Hagen, M., & Park, S.
(2016). We knew it all along!Using cognitive science to explain how andragogy works. European Journal of Training and Development, 40 (3), 171–190.doi:10.1108/ejtd-10-2015-0081 Andragogy theory, or as later articulatedby pioneer of adult learning theory Malcom Knowles, assumptions used tofacilitate adult learning, has long been discussed for its merit by bothpassionate advocates and dissenters. However, does relatively new cognitive neuroscience research provideinsights that support the key tenets of andragogy? This article contended thatrecent advances in cognitive neuroscience strongly support the four initial andragogicalprinciples suggested by Knowles.
SummaryThe authors first argued that andragogicalprinciples are especially valuable in training and preparing new managers fortheir roles within an organization. It was suggested that andragogy isparticularly important for human resource development (HRD) educators inbusiness and management educational contexts, as a unification of adulteducation and management education, and to be an area where “fastidiousattention” is needed in “train the trainer” efforts. Additionally, the authors expressedsupport for the assertion that HRD scholars should have done more and should domore to correlate research and advances in cognitive neurosciences toeducation, specifically in andragogy and its application to emergingleaders. Hagen and Park argued further that whileat least some research has been performed to link cognitive neurosciences to pedagogy,a severe gap exists relative to andragogy that would be relevant to managementeducation, leading to the primary research objective of determining how theseadvances can result in a more thoughtful and effective application of andragogy.The authors employed an integrative literature review approach, with searchesof studies conducted between 1980 and 2013. Google Scholar and Business SourcePremier searches such as “cognitive neuroscience” and “adult learning” amongothers were used to identify any past work linking the two.
The authors acknowledged that whileandragogy is not universally accepted in the HRD community, and that the bodyof past research has resulted in lack of specifically verifiable evidence ofits efficacy, its use has nonetheless been persistent, resulting in the need tofurther examine its impact. As such, the authors explored the impact of recentcognitive neurosciences research on each of the four assumptions initiallybrought forth by Knowles in his (1970) work theModern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy vs Pedagogy:1. Adultshave a self-directed self-concept.2. Adultsbring a wealth of experience to the learning process.3. Adultsenter the learning process ready to learn relevant information.
4. Adultsare oriented toward immediate application of learning.Hagen and Park contended that cognitiveneuroscience research supports the notion of adult need to self-direct inlearning as outlined in Assumption 1, pointing to research involvingself-directedness, self-processing, and social cognition and the interplay ofthese with specific areas of the brain known to be involved with humans’evaluation of their self and performance and central to decision-making andregulation thereof. The authors argued that this research supports the conceptof adult self-direction in learning choices, and that perhaps the ability tomake a learning choice is more important than the end result of the choice.While the authors acknowledged that this cognitive neuroscience research cannotdirectly be linked to Knowles’ intent, they argued that the research providessupport to his andragogy assumption.Specific to Assumption 2, the authorspointed to research involving autobiographical processes involving the rightfronto-temporal portion of the brain, but also several other parts of thebrain, as supporting the principle of experiential learning in adults. The keyto linking brain research to prior experience, according to the authors, isevoking of emotional response to a learning activity that allows forneuroplasticity, or change, in the hippocampus, which is the area known to allowfor storage of prior experience. Readiness to learn was linked by theauthors to research relative to the neocortex, specifically again in thehippocampus, and cortical regions of the brain.
They contended that researchconnects the concept of “self” to how humans see each other, and thus makes thehuman need for social support and interaction a motivator for being ready tolearn information relevant to society per Knowles’ Assumption 3.Finally, the principle of immediateapplication of learning as outlined in Assumption 4 was again connected with researchinvolving neuroplasticity and the hippocampus. The authors contended thatresearch supports changes in the brain cannot occur without application, andthat of the four basic tenets suggested by Knowles, this is the leastcontroversial. The authors further opined that Knowlesadded two additional assumptions to his list of andragogy principles which arerarely discussed, suggesting varied acceptance of these assumptions.
Additionally, the connection of cognitive neuroscience advances to theseadditional assumptions were identified as worthy of further research. ImplicationsSpecific findings in cognitiveneuroscience research and connection to andragogy assumptions can significantlyimpact its acceptance by HRD educators. The criticism of andragogy has ofteninvolved both what scholars have considered its lack of definition and theunderlying assertions of its applicability to adult learners predominately oralone. Hagen and Park’s work specifically connects concepts of emergingresearch in cognitive neuroscience to andragogy concepts that could result inadditional research that could improve the understanding of andragogyprinciples and their effectiveness in a way that is more empirical thancurrently supported by existing literature. This additional research could resultin positive impact to adult learning environments in business and industry andHRD theory.AnalysisThe authors made compelling argumentsthrough their review of existing literature in cognitive neurosciences and HRDtheory, that seem to directly tie recent neuroscience findings to Knowles’ andragogyprincipals in a rational way.
Assumptions 1, 2, and 4 are linked to theneuroscience findings in a straightforward way. However, Hagen and Park seemedto struggle to find a clear connection to neuroscience research for Assumption3, focusing more research involving parts of the brain involved in socialinteraction to support this assumption as opposed to pointing to research that wouldmore clearly connect readiness with relevance in the learning experience. Thisweaker connection made readers consider the validity of the linkage made to theother assumptions of andragogy theory. Further, while the authors mentioned Knowles’two additional andragogy assumptions and suggested that further research beperformed regarding their connection to emerging cognitive neurosciences research,the omission of any analysis relative to these two concepts caused readers toquestion if these were omitted because the same apparent connection outlinedfor the other assumptions, however strong or weak, were nonexistent. Despite this apparent omission and an unclearconnection for Assumption 3 to neuroscience research, Hagen and Park provided afoundational argument that appealed to common senses regarding learning as anadult that demonstrates the clear need for further empirical research in thearea of andragogy and lends credence to its foundational principles in aconvincing manner.