Andragogy vs. Pedagogy: Teaching Adults Is Different

August 27, 2017, 10:43 PM · At 65 I have been a viola player all my life - albeit with a day job in non music education most of that time! In retirement I am challenging myself to improve my playing and have a developing interest in adult violin / viola learning.

"Andragogy" is a horrible word but useful at least as a concept - it is the adult equivalent of pedagogy and refers to methods and principles applicable to adult education. A Wiki search will give you some background. I have found no direct reference to the application of the ideas behind andragogy to instrumental learning but make the following interpretations.

adult learner

Andragogy proposes that adult learners are different to child and adolescent learners. Of particular relevance to adult instrumental learning are that adults learn effectively ...

Evidence of the validity of these ideas in the instrumental learning field is arguably found in the popularity with adult learners of "online tutors" and youtube videos. For all their limitations, these put the learner in control of the work they choose to pursue. I myself find "teachers" useful to assist me in solving specific problems rather than in providing me with a "program of study".

Adult instrumental teaching may be inappropriately using pedagogical approaches and resources designed for children rather than for adults. The commonly perceived difficulties of developing as an adult learner may have more to do with ineffective teaching methods than it has to do with any innate characteristic of adult learners.

I look forward to the day when a 70 year old who started learning at age 55 is acknowledged as a significant world soloist!

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August 28, 2017 at 04:03 PM · I am 63 now, took up Viola at 57, for a change from Classical guitar which I took up seriously at 50. I could be that soloist on either instrument. Tod Coulson Chiang Rai Thailand

August 28, 2017 at 04:21 PM · As an adult learner I think this is totally correct. Too many teachers think that teaching their adult students in the same way they teach children is effective. It isn't and will actually hold up the learning process for many adults.

August 28, 2017 at 04:35 PM · I started at 56, did the whole school and still love playing. Now 73.. But never can reach the degree a child can do with young head and body. Anyway, this instrument is my friend!

August 28, 2017 at 04:40 PM · Yes! I'm an adult learner also, 68, and I work with my teacher in exactly the the way your article suggests. I am self directed but take her suggestions and teaching seriously and incorporate them into my practice. I also share articles with her like this one!

August 28, 2017 at 04:46 PM · I teach at a 2-year college where we have many non-traditional students, and I agree with this as well. I'm in my mid-30s right now, and I've seen quite a few students my age and older who suddenly become a lot more engaged in the class (and more respectful toward me, even) when they figure out that I'm not going to insist on formalities they may be uncomfortable with (e.g., "Sure, you can call me by my first name if you want to"). While kids and young adults are great at memorization, adults in their mid-twenties and beyond are better at using critical thinking to reason their way through problems.

August 28, 2017 at 07:54 PM · I would back up a bit. Ideally any teacher (music, math, language arts, carpentry)....adjusts the teaching principles and styles to the student. People (children or adults) have different methods of learning, and the ideal teacher can recognize it and adjust. Adults by virtue of their experience usually have improved critical thinking skills which should be accommodated. As for memorization vs problem solving, etc....I think that is a fundamental flaw in much teaching. Memorization should only be taught when there is no alternative. Give me the formula, the reason, the simple justification, and I will figure the rest out. Memorization doesn't force understanding and the ability to dig deeper. i.e. I'd much rather hear that a major scale is 3 whole steps, half step, etc. Now I can figure out every major scale. This is all I have to memorize. In my teen years I had a guitar teacher for 2 months, who tried to teach me chords by "this is a D7, this is Cmin7....I gave up. A few years later I took jazz piano lessons, and he showed me that a maj7 chord has a major 7, major 3rd, min7 a min 7, min 3, etc...... If memorization is required for a piece to play it optimally, then so be it. Memorization has its place, however I think in general its used more often then "Critical thinking/problem solving" as a default.

August 28, 2017 at 08:51 PM · If you are teaching private lessons, teach to the individual and not to the presumed age group. Age is secondary to focus, commitment, and creativity.

August 29, 2017 at 12:09 PM · I may be one of the few dissenting adults who would prefer to be taught more as children are taught. I see children learn to play very well, so *something* about their teachers' methods must be right.

Just because I am an adult, I don't know everything. I study viola with a teacher because the teacher knows what I don't, i.e., how to play viola *and* how to teach viola. I expect a teacher to have experience teaching, and to be good at it, and generally teach to the student's ability and not the student's age. I don't feel the need to be a partner or collaborator; I don't want to set the agenda for lessons. I want a teacher who - as with his or her young students - will keep track of my overall progress, set goals for me as I am ready, and help me achieve them.

August 29, 2017 at 04:44 PM · always, when i hear adult musical students, articals tend to always refer to seniors. what about people who didnt play as children but decide to in their twenties/thirties?

I tried finding a viola teacher, sadly went called a few and for some reason teachers dont take adults seriously. I was asked "want to learn rock?" NO, i want to be trained as you teach your young students serious enough to go to music school, the scales, the etudes etc. It's like adult students s are being dumbed down by teachers, and note taken seriously unfortunately.

August 29, 2017 at 09:59 PM · There happens to be a picture of someone older on this, but I think the "andragogy" idea applies to adults in general, including those in their 20s and 30s.

Karen, I agree with you. I'm a longtime violin teacher, but I actually took some piano lessons, as this was something I did not manage to work in, as a child. I really appreciated that the teacher was starting at the beginning and giving me a full foundation! I'd had other teachers who just assumed that I had an agenda and wanted to start out more advanced, since I'm a professional violinist. Not the case, I was delighted to simply start at the beginning!

August 29, 2017 at 10:59 PM · As an adult student, I mostly agree with this article. But I sometimes find it to be a burden to have to direct my own technical learning. I have a PhD in a scientific discipline, so I'm quite sophisticated in that field, but I'm not nearly as sophisticated or knowledgeable in music. Even in some community orchestras I've been in, I've seen other adult players acting like they think they should know everything, presumably because they are adults? I actually don't really know why. I always listen to all the conductor's pre-concert talks and research pieces that we're playing, and I always learn something the process.

But I do appreciate being allowed to set performance goals of my own choosing. When I was a child/teen the goals were so solo-performance directed that I found it hard to engage with them because I preferred orchestra and chamber playing. I still much prefer group performance opportunities, and I find plenty in that repertoire to keep me busy technically. I am thrilled as an adult to not have to struggle my way through a list of anxiety-producing mediocrely played violin concertos that I will never perform for anyone but my long-suffering parents!

August 30, 2017 at 03:17 AM · I did a masters thesis at the Uni of Western Australia in 2007-8 on the subject of group violin teaching for adult learners. I use many of those principles, but with the idea that students do come to you as an expert, so do want some direction esp initially. Group teaching is useful because most adults want to join some sort of group eventually and this enables them to learn appropriate skills. I have also produced a violin book for adult learners to present them with music that is less babyish in approach! My students range in age from 20-70 somethings! And absolutely students should be taught as individuals and a teacher should be sensitive to individual needs, but most violin material is clearly geared for very young children (not to mention the inherent preconception that to be successful you must start very young) and can be a bit off putting to older learners. Fantastic reads on this subject ... 'Never too late!' by John Holt and 'Making music for the joy of it' by Stephanie Judy.

August 30, 2017 at 03:42 AM · I'd also like to point out that many of these ideas are making their way into pedagogy, too. School, especially science education which is my field, is becoming much more student-centered, even at the K-12 level, than it was when most of us were in school. I think some of it is an educational fad, but I believe that movement away from a teacher-centered approach of telling students what to do is here to stay. The idea of students as problem solvers, goal setters, and partners in their own learning is incorporated into the Next Generation Science Standards being adopted all over the country. While this sounds good in theory, and there are statistics to show that students retain more information when they are taught (well) this way, in practice it can be difficult to implement and I've also seen student-centered classrooms in which very little learning takes place. To teach well this way requires a lot of skill and specific training on the part of the teachers, and a bit of unlearning the system they grew up with. Maybe this is a reason that adult students can have more difficulty finding teachers who click.

August 30, 2017 at 04:21 AM · What of power within the student teacher relationship?

As a newcomer to this place I naively started this blog without researching the extensive ongoing discussions in this general area.

Despite this I appreciate your comments. I find of particular interest;

• suggestions that age is a "secondary" issue, in teaching to a particular student's style and needs

• "dissenting" voices from adults who would like to be taught - at least in part - as children are taught

I had hoped to prompt some discussion of "power" in the student teacher relationship as it relates to young and adult learners.

Rigid power structures are inmplicit to many classical music activities - nowhere more obvious than the hierarchies of power within most traditional orchestras - conductor, concert master, section leaders, rank and file players.

Over 40 years ago, as a young tertiary student I made a conscious decision to accept a particular teacher as an "infallible guru". This I think is common and has clear advantages, but it may encourage a level of powerlessness in the student, that must ultimately be "unlearnt".

On returning to the "serious" pursuit of playing in recent times I found myself again looking for a guru. Fortunately I found a teacher who refused to be this - I was not his student for long as this was the primary lesson I needed to learn.

I think the principles of andragogy relate to "effective learning" and not necessarily to "comfortable" learning or to the learning that we think we need.

Do effective teachers of adults need to challenge their students to fully accept their adulthood and take responsibility for their own learning?

August 30, 2017 at 06:23 PM · Wonderful!

August 30, 2017 at 06:51 PM · I couldn't agree with you more and would like to add another observation. I played, without really paracticing much throughout my college than stopped completely for 36 years. Resuming at at age 66 and finally taking lessons after 3 1/2 years, I found finding a teacher that would take me seriously most challenging. Not only do many teachers look at seniors as having no promise so why bother or they just pass a student through their procedures just to have the adult learner be able to play a recognizable piece. Thankfully I have found a remarkable teacher who has had me relearn many bad habits, is always encouraging and has placed me on a pedigogy learning process where perfection in a skill is important. I have a saying found long ago that sums up music learning for seniors " You are never too old to become the person you might have been.

August 31, 2017 at 01:08 AM · I appreciated this post and the ensuing discussion, especially Karen's comments.

I'm fortunate -- my teacher just "gets" it. He knows I'm inspired by pearls of wisdom, insightful demonstrations, gentle reminders and perceptive criticism, but that otherwise I need to be managing my own progress because my schedule is so unpredictable.

August 31, 2017 at 02:03 AM · Karen Collins said it perfectly for me: "I may be one of the few dissenting adults who would prefer to be taught more as children are taught. I see children learn to play very well, so *something* about their teachers' methods must be right.

"Just because I am an adult, I don't know everything. I study viola with a teacher because the teacher knows what I don't, i.e., how to play viola *and* how to teach viola. I expect a teacher to have experience teaching, and to be good at it, and generally teach to the student's ability and not the student's age. I don't feel the need to be a partner or collaborator; I don't want to set the agenda for lessons. I want a teacher who - as with his or her young students - will keep track of my overall progress, set goals for me as I am ready, and help me achieve them."

Well said, Karen, well said indeed.

And to me the article/OP also perpetuates an error in approach that seems to be so very common; an assumption that everyone is the same and learns the same way. The only difference being based on age. I don't know why that belief seems to persist, but it's a worry that it does. Michael Kennedy replied succinctly and to the point with his "teach to the individual, not to the age" statement. To put it another way, one size does not fit all.


September 3, 2017 at 09:55 PM · My teacher always taught adults (from late teens upwards), and it wasn't until the end of my seven years with her (I started in my late 60s) that she started teaching a 12-year old. She said it was a completely different experience - so it works both ways!

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