home(r) > iRhetoric > tacit > collecting > the sophists > andragogy > use(r)ful persuings > requirements > reflection > references


"Andragogy" is Malcolm Knowles' term for how adults learn. The approach is central to teaching classical rhetoric at the graduate level, especially online. Adult learners do not benefit from the same teaching styles that adolescents do. The world view of adults is very different from that of adolescents. In From Pedagogy to Andragogy (1984), Knowles explains that adulthood is "the point at which individuals perceive themselves to be essentially self-directing" (p. 46). Unlike a child, then, an adult learner has a sense of herself as an individual with a drive to be (and to be seen as) self-reliant. Adults tend to resist situations and relationships that challenge this sense of self-reliance and adulthood. But even for adult learners, teachers have too often been the ones to make the decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, and when it will be learned. While this method might work for the developing intellect and sense of self that is emerging in children and adolescents, for adult learners it is often contrary to the most basic sense of self that underlies what it means to be mature. Classical rhetoric builds on the needs of the audience in order to demonstrate the importance of audience and situation and context to students. This process is something the ancients knew well. It sounds like educational psychology, and it is to a certain extent, but the ancients were very much interested in how we learn as well as audience-centric principles. My course would need to embrace andragogic principles of teaching and learning.

An adult, then, is someone with characteristics derived from a strong sense of self-reliance and personal competence. The characteristics of adult learners include:

  • being self-directed;
  • focusing on practical issues and problem-solving;
  • setting goals for their own activities; and
  • pausing to reflect on and draw from accumulated life experiences. (see Knowles, 1984)
These characteristics have specific implications for teaching adult learners in the Classical Rhetoric course. I quickly saw new media assignment sets as ideal for my students. Such learners need to know why they are studying something, for instance. Blogs would give them that reflective space. The purpose must be explicit and personally applicable. I asked students to design videos for their own students. Instruction should be task-oriented, and it should take into account 'Evil Sophistes' by Time Barrow the widest possible range of experiences. Assignment requirements were flexible to allow for my sophists' own ideas. In other words, instruction had to be problem-centered rather than content(only)-centered. My course needed to focus around problems rather than just concepts. Adult learners need to be able to relate and to provide input into what is being studied; that is, they need authentic and generally intrinsic motivation in order to be in a position to learn, as student Time Barrow did in making a connection between Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings and Plato. Barrow called his graphic smashup “Filthy Sophistses” and included it in his presentation over The Phaedrus (see right).

Teachers of adults have to be aware of these characteristics and needs. Avoid "mind stuffing"; learner-centered classes are absolutely critical to stimulate dialogue and knowledge construction. Adult learners need the tools to evaluate the effect of the learned skill, theory, and practice on their own activities. To this end, adult learners benefit from a scaffolded approach to build and enhance self-reliance. Providing opportunities to mish mash their own ideas and apply their own talents, such as photoshopping, helps learners make meaningful connections, just as an enthymeme might work. As Ilana Synder states in Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the Electronic Era (1998), "We know that the use of these electronic technologies affects how we read and write, how we teach reading and writing and how we describe literacy practices. However, moving from this recognition that literacy practices differ when they are used to an understanding of how writing, writers and written forms change, is difficult. Such a move is complicated by the growing realisation that writing and technology are not distinct phenomena" (p. xxi).

My class was made up of users with a variety of technological and rhetorical skills and experiences. I decided to design a syllabus that would include "use(r)ful" perusings; that is, it would be full of entry points into the material for my students.

Back   Forward


      the study of the teaching of adult learners


      students working to get a degree for knowledge and other specific purposes, often monetary


      resources that are both useful and centered around the needs and interests of the users, often supplied by the users themselves