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Andragogy in youth work?

By Karyn Santl

Group of young adults in a meeting
A youth worker works with youth, right? They do! But they also interact with adults including parents, volunteers and other staff. In the organization I work with we have adult volunteers that lead various learning opportunities for youth. Our paid staff lead and manage volunteers as part of their position. They also interact with the parents of our youth members.

Adult learning principles

A youth worker will likely interact with adults in a variety of ways: facilitating group training, serving on a committee with other adults, in one-on-one conversations, or alongside an adult to coordinate an event. Whether you're training adults or working alongside them, a good resource to rely on is the adult learning principles. These principles are known as andragogy, the “art and science of teaching adults”. I’ve summarized these principles from a University of Kentucky Extension article and a National 4-H curriculum.
  • Adults are independent and self-directed learners. They attend training because they want to be there and learn.
  • Adults have accumulated many life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. Ensure you learn about their experience.  
  • Adults are goal-oriented. Educators must show participants how this opportunity will help them attain their goals.
  • Adults are life-centered and want to learn to solve a problem, complete a task or live in a more fulfilling way.  
  • Adults are more intrinsically motivated to learn than extrinsically. They want to learn new knowledge or skills that improve their quality of life, self-esteem, or self-confidence.  

Non-Western perspectives on learning

These adult learning principles come from a Western perspective. In today’s global society we need to consider a non-Western perception on learning as well. Non-Western perspectives emphasize community, lifeline learning, and a holistic conception of learning (Merriam & Kim, 2008). These ideas are summarized below:    
  • Learning is communal. Adult learning is the responsibility of all members of the community because it is through this learning that the community itself can develop. Individuals have the obligation to share what is learned with others.
  • Learning is lifelong and informal. Adult learning is community-based and embedded in everyday life. It is often structured by a problem or issue, and resources like people and materials are brought together to assess the problem and try out solutions.
  • Learning is holistic. Adult learning not only involves the mind but the body, the spirit, and the emotions. Learning is just not cognitive, but physical, emotional, and sometimes spiritual.  
As you reflect on your experience working with or training adults, are there principles or perspectives that guide your approach?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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  1. Thank you Karyn for bringing forth this conversation on andragogy! So often we get focused on the end experience for the child participant, but the facilitator's / teacher's experience in learning the content and even delivering the content is equally important. I value the idea of learning as communal and try to build in opportunities for participants to share with each other; through interactive polls, brainstorming, and small group discussions I wonder what other's favorite ways are to support a communal learning environment.


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