I Am Woman, I Am Wise

The lyrics written by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton decades ago, still ring true. “I Am Woman” is a song worth revisiting (or possibly hearing for the first time!) but I say this not to ignite a fire. Rather I say I am a woman, an adult learner. Please do not teach me in the same methods you would a child. We are not the same. Nor are my other adult learner counterparts. We are wise, treat us and teach us accordingly.

So what is the big deal? Adult learners have different learning needs than children. Sadly this is much overlooked. Even with the teaching strategies…called pedagogy. Pedagogy is more commonly known as the art or science of teaching, as cited by dictionary.com. The root of the word in Greek is child tutor. While we know that adults continue to be mentally capable of learning well into middle adulthood, we have not always recognized that adult learners need something different.

In my world of counseling, there are thoughts about ways people learn. There are behaviorists, such as Skinner, Pavlov, and Watson; who posit that learning is a process of reacting to external stimuli. There are the cognitivists, such as Piaget, Bruner, and Kohler; who stand behind learning being a process of acquiring and sorting out information. And there are the constructivists, like Dewey, Vygotsky, and Kolb, who define learning as a subjective, reality-based process of constructing knowledge.

With all that being said, it was not until Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory, which is synonymous to Adult Learning, focused on the adult as a learner. Knowles pointed out the term andragogy, which has the Greek root of man, which is defined as the method or techniques to teach adults. Adult learning shifts from being a dependent personality towards more self-directed independence; thus a shift in the methods of educational needs as well.

Knowles pointed out various characteristics of adult learners and their needs, which Deb Peterson does a good job covering. Adults need experiences and freedom to learn in our own ways. We are motivated to learn different from children and we apply our knowledge differently.

Prior to my time at Virginia Tech, I had not really thought much about the educational frameworks which my professors utilized. Odd, sense most of my higher education has occurred after I turned 25. However, I recognize this need (if not demand, at times) in my students. Sage on the stage is not the preferred, or wanted, method within higher education. Sadly it is what most of us as learners know; so we repeat back what our experiences have taught us, even if it doesn’t really fit. When I have had some of those other learning methods employed in my classes, I have learned and retained more. Things made way more sense and I immediately knew ways to apply that learned knowledge.

So I urge all instructors to keep your audience in mind. Adults need something different than children. Strive to teach us in ways you would treat us. As mature, capable adults who gain knowledge through both our personal and environmental experiences.


3 thoughts on “I Am Woman, I Am Wise

  1. Nice work, Karen! I am intrigued by your comment: “Adult learning shifts from being a dependent personality towards more self-directed independence.” I agree that adult learning needs to represent a more independent learning style. Somewhat ironically, I think there is a need for more of this approach in teaching children as well. It makes me wonder how adult learning would shift if, from a young age, we were encouraged to be more of the drivers of our own education.


    1. This is great! I appreciate the focus on the importance of creating our knowledge in ways that are meaningful and individualized. I agree with Katie and also wonder how this may change adult learning, if a more constructivist approach was embraced broadly K-12 education.


  2. I absolutely agree as well. It is a whole other beast teaching children vs adults. And this is particularly important if you are teaching a graduate level course, as the graduate student population tends to be more diversified in terms of “adultness” and maturity than your average undergraduate college student. Thank you for the reflection!


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