Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

2 Adult learning

This section looks at the two differing approaches to adult learning that also fall under the umbrella of humanistic psychology: andragogy and pedagogy.

Andragogy is based on the work of Malcolm Knowles (1990), a humanistic educator who identified four key principles in this type of learning:

  • Self-concept: adults take responsibility for their own learning and are involved in planning and evaluating their learning.
  • Experience: past experience and prior knowledge is used as resource for learning.
  • Readiness to learn: individuals take responsibility for own learning and ensure the learning is relevant.
  • Orientation learning: it is essential to apply the learning to life experiences.

Knowles distinguishes between andragogy and pedagogy. He claims that andragogy, or adult learning, encourages a proactive approach to learning where inquiry and autonomy are key features. By contrast, pedagogy is teacher-centred and is closely associated with teaching children. However, it should be noted that generalisations are made regarding these two different approaches to learning because both may be appropriate for children and adults depending on their circumstances.

Pedagogy is perceived as teacher-centred because the teacher decides what has to be learned and the individual’s prior knowledge is not always taken into account. However, Knowles argues that andragogy and pedagogy should be seen as parallel rather than as opposing concepts. Walsh (2014) agrees that teaching children using mainly a pedagogical approach is a somewhat crude perspective, because andragogy is now used almost extensively with this specific learner group.

The next activity gives you some insight into the two different approaches to learning. You might find it helpful to consider how these approaches have assisted you in your learning and can be used in teaching others.

Activity 6 Comparison of andragogy and pedagogy

Allow 20 minutes

Watch this video from YouTube, which compares pedagogy and andragogy in learning. It was produced by the PC3 project, which ran at Leeds Metropolitan University from 2008 to 2012.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Reflect on the comparisons that have been made and consider how these two approaches are used when teaching learners in practice.


You may have discovered from watching the video that assumptions are still made about andragogy and pedagogy. Table 1 presents some of these assumptions, but you may have noticed in practice that the pedagogical approach is used for certain situations – for example, patient safety, where you are given specific instructions that require compliance.

Table 1 Assumptions of pedagogy and andragogy (Quinn, 2001)

Assumptions Pedagogy Andragogy
Students need to know Students must learn what they are taught in order to pass tests Adults need to know why they must learn something
Student’s self-concept Dependency: decisions about learning are controlled by teacher Adults take responsibility for their own learning
Role of student’s experience Teacher’s experience seen as important; student’s experience is seen as little use as a resource Adults’ greater and more varied experience is a rich resource for learning
Readiness to learn Dependent on what the teacher wants Adults’ readiness relates to them learning things they need to know
Student’s orientation to learning Learning equates with the subject Learning involves problem solving and task-centred approaches
Student’s motivation From external sources such as teacher approval grades and parental pressures Largely internal such as self-esteem, quality of life and job satisfaction

The next activity examines the behavioural, humanistic and cognitive theories of learning in far more detail, as well as their application within the practice learning environment when mentoring learners.

Activity 7 Application of learning and teaching theories to practice

Allow 1 hour

Read pages 85–94 of The Nurse Mentor’s Handbook (Walsh, 2014) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which gives a good overview of the behavioural, humanistic and cognitive theories, including application to nursing practice. Review the approaches and then assess how each theory is utilised in practice when mentoring learners. Draw on your experience and make brief notes of your views.


You might have reflected that all three theories in this extract are valuable in practice, depending on the right circumstances and the learning need. You may have noticed the importance of repetition and putting the learner at ease when repeating particular skills in practice, and recognising anxiety in your learner when commencing a new placement because it can hinder their learning.

Furthermore, the extract emphasises the variety of ways that students learn and suggests that the teacher needs to adopt an eclectic approach to suit the needs of learners. Opportunities should be created within a practice setting that is non-judgemental and sensitive to the different styles of learning. When you engage in teaching, you should use a range of methods and strategies presented in a logical sequence. While each theory presents a unique way of interpreting learning, the learning experience should be perceived as pleasurable, with time allocated for reflection and taking appropriate action as and when required.

You concentrate next on your learning style and will have the opportunity to identify your preferred style of learning.


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