Digital andragogy: A new approach to higher education in a digital context

Year: 2015

Author: Blackley, Susan, Sheffiled, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Most of the current learners in tertiary institutions were exposed to pedagogical educational experiences throughout their primary and secondary years of schooling, and may expect the same practices to be enacted by their lecturers in the tertiary context. When mature adult learners are confronted with pedagogical approaches in their tertiary studies, existing predispositions to surface learning may emerge. This presentation revisits the term “andragogy” that has been historically associated with adult education (Knowles, 1984), and develops a new concept based upon an investigation of the skills and dispositions of 21st century learners. The five characteristics of adult learners described by Knowles (1984) form the theoretical basis for this new concept. They are: self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learn.
In order to develop a profile of 21st century tertiary learners (International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), 2008), an online, anonymous survey instrument was developed by the researchers. The instrument was used with successive cohorts of students in a common first year unit in the Bachelor of Education degree. An analysis of survey data, collected from 1924 undergraduate university students over three years, resulted in a profile of 21st century tertiary learners that, when examined through the lens of the characteristics of adult learners, resulted in a metamorphosis in the ways of working for both educators and students. This vision of change seeks to provide the best fit for learners and their lifestyles, and aligns with how knowledge is accessed and constructed in our Web 2.0 world. Silva (2009) states that “an “emphasis on what students can do with knowledge, rather than what units of knowledge they have, is the essence of 21st century skills” (p. 630). Whilst there appears to be many differing lists and descriptions of “21st Century Learning Skills”, there are four components that are consistent: Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
We coin the concept “digital andragogy” and draw on 21st Century Learning Skills, a profile of 21st century learners, and the affordances of Web 2.0 technologies to define it. Our definition, distilled from our investigation and analysis, is “the practice of educators to equip and encourage adult learners to choose and use the affordances of accessible digital technologies to personalise their learning and facilitate their interactions with peers and tutors”. We posit that tertiary learners should be encouraged and supported to transition from pedagogical practices experienced in their school years to higher education contexts that are based upon digital andragogy.