ED 610 Week Nine (Fall 2022)

Hi everyone,

When I created this class and called it “Unmasking the Adult Learner,” I had initially thought that we would gain our greatest insights into the way that adults learn. And, of course, we do have a better sense of the historical development and the current defining factors regarding learning as they relate to our established notions of adult learning.

What surprised me most, however (and something many of our classmates talk about this when learning about andragogy), is that we also unmask some of the potential problem areas associated with pedagogical practices as they are played out in our public schools.

Allow me to speak to the contrast between andragogy and pedagogy and try to consider why andragogical practices intuitively make a lot of sense when thinking about teaching young people.

I will break this down into a few different parts, relating and comparing elements of pedagogy and andragogy along the way. We do explore some of these ideas in greater depth in ED 632 so if you have taken that class with me in the past, some of this will seem obvious. I will do my best to share my thoughts here with you in a short enough amount of time that you will be willing to bear with me here.

First the six basic principles of Knowles’ theory:

  • Self-concept. Adult learners have a self-concept. …
  • Learning from Experience. Experience as a rich resource of learning. …
  • Readiness to Learn. …
  • Immediate Applications. …
  • Internally Motivated. …
  • Need to Know.

What I find interesting about these principles is that Knowles has articulated many of the basic assumptions of adult ‘learning’ theory, he has articulated what I would call a theory of understanding. I want to emphasize ‘understanding’ here because we can and should distinguish between knowledge and understanding. Why? Our pedagogical practices tend to focus on knowledge acquisition. We teach students knowledge, we talk about knowledge, and we assess for knowledge. We want to ensure that students know things. We want to ensure that students receive enough information so that they can state what something is. Knowledge rules.


What is the difference between knowledge and understanding?

I think an easy way to access the concept of understanding is by way of Aristotle’s four causes.

Why four causes you might wonder? The four causes takes us back in time before the predominating influence of singular cause and effect. The seventeenth century and the influence of the scientific method brought about an emphasis on the notion of single causality (a cause leading to an effect). This cause-effect is a necessary aspect of scientific progress. With our scientific method, we are able to focus on a narrow area of experience, eliminate any extraneous information, and hone in on what precisely causes something to occur. In our research, we work to ensure a high degree of specificity so that we can manipulate variables and measure results.

All of this works well for scientific knowledge, but not so well for understanding. This is where Aristotles’ four causes deepen our understanding of understanding.


Aristotle, more than 2000 years ago, talked about multiple causes.

Aristotle. take it away:

Aristotle: The Four Causes

He says:

We call a cause (1) that from which (as immanent material) a thing comes into being, e.g. the bronze of the stature and the silver of the saucer, and the classes which include these. (2) The form or pattern, (i.e. the formula of the essence, causes of the octave) and the parts of the formula. (3) That from which the change or the freedom from change first begins, e.g. the man who has deliberated is a cause, and the father a cause of the child, and in general the maker a cause of the thing made and the change-producing or changing. (4) The end, i.e. that for the sake of which a thing is, e.g. health is the cause of walking. For why does one walk? We say “in order that one may be healthy,” and in speaking thus we think we have given the cause. [1013a24 – 35]




Sure enough. For something to come into being, according to Aristotle, would require a material cause (what the object is made of), a formal cause (the form of the object), an efficient cause (someone making the object), and a final cause (the purpose for even having the object. Not as broad as the context, but certainly the implication is there.


Things (human artifacts, processes, and ideas) are meaningful within contexts.

Thus, the context is important when trying to understand something.

How Something Comes Into Being  or How Something is Created From Nothing

Let’s use Aristotle’s example of the Statue

Imagine, some people thought that it would be nice to beautify the local park. “Perhaps a statue of some sort would be nice,” one of the people said. Then a second piped up and said, “My aunt Sally is an artist. I will talk with her.” And so the saga started. We know the purpose and the person.



So Sally the sculptor was consulted and was told that a group of people were interested in beautifying the local park. The group was thinking of a statue of some sort.


Sally and the group started talking. It was decided that a statue of a horse might be nice. So now we have the person (Sally the Sculptor), the purpose (a statue to beautify the park), and the form of the statue will be (a horse). We have the Purpose, the Person, and the Form.


Sally was an excellent stone carver, so she suggested the material the statue would be made from would be stone. Good choice I thought. Thankfully Sally wasn’t an ice sculptor.


So, as we can see, several causal modalities were responsible for the statue coming into being. Without any one of the four causes the horse sculpture, in its present state, would not have come into being.

Aristotle referred to these four causes as the Final Cause, the Efficient Cause, the Material Cause, and the Formal Cause. We will do just fine starting with Purpose, Person, Material, and Form.


The Cup

Let’s try another example using the cup

Imagine a time before cups. A person got tired of trying to always drink by cupping her hands together and drawing water up out of a stream.

I would like to cup water without using my hands, the person thought.

I think I could create something that is in the shape of my cupped hands — a cup shape.

The person who wanted to draw out water from the stream wondered what a good material would be to gather water to drink. She had an abundance of trees all around, so the thought, I will carve my cup out of wood.

Voila, a cup is born.


Let us broaden Artistotle’s causation frame. I will call this the understanding frame.

For someone to understand something, whether it be a cup, a statue, a photocopier, a kiss, or a car, these different modalities have to be know. Let us say, for example, I encounter an object. It happens to be a fork. What does this mean I wonder?

The context provides the meaning. The fork means something when it comes into being within a particular context. And to understand the fork, one would have to understand the context. Let me give you three examples here.




The fork is not simply an independent, decontextualized, abstract object. To understand the fork, an any one of these variations, one would have to know all five of the different modalities as they bring the fork into existence in each particular context.

We know the in-order-to and the for-the-sake-of. We know the way our body experiences the materials. For example, a paper fork would not work well when roasting hot dogs, and a fork made of jello would not work for extracting pickles. We know the way we experience the form (or the way we use) the fork. Each way of use, each form of use, illicits different ways bodily comportments. For example we twist the fork for the spaghetti and poke the fork into pickles. And, we come to understand when and how we might use the fork (as a picker, a twirler, or a holder over fire) in the future.

Our bodily neurons experience the context. And to understand, we need to experience multiple modalities.


In time, and with experience, the different variations contribute to our development of a depth and breadth of understanding. Our understanding is multi-dimensional. Each plane of the dodecahedron represents, in the case of our fork understanding, one variation of fork.

This multi-modal, multi-dimensional conglomerations of variations represents understanding.


But, as is often the case when we teach students specific things without ensuring they have an understanding we end up with a variation that looks a bit like this. Here the student knows pi is 3.14 but little else when it comes to pi. Or here the child knows that the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch make up the three branches of government, but knows little else.


If pedagogical environments address a limited number of modalities necessary for understanding, then the experienced result is sparse and limited.

This is not to say that pedagogical environments can’t ensure that learning leads to understanding. But in the 200 undergraduate students who were asked to explain pi, only a handful could say much beyond pi being 3.14.



Back to the six principles with some comments on understanding and pedagogy


Recall, the first the six basic principles of Knowles’ theory:

  • Self-concept. Adult learners have a self-concept. …
  • Learning from Experience. Experience as a rich resource of learning. …
  • Readiness to Learn. …
  • Immediate Applications. …
  • Internally Motivated. …
  • Need to Know.


Regarding need-to-know: This speaks to the “in-order-to” and the “for-the-sake-of.” One can only ‘understand’ when these are brought into the contextual frame.

I can be taught to repeat the phrase, “this is a cup” when shown a picture of a cup. But to understand would necessitate also knowing that we use cups in-order-to do or achieve something. The in-order-to and the for-the-sake-of become more readily apparent when we are learning something on our own accord. One wouldn’t leap into learning something on their own if the in-order-to were not a motivating factor. Yet, this aspect is often neglected or completely missing in traditional pedagogical methods. The child learns to state the definitions of the three branches of government, for example, without knowing that these have come into existence in-order-to accomplish something. The math student states that pi is 3.14, plugging 3.14 into formulas without knowing the in-order-to. If understanding is desired, we ‘need to know’ regardless of age.

Regarding self-concept. Adults have a self-concept that implies that they feel responsible for their own decisions. This speaks to the “for-the-sake-of.” In other words, andragogy recognized that adults do things for the sake of becoming someone. Adults learn about cooking so that they can become better cooks. They learn about parenting so that they can become a better parent. They learn how to play golf so that they can en-richen their life through activity, etc., etc. Young people also have a self-concept but the pedagogical environment has obscured the importance of the child’s self-concept. Conformity to rules and adherence to others’ expectations does not favorably enhance one’s self-concept. And yet when we think of anything children come to understand naturally, necessitates the ‘for-the-sake-of.’ This is simply a natural form of socialization and being with others. When the child learns to sit at the table and drink from a cup the child understands drinking from a cup as a way of being a certain way with family members. The student who comes to fully understand pi also incorporates the ‘for-the-sake-of’ in their understanding. This might be for the sake of being a more enlightened student. Or for the sake of eventually becoming an engineer. Even if understanding pi includes for the sake of being a compliant student, the self-concept is still incorporated into understanding. Also, the idea that adults need to be seen as needing to be seen and treated by others as capable of self-direction is evident in children’s learning and understanding. This becomes very apparent when you try to tie a child’s shoe for them after they have learned how to tie it on their own. They will often let you know in no uncertain terms that they will be tying their shoes from now on.

Regarding learning from experience: There is little doubt that adults have a greater amount of experience to draw from when learning new things. In other words, adults have woven together neuronal cell assemblies from past experience that they can then activate so that these neuronal cell assemblies can broaden one’s understanding when learning something new. But it is important to keep in mind that children, too, learn by wiring neurons together. And this wiring together of neurons is done with the neuronal cell assemblies they have already established. Unfortunately, many pedagogical models have adopted a pipeline communication model and what Paulo Freire refers to as the banking concept of learning. The idea is that a child comes to learn something by transmitting new ideas, information, or concepts to them. However, just as the adult learns, the child learns by having their neurons perturbed, activated, and rewired in new ways. So while it is true that when learning, adults are in a better position to activate neuronal cell assemblies by hearing or thinking about similes and metaphors, for example, children learn by having their own cell assemblies activated and rewired.

Regarding readiness to learn: It is stated that adults are ready to learn things of importance at different times in their lives. Children also learn in order to cope effectively with their real-life situations. They know the for-the-sake-of and the in-order-to. The pedagogical environment makes it appear as if children may not be ready to learn things at particular times in their lives. But is this a school expectation leading to an inaccurate perception of the concept of readiness? Is the pedagogical context lacking emphasis on the for-the-sake-of and the-in-order-to? Outside of school children readily learn things that are important and interesting. Perhaps this is a flaw with school design rather than an inherent difference in adult versus child learning.

Regarding immediate applications and orientation to learning: Philosophers and educational theorists, John Dewey being one of these, have long held that children learn best when a problem situation presents itself. Paulo Freire spoke of the necessity of action being a necessary component of learning. And some philosophers have argued that the only time we take an objective view (presumably helpful when having to articulate that which we are struggling to understand) is when we encounter a problem (eg. the hammer is not obvious as we hammer until the hammer is too long for the space or the handle breaks. Then the hammer becomes objective and obvious and problematic). When we think of our model of understanding, regardless of age, this obviousness is necessary for the perception and articulation of materials, forms, and possible future situations. The pedagogical transmission-of-information model does not necessarily incorporate the sorts of problems or articulations of material, form, or the in-order-to in such a way that orientation to learning seems necessary and obvious. We can tell a student that pi is 3.14 but without knowing how 3.14 is used, valued, or incorporated into life, there is a lack of understanding.

Regarding Motivation: Adults are thought to be more motivated than youngsters, relying more on internal motivation and less on external rewards. The fact that many pedagogical environments feel as though they have to reward students to do tasks that are inherently uninteresting to the student and lack any contextual level of understanding would seem to be a problem with the pedagogical environment rather than a difference between the adult and child as learners. The fact that children are forced to comply and lack either the understanding or the power to change the situation in which they find themselves leads them to resist by acting out, shutting down and tuning out, or simply demonstrating difficulty or inability to learn easily.


In my way of thinking, andragogy does little more than allow the adult the freedom to learn naturally, which leads to understanding — something inherently valuable and necessary for our human way of life and well-being. By creating schooling environments that do not honor understanding, or even ignore understanding completely, we end up with a rather stark contrast between the two when in reality, there should be little difference.

So perhaps Knowles was simply stating the obvious — an obviousness that has escaped our pedagogical intensions.

I hope you enjoyed thinking about this. Have a great rest of your week!