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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:
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
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).
- 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)
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.