Some Thoughts on Andragogy and the Secondary Classroom

When deciding on my degree program, I ran into the first of many personal learning hurdles. What program should I undertake, if I desire to teach teachers?  Should I focus on the subject matter in the field itself (e.g., secondary curriculum), or should I focus on how to teach adult learners?  In other fields, the choice is much clearer:  e.g., to teach English Composition, one majors in the field of English, not adult education. 

I decided on subject matter as a focus and began my journey in Curriculum and Instruction (in-field). However, I soon became frustrated with the material we were learning as it mirrored my undergraduate work:  same theories, same topics, same theorists (for the most part).  Once one has "Piageted," one has "Piageted." I got it, already! 

The “move” to adult education has offered me some powerful new insights into not only how adults learn, but how I learn. Further, the study of andragogical principles has validated some of the choices I made in instructing high school students. I’m continually struck by the parallels of andragogy and self-directed learning as they pertain to secondary students and what school districts now desire of their students. These have made, and will continue to make, a huge difference in the field of secondary education. 

The push for differentiated learning, critical thinking skills, flipped classes, and Whole Child instruction –all recent “buzz” on the education front--clearly reflect andragogical principles, not just pedagogical ones. (It would be interesting to see how teachers would react to a semantical switch.)

As I straddle this fence of teaching teachers, I am wondering why these principles and theories are not offered as part of a secondary educator’s curriculum. Much like Jarvis, I am more interested in human learning than adult learning or children's learning (McCluskey,  Illeris, & Jarvis, 2007, p. 9), and the distinction between the two seems to be becoming more and more blurred, especially when considering adolescents and young adults in the secondary system. 

I suppose then, the difference all of this might make in the field of secondary education the ability of my intended learners (new teachers) to use what is warranted for their students as opposed to tying their hands with canned and prepackaged with nice educational labels by school districts. 

Did some of my high school students surpass me as their teacher? You bet! Many of my students were just far more intelligent than me, and that awareness made a huge difference in the way I taught them. 

Pedagogy had no place in some of my high school classes. In others, it had a role only at the beginning.   

I want aspiring educators to know that and accept this "contradiction of life" ((Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2011, p. 225) instead of fighting for some illusive perceived entitlement of a position of authority. If embraced by secondary educators, the use of andragogical principles would certainly make their work with students more meaningful—for themselves and the students.   


McCluskey, H.Y., Illeris, K., & Jarvis, P. (2007). Knowles's andragogy, and models of adult learning. In Merriam S. B., Caffarella R. S., Baumgartner, L. M., Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.), 83-104. 

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