Another dot in the blogosphere?

Harmful learning theories?

Posted on: January 25, 2017

I chanced upon these “adult learning theories” and I am both glad and sad that I did.

I am glad because it is an opportunity to apply some critical thinking. I am sad because these “adult learning theories” are meant to inform teachers of adults and they misinform instead.

According to the writeup, the three theories are:

  1. Andragogy
  2. Self-directed learning
  3. Transformational learning

Applying some critical thinking, andragogy is the only “official” adult learning theory. It was shaped by Malcolm Knowles to distinguish it from pedagogy (the teaching of children).

If you dive deep enough into the elements of andragogy, you might realise that there is just ONE factor that distinguishes andragogy from pedagogy: Experience. Adults typically have it in greater quantities than children.

I do not know why the latter two theories are considered adult learning theories. Does self-directedness and transformation (shifts in perspectives, beliefs, consciousness) not apply to younger learners as well? Is the assumption that kids are not capable of doing these?

Is providing such information harmful to people who might not have a background in educational psychology and philosophy? Or, to use something that just emerged from the Trump administration, are these examples of #AlternativeFacts?

If I was to give the benefit of the doubt to the writers of the piece, I might assume they wanted to inform others of the most relevant or powerful theories that might be applied in adult education. There are many other theories, and to their credit, they state that up front.

But why focus on these three? Andragogy is certainly useful, but there is harm in introducing the other two as if they belonged only in the domain of adult learning.

3 Responses to "Harmful learning theories?"

Hi Ashley,

I don’t disagree with your perspective however, adult learning in particular, is complimented/augmented by so much that it is impossible to not consider anrogogy as an umbrella for a whole myriad of theories when you research the field. I am in violent agreement with you but recognise a lot of other perspectives on this. You might or might not be familiar with the following resource but I refer to it a lot: Thanks for the blog entry as it again supports a perspective that should be more prevalent IMHO.


Thank you very much for this useful post. I do agree with you on the point of children.


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