Teaching children and training adults – there is a difference

My daughter, a junior at Kiev Christian Academy, tells me that she is taking a course in “Government” this semester.   What kind of a course is that?  It has been a long time, but I was pretty sure that I had never taken anything by that name when I was in high school.  I discover that it is focused on the government and constitution of the United States of America, and by all reports, despite the valiant efforts of their gifted teacher, is a pretty boring course.   Why a Canadian living in Ukraine needs to take a course in US government is beyond me.  But it is part of the KCA curriculum, and so Rachel is required to take it.   What puzzles me is that Rachel is getting fairly high marks in this course, and seems to be motivated to study hard for tests and do her homework.  I am, of course, relieved.   I want my daughter to get good grades.   But I doubt whether I would be as motivated, if I was in her place.

A book I recently have finished reading Training for Dummies explains why teaching children (pedagogy) differs from teaching or training adults (andragogy).   Children or high school students study because someone else (the teacher) tells them they need to learn this material in order to reach the next level of learning.    They learn what the expert has determined they need to learn, regardless of whether they, as students, see the content as relevant for their lives today or not.   They have no right to question the value of the content, because it is assumed that they have little ability to assess what they might or might not need to know in the future.  

Adults, on the other hand, want to know why they should learn something before they are ready to invest time, money and energy into the learning experience.  They are primarily motivated to learn that which relates directly to their lives today, that which they deem to relevant.   Adults come into the training event with prior knowledge and have something to contribute to the learning.  If the trainer or teacher ignores that fact and lectures in a way that infers that his/her students know nothing, the training experience will be frustrating for the participants.    I can identify, for I have sat through too many such lectures.  And regretfully I have to admit that I have also been on the giving end of too many such lectures.   For adults, learning should be largely problem-centered, focusing on real life issues today, not simply providing information that they may or may not use some day.

As someone who is seeking to design a training curriculum and prepare training modules for missionaries, I struggle to know how to apply these principles of adult education.   Most of my education thus far has been built on the pedagogical model.   Too quickly I assume that the fatter the notebook, the more I must have learned from a particular seminar, regardless of whether I ever make any changes in my life or ministry as a result of what I have heard.

But I am slowly learning to think otherwise:

  • I want missionaries to be motivated to learn, and so we need to make sure they understand the purpose and relevance of any training we do.  
  • I want to build on what our missionaries already know.  We need to be flexible enough with our content and curriculum so that participants can either opt out of training they have learned previously or have ample opportunity in the training to share with other participants what God has taught them from experience or from previous learning events.   
  • I long for the training we do to have real-life relevance, so that participants leave better equipped and more effective for the ministry to which they have been assigned.   Therefore we as trainers need to make sure that we know what questions our missionaries are asking, and make sure we are giving them tools they can use right now.

May God give us wisdom as we seek to train missionaries in ways that respect them as adult learners, and not as children.

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