Adults and Children as Learners
Teaching adults should be different if adults learn differently than children do. Theories or perspectives on adult learning, such as andragogy, make a number of assertions about the characteristics of adults as learners: adults need learning to be meaningful; they are autonomous, independent, and self-directed; prior experiences are a rich learning resource; their readiness to learn is associated with a transition point or a need to perform a task; their orientation is centered on problems, not content; they are intrinsically motivated; their participation in learning is voluntary (Draper 1998; Sipe 2001; Tice 1997; Titmus 1999). For some, "the major difference between adults and younger learners is the wealth of their experience" (Taylor, Marienau, and Fiddler 2000, p. 7). For others, the capacity for critical thinking or transformative learning is what distinguishes adults (Vaske 2001). In contrast, pedagogy assumes that the child learner is a dependent personality, has limited experience, is ready to learn based on age level, is oriented to learning a particular subject matter, and is motivated by external rewards and punishment (Guffey and Rampp 1997; Sipe 2001).
If there are indeed "distinctive characteristics of adults, on which claims for the uniqueness and coherence of adult education are based, then one might expect them to be taken into account in all organized education for adults" (Titmus 1999, p. 347). However, each of these characteristics is contested. Courtney et al. (1999) assert that "characteristics of adult learners" refers to a small number of identified factors with little empirical evidence to support them. Andragogy has been criticized for characterizing adults as we expect them to be rather than as they really are (Sipe 2001). Both andragogical and pedagogical models assume a "generic" adult and child learner (Tice 1997).
Some question the extent to which these assumptions are characteristic of adults only, pointing out that some adults are highly dependent, some children independent; some adults are externally motivated, some children intrinsically; adults' life experience can be barriers to learning; some children's experiences can be qualitatively rich (Merriam 2001; Vaske 2001). The emphasis on autonomy and self-direction is criticized for ignoring context. Adults in higher education can be marginalized and deprived of voice and power (Sissel, Hansman, and Kasworm 2001). Power differences based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and disability can limit adults' autonomy and ability to be self-directed (Johnson-Bailey and Cervero 1997; Leach 2001; Sheared and Sissel 2001). Lifelong learning can be coercive and mandatory, contradicting the assumption that adult participation is voluntary (Leach 2001). Adults do not automatically become self-directed upon achieving adulthood. Some are not psychologically equipped for it and need a great deal of help to direct their...