By: Dr. Eric C. Wilson, PGA Master Professional, Executive Director of Golf Operations

Keiser University College of Golf & Sport Management

The concept in the United States that adults and children learn differently (1973, p. 1). Since then, theorists and philosophers have offered differing definitions of adult education. Some examples include:

1. “Learning outside of a formal degree program” (Brown, 2003, para. 2).

2. “Adult education … begins where vocational education leaves off. Its purpose is to put meaning into the whole of life” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 7).

3. “’The practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the trans­formation of their world” (Friere, 1970, p.34).

4. “The process of adults gaining knowledge and expertise” (Knowles, 1973, p. 124).

5. “Courses and other educational activities, or­ganized by a teacher or sponsoring agency, and taken by persons beyond compulsory school age” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 5).

6. “An adult education activity would have as its main purpose the desire to ac­quire some type of knowledge, information, or skill and that it would include some form of in­struction” (Merriam & Cafferalla, 1999, p. 47).

Rather than debate the strengths and weaknesses of each of the above definitions, this article will reference the definition put forth by the Na­tional Adult Education Advisory Council in 1980 and quoted by Stephen Brookfield: “Courses and other educational activi­ties, organized by a teacher or sponsoring agency, and taken by persons beyond compulsory school age” (1986, p.5). “In practice a person ceases to be of ‘compulsory school age’ … [when] he/she becomes 16; a child of 17 can never be of com­pulsory school age” (Compul­sory, 2002, para. 2). Therefore, the definition used in this article becomes: “Courses and other educational activities, organized by a teacher or sponsoring agency, and taken by persons 17 years of age or older.”

Until recently, there was only one model of learning/teaching, which formed the basis of our educational system. Pedagogy, the art and science of teach­ing children, evolved from the monastic schools of Europe between the seventh and twelfth centuries and was formalized in secular schools when they were organized in the twelfth century and universities when they be­gan emerging toward the close of the twelfth century. With the spread of elementary schools throughout Europe and North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the peda­gogical model was adopted and reinforced (Knowles, 1970, p. 40).

Systematically organized adult education began in the 1920s, and teachers of adults naturally used the pedagogical model, proven through years of suc­cess in teaching children, as their instruction model. However, teachers of adults began experienc­ing several problems with their students, and dropout rates were high (Knowles, 1970, p. 40). They realized that as­sumptions about the characteristics of learn­ers inherent in the peda­gogical model did not seem to fit their adult students; they began experimenting with different as­sumptions and found that they often produced better results (Knowles, 1970, p. 41).

“Attempts to bring the isolated concepts, insights, and research findings regarding adult educa­tion together into an integrated framework began as early as 1949…. However, these turned out to be more descriptive list­ings of concepts and principles than comprehensive, coher­ent, and integrated theoretical frameworks” (Knowles, 1973, p. 58). The concept of an inte­grated framework of adult learn­ing has been evolving in Europe for some time. It has been labeled andragogy to differenti­ate it from the theory of youth learning, pedagogy (Knowles, 1973, p. 58). “Dusan Savicevic, a Yugoslavian adult educator, first introduced the concept and label into the American culture in 1967, and Knowles wrote the article ‘Androgogy [sic], Not Pedagogy,’ in Adult Leadership in April, 1968” (Knowles, 1973, p. 58).

Considering the depth, breadth, variety and diversity of adult education theories put forth in literature throughout the 1900’s, the challenge is to summarize and encapsulate these into a vision from which to develop a method/model of instruction.

Merely knowing the definition and concept of andragogy does nothing to improve the skills of the facilitator, or adult educator, in the classroom. The four-stage method/model outlined in this article will not make someone an expert teacher of adults. It will, however, provide a frame­work for the teacher to develop and improve his/her personal method of classroom instruc­tion

Education Instruction

This four-stage method/model will focus on the instructor of adults in the classroom, ac­knowledging and embracing the student-centered concept promoted by the TLC.

1.Awareness – The instructor must gain awareness of and accept the fact that teach­ing adults (andragogy) is sig­nificantly different than teaching children (pedagogy). This is the overriding construct within the adult education community. The instructor’s awareness and ac­ceptance can only come from research, observation, training, and participation in adult educa­tion classes as a student.

2. Acceptance/Assimilation – After embracing the concept of andragogy, the instructor must face full-on his/her fear of change from having been the authoritarian figure in the class­room to now becoming basically an equal learner in a joint edu­cational arena. The instructor must also overcome his/her fear of losing control and/or not be­ing in control of the classroom from a content and “teaching” point of view. This becomes a delicate balancing act, as the instructor must never abrogate control of the learning environ­ment to the point that learning ceases to occur due to chaos or lack of direction (not control) administratively or logistically in the classroom.

3. Application – How does one transition this new belief system into the physical classroom? Reaching beyond the scope of academia, the new beliefs will be overlaid onto one of the more effective models for excellence in customer service to produce a method for practical class­room application of adult edu­cation concepts. After all, are not adult students the ultimate customers in the “game of life?” The customer service model espoused by Ron Willingham on page viii in his book Hey, I’m the Customer (1992) lists six steps, upon which the classroom model will be constructed:

(a) Greet the student and make him/her feel comfortable. The first step in the andragogical process involves establishing a climate conducive to adult learn­ing (Knowles, 1970, p. 59).

(b) Value the student and let him/her know that he/she is important. “Faith in people is an a priori requirement for dialogue; the ‘dialogical man’ believes in others even before he meets them face to face” (Friere, 1926, pp. 90-91).

(c) Ask how you can help the student. “An adult educator’s mission can best be described in relation to satisfying the needs and goals of individuals” (Knowles, 1970, p. 27).

(d) Listen to the student and understand his/her needs. The second and third steps in the andragogical process involve creating an organizational struc­ture for participative [sic] plan­ning and diagnosing needs for learning (Knowles, 1970, p. 59).

(e) Help the student get what he/she wants to solve his/her problem. “The particular func­tion of the facilitator is to chal­lenge learners with alternative ways of interpreting their experi­ence and to present to them ideas and behaviors that cause them to examine critically their values, ways of acting, and the assumptions by which they live” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 23).

(f) Invite the student back; let him/her know that he/she is welcome in the adult learning environment anytime. “Human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis; it is trans­formation of the world” (Friere, 1926, p. 125). Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other (Fri­ere, 1926, p. 72).

4. Evaluation – “Evaluation is the act of examining and judging, concerning the worth, quality, significance, amount, degree, or condition of something. In short, evaluation is the ascer­tainment of merit” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 264). “The educator who abrogates responsibility for setting evaluative criteria to participants is as guilty of pro­fessional misconduct as the

value stance on controversial matters” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 277). “If we are to wear the mantle of ‘educator,’ we must, at some minimum level, make explicit the criteria by which we determine the educational worth of our efforts. Not to do so is unthinking and dishonest, and it is to consign ourselves to being adaptive and reactive satisfiers of whatever consumer learning needs happen to capture our attention” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 285). The evaluation model used in this article is a four step process proposed by Malcolm Knowles: (a) formulate the questions you want answered, (b) collect the data that will en­able you to answer those ques­tions, (c) analyze the data and interpret what they mean as answers to the questions raised, and (d) modify your plans, operation, and program in the light of your findings (1970, p. 203). The questions should be formulated to evaluate the six-step customer service model in the application portion of this article. The questionnaire should be formatted to the Likert Scale and be anonymous; it should be filled out by all participants, in­cluding the instructor. Collection and analysis of data should be done by an independent outside source; most often this is ac­complished by the institution.

Once compiled, the composite results should be returned to the instructor for program and per­formance modification. If the for­mal classroom evaluation does not address the six-step model of application, the instructor should assume responsibility for developing and administering an informal evaluation to obtain this information.


Effective classroom facilita­tion of adult learners requires knowledge, training, empathy, dedication and an abundance of hard work. However, hard work without an effective plan will not guarantee success in today’s demanding classroom environ­ment. The approach presented in this article provides adult educators a methodology for planning and delivering effective instruction in the classroom and a workable guideline for acquir­ing a basic level of understand­ing, which supports the applica­tion methodology. Furthermore, educators should be prepared to conduct extensive research into the concepts presented in this article to acquire a more critical understanding of the and ragogical process in the education of adults. After all, as Malcolm Knowles so eloquently states, “I believe the single most effective teaching device avail­able to teachers is the example of their own behavior” (Knowles, 1970, p. 13).

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