suit your learners. This will mean they will engage more with your lessons and the lessons will be more meaningful for them. If the lessons are more meaningful for learners, they will learn the language more easily.

Also bear in mind that if your students are not interested in your lessons, because they are adults, they can vote with their feet and simply not turn up for class – which is not the feedback you want!

Adults have experience

Because they have spent more years on this planet than our Young Learners, adults have a wealth of experience which they bring into the classroom – life experience, as well as learning experience. This means they are most definitely not blank slates and we need to build on the foundations they have to help them learn better.

To make sure you are catering to the needs of your students, make sure you take into account their backgrounds and experiences when planning your lessons. Make sure you relate the lesson materials to your learners’ lives outside the classroom through contextualisation and personalization. This personalization will help them connect the new language they are learning to the knowledge they already have.

Read more: 5 Ways to Make Language Learning Meaningful

Adults have opinions

Adults have opinions. They have their own thoughts and ideas on topics you may discuss in the classroom, and even on language learning itself. Their experience in life also informs their opinions, and these may or may not be the same as yours or the other students. This means you need to make sure your classroom activities do not become heated and that everyone’s viewpoints are taken into account.

This also means that adults are not going to blindly follow what you say if they disagree with you. This is in relation both to what you say and your ideas regarding language learning. In other words, if a student doesn’t agree with your method of teaching, they are likely to make this known. It is not uncommon for adult students to voice their unhappiness over classroom materials or lesson activities if they are not happy with them or if they feel they are not beneficial to them.

Adults are in control

Adults are able to take responsibility for their learning. Many Young Learners are learning English as a school subject or because their parents signed them up for lessons. Adults are often the ones who choose to sign themselves up for lessons, be it for their own personal development or pleasure, for their studies, or for their work.

Whatever the reason, they understand their need to be able to speak English and so they are likely to take responsibility for this – especially if they are paying for the lessons themselves. As teachers, we need to connect with our learners so they are motivated to do the work both in the classroom and outside the classroom in order for them to learn the language.

So while you may understand that you won’t sing nursery rhymes to your adult learners or talk politics with your Young Learners, it’s important to realise the fundamental differences in teaching Young Learners and adults. There are probably more TEFL teachers who teach adults than you realise, and there is a very good chance you will be one of them, so understanding this will make sure you are prepared for whatever your adult students are going to throw your way.

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