Adult Learners’ Perceptions of the
Factor 1: Learner-Centered Activities Responses
2. My instructor uses appropriate forms of disciplinary action when it is needed.
4. My instructor encourages me to adopt middleclass values.
11. My instructor determines the educational objectives of each of his/her students.
12. My instructor plans units that differ as widely as possible from the students’ socio-economic backgrounds.
13. My instructor gets me to motivate myself by confronting me during group discussions.
16. My instructor uses one basic teaching method because he/she has found that most adults have similar learning styles.
19. My instructor uses written tests to assess the degree of academic growth rather than to indicate new directions for learning.
21. My instructor uses what history has proven that adults need to learn as his/her chief criteria for planning learning episodes.
29. My instructor uses methods that foster quiet, productive deskwork.
30. My instructor uses tests as his/her chief method of evaluating students.
38. My instructor uses materials that were originally designed for students in elementary and secondary schools.
40. My instructor measures my long-term educational growth by comparing my total achievement in class to my expected performance as measured by national norms from standardized tests.
50. My instructor believes memorization can foster greater autonomy in thinking.
Table 1 summarizes the responses for survey items pertaining to the learner-centered activities approach to teaching. Table 1 shows that Chinese online instructors had low scores in seven of the thirteen variables, slightly high scores in three of the variables and three high scores that make up Factor 1. These results suggest that Chinese online instructors supported a teacher-centered methodology, rather than student centered teaching. They favored formal testing over informal evaluation techniques and relied heavily on standardized tests. They emphasized teaching knowledge in class. They exercised disciplinary action when needed, and determined the educational objectives for each student. They tended to practice one basic method of learning. Above all, they believed memorization could foster greater autonomy in thinking.
Factor 2: Personalizing Instruction Responses
3. My instructor allows senior students more time to complete assignments when I need it.
9. My instructor uses lecturing as the best method of presenting subject material to adult students.
17. My instructor uses different teaching techniques depending on the students being taught.
24. My instructor lets me work at my own pace regardless of the amount of time it takes me to learn a new concept.
32. My instructor gears his/her instructional objectives to match my abilities and needs.
35. My instructor allows my motives for participating in continuing education to be a major determinant in the planning of learning objectives.
37. My instructor gives all students in class the same assignment on a given topic.
41. My instructor encourages competition among students.
42. My instructor uses different materials with different students.
49. My instructor encourages a search for real-life examples, develops assignments related to real-life situations and embeds the content of his/her course in everyday life.
Table 2 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the personalizing instruction approach to teaching. Table 2 indicates that Chinese online instructors had low scores in five of the ten variables and high scores in five of the ten variables that comprise Factor 2. These results indicate that Chinese online instructors engaged in a variety of practices that personalize learning to meet the unique needs of each student. Objectives were based on individual methods and abilities. Instruction was self-paced. However, they tended to favor the lecture method, and assigned the same assignment on a given topic. They did not encourage a search for real-life examples, develop assignments related to real-life situations and embed the content of the course in everyday life.
Factor 3: Relating to Experience Responses
14. My instructor plans learning episodes to take into account my prior experience.
31. My instructor plans activities that will encourage my growth from dependence on others to greater independence.
34. My instructor encourages me to ask questions about the nature of their society.
39. My instructor organizes adult learning episodes according to the problems that I encounter in everyday life.
43. My instructor helps students relate new learning to my prior experiences.
44. My instructor teaches units about problems of everyday living.
Table 3 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the relating to experience approach to teaching. Table 3 indicates that Chinese online instructors had very high scores in all six of the variables in Factor 3. These results show that Chinese online instructors planned learning activities that take into account their students’ prior experiences and encouraged students to relate their new learning to prior experiences. To make learning relevant, learning episodes were organized according to the problems that the students encounter in everyday living. Students were encouraged to ask basic questions about the nature of their society.
Factor 4: Assessing Student Needs Responses
5. My instructor helps me diagnose the gaps between my goals and my present level of performance.
8. My instructor participates in the formal counseling of students.
23. My instructor has individual conferences with me to help me identify my educational needs.
25. My instructor helps me develop short-range as well as long-range objectives.
Table 4 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the assessing student needs approach to teaching. Table 4 indicates that Chinese online instructors had high scores in Factor 4, Assessing Student Needs. These results show that Chinese online instructors treated students as adults and attempted to find what each student wants and needs to know. They relied on individual meetings and informal counseling. They diagnosed existing gaps between a student’s goals and the present levels of performance. They assisted students in developing short-range as well as long-range objectives.
Factor 5: Climate Building Responses
18. My instructor encourages dialogue among my students.
20. My instructor utilizes the many competencies that most adults already possess to achieve educational objectives.
22. My instructor accepts errors as a natural part of the learning process.
28. My instructor allows me to take periodic breaks during class.
48. My instructor designs activities that build my self-esteem and sense of accomplishment while delivering course content.
Table 5 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the climate building approach to teaching. Table 5 shows that Chinese online instructors had high scores in the five variables. The results suggest that Chinese online instructors established a friendly and informal climate as the first step in their andragogical model. Dialogue and interaction with other students was encouraged. Barriers were eliminated by using the numerous competencies that learners already possess as building blocks for educational objectives. Risk taking was encouraged, and errors were accepted as a natural part of the learning process. Learners could experiment and explore elements related to their self-concept and practice interpersonal skills. Failures served as a feedback device to direct future positive learning.
Factor 6: Participation in the Learning Process
1. My instructor allows me to participate in developing the criteria for evaluating my performance in class.
10. My instructor arranges the classroom so that it is easy for students to interact.
15. My instructor allows me to participate in making decisions about the topics that will be covered in class.
36. My instructor has me identify my own problems that need to be solved.
45. My instructor negotiates curricular priorities with me at the beginning of each course he/she teaches.
46. My instructor uses learning contracts when assessing my learning.
47. My instructor involves me when planning lessons.
Table 6 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the participation in the learning process approach to teaching. Table 6 indicates that Chinese online instructors had four low scores and three high scores in the seven variables that make up Factor 6. These results suggest that Chinese online instructors had students identify the problems they wished to solve. An adult-to-adult relationship between teacher and students was encouraged. However, they did not involve the students in developing the criteria for evaluating classroom performance. They did not negotiate curricular priorities with students or use learning contracts when assessing students’ learning. They never involved students when planning lessons. They did not allow students to participate in making decisions about the topics that would be covered in class.
Factor 7: Flexibility for Personal Development Responses
6. My instructor provides knowledge rather than serve as a resource person.
7. My instructor sticks to the instructional objectives that he/she writes at the beginning of a program.
26. My instructor maintains a well-disciplined classroom to reduce interference to learning.
27. My instructor avoids discussion of controversial subjects that involve value judgments.
33. My instructor avoids issues that relates to my self-concept.
Table 7 summarizes responses to the survey items pertaining to the flexibility for personal development approach to teaching. Table 7 shows that Chinese online instructors had low scores in all five variables that comprise Factor 7. The results show that Chinese online instructors viewed themselves as providers of knowledge rather than facilitators. They determined the objectives for the students at the beginning of the program and adhered to them regardless of the idiosyncrasies that may have arisen from divergent student needs. A well-disciplined classroom was viewed as a stimulus for learning.
1. Learner-Centered Activities
2. Personalizing Instruction
3. Relating to Experience
4. Assessing Student Needs
5. Climate Building
6. Participation in the Learning Process
7. Flexibility for Personal Development
Table 8 shows that the Chinese online instructors had low scores on items pertaining to four of the seven factors. Table 8 indicates that Chinese online instructors had low scores in Factor 1, Factor 2, Factor 6 and Factor 7. They had high scores in other factors. These results show that although they taught Online courses to some extent in an andragogical manner such as relating to experience, assessing student needs, and building climate, their classroom techniques did not focus upon the learner or include learner-centered activities. Their score in Factor 7 indicates that these participants opposed the collaborative mode of instruction. They viewed themselves as providers of knowledge rather than facilitators. They never used Western educational approaches such as negotiating curricular priorities with students, or using learning contracts. They valued memorization as a great teaching technique. Above all, these Chinese online instructors welcomed this rigidity and lack of sensitivity to the individual.
The purpose of this study was to determine and describe the teaching preferences of online instructors from the lens of Chinese adult learners. The findings of this study showed that the 358 adult students surveyed believed that their online instructors basically supported a teacher-centered (pedagogical) approach to teaching in cyberspace although these adult students thought that their online instructors supported a student-centered (andragogical) approach to teaching to some extent.
In terms of the pedagogical approach, these Chinese online instructors tended to favor formal testing over informal evaluation techniques and relied heavily on standardized tests. They emphasized knowledge and tended to practice one basic method of learning. They believed memorization could foster greater autonomy in thinking. Further, these online instructors tended to favor the lecture method and assigned the same assignment on a given topic. They did not encourage a search for real-life examples, develop assignments related to real-life situations and embed the content of the course in everyday life. In terms of the learning process, Chinese online instructors did not involve their adult students in developing the criteria for evaluating classroom performance. They did not negotiate curricular priorities with students or use learning contracts when assessing students’ learning. They never involved students when planning lessons. They did not allow students to participate in making decisions about the topics that would be covered in class. Above all, these online instructors viewed themselves as providers of knowledge rather than facilitators. They thought a well-disciplined classroom was a stimulus for learning.
Judging from these survey results, one cannot help but conclude that Chinese online instructors do not treat adult students as adults. The methods they use to teach these adult learners are highly pedagogical. These methods should work well with the education and training of children. These survey results confirmed Western scholars’ speculation regarding online teaching in that online education in China tends to emphasize knowledge, content, teacher-centered classrooms and exam results. Because of the overemphasis on these teaching methods, Chinese online instructors cannot get out of these teaching modes. From the Chinese adult learners’ perceptions regarding their online instructors’ teaching strategies, a linear model has emerged from this study which helps our readers see clearly that this pedagogical model is detrimental to adult learning rather than conducive to adult learning in cyberspace.
On the other hand, in keeping with the andragogical approach to teaching, Chinese adult students’ online instructors applied relating to experience, assessing student needs and climate building approaches to teaching in cyberspace. Specifically, they planned learning activities that took into account their students prior experiences and encouraged students to relate their new learning to prior experience. They attempted to find what each student wanted and needed to know by relying on individual meetings and informal counseling. They also diagnosed gaps between a student’s goals and the present levels of performance. They established a friendly and informal climate as the first step in their andragogical model. To be exact, Chinese online instructors eliminated barriers by using numerous competencies that learners already possessed as building blocks for educational objectives. They encouraged risk taking and they accepted errors as a natural part of the learning process. They viewed failures as a feedback device to direct future positive learning.
Compared with their pedagogical approaches to teaching, these andragogical approaches are just small steps in helping adult learners learn. Therefore, these small steps are not powerful enough to override Chinese online instructors’ strong preference for their pedagogical approaches to teaching in cyberspace. These pedagogical approaches to teaching are characterized by heavily emphasizing knowledge, content, teacher-centered classrooms and exam results. These methods are believed to result in students’ high in scores and low in abilities (Ross, 1992). And of course, this is in striking contrast to Western andragogical (democratic) approaches to teaching that are characterized by negotiating curricular priorities with adult students, giving out learning contracts, informal evaluation and emphasizing the collaborative learning process etc. These methods are believed to lead to students’ autonomy in thinking (Wang, 2005). Numerous studies show that the andragogical model (see andragogical model below) is conducive to adult learning in cyberspace.
This model tells us that teaching andragogically is the way adult learners expect their online instructors to help them learn in the online learning environment. The methods derived from this model are democratic approaches to teaching. More importantly, these methods take into consideration adult learners’ interests and experience. In other words, adult learners’ characteristics are accommodated and adult learners are treated as adults instead of children. This model is better than the pedagogical model because it is a holistic model instead of a linear model. The end result of this model is that learners are personally transformed and emancipated as a result of online collaborative learning.
In light of these findings, online instructors should be encouraged to learn from this study. Given the nature of adult learners in any society, they should not be taught pedagogically. Although andragogy is not the only way in helping adult learners learn in cyberspace, it has proved to be effective in helping adult learners achieve personal transformation and emancipation. Educators and scholars often talk about different approaches to online education but may fail to incorporate them in their online teaching. This study has clearly shown that in cyberspace there is a pedagogical approach to teaching. There is also andragogical approach to teaching. When it comes to the transformation and emancipation of adult learners, andragogy is the style and method online instructors should employ instead of pedagogy. Pedagogy can be detrimental to adult learners as it does not adequately take into consideration their prior experience, interests and readiness to learn.
Since academic courses were put on computer screens, the issue of online teaching has ignited a tremendous amount of research in the 21st century. Adult learners need online transformation and emancipation in order to fulfill their personal dream to obtain a college degree in cyberspace that will enhance their professional development. Therefore, their perceptions of the teaching preferences of their online instructors cannot be ignored. Given the characteristics of adult learners, they wish to be taught in a certain way. A linear model of teaching prescribed by higher authorities or inherited from a certain teaching culture may not be what today’s adult learners want. Adult learners are drastically different from children in that they have accumulated a rich reservoir of experience. They have different interests from children. Because of their multiple roles in society, they have a sense of urgency in learning. They bring clear learning objectives to the online classroom. They are more motivated to learn than children. Given these special characteristics of adult learners, the theory of andragogy may be the right model to guide today’s online instructors in helping adult learners learn. To adopt a wrong model may be detrimental to learning. However, this is not to say that the theory of pedagogy should be totally ignored in cyberspace learning environment. Wang’s (2006) research indicated that educators and practitioners should follow Wang’s graph derived from Hersey and Blanchard’s (1969) situational leadership style model.
Since children have more need for direction and more need to support, their instructors need to be coaches. Since adult learners have less need for direction and less need for support, they expect their instructors to be delegators by using Western democratic approaches to teaching. If their instructors coach by teaching to exams and heavy lecturing, they will frustrate adult learners. On the whole, according to this study, adult learners expect their online instructors to stay in cell 4 (Delegating: Low Supportive; Low Directive) in order to achieve meaningful practice in cyberspace teaching and learning. However, should their online instructors occasionally stay in other cells because of learning speed, convenience or learning styles, this does not invalidate the requested andragogical model of teaching (Knowles, Holton III & Swanson, 1998, 2005). Rather, this may enhance the andragogical model.
Further research is needed to look in depth into the issue of pedagogy versus andragogy in terms of cyberspace teaching and learning. In-depth interviews and observations are needed to find out why Chinese adult learners perceived online teaching as pedagogical rather than andragogical in the Chinese social context and to what extent andragogy should be applied in the future.
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Victor C. X. Wang
Victor C. X. Wang is assistant professor and credential director of vocational and adult education at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Dr. Wang’s research and writing activities are focused on workforce education, the foundations of adult education, adult teaching and learning, training, transformative learning, and online teaching and learning. He has had 57 publications including refereed journal articles, books and chapters in books. He is editor for three journals. A book he co-edited with Kathleen P. King of Fordham University is a required textbook for prestigious universities in the United States and China. He also produced videotapes and DVDs for educators and investors.
Dr. Wang has won academic achievement awards from universities in China and in the United States and taught extensively as a full professor in Chinese universities, radio stations and China Central TV (CCTV) prior to coming to the United States in 1997. He has taught adult learners ESL, Chinese, Computer Technology, Vocational and Adult Education, Research Methods and Curriculum Development. He has served as a translator/narrator for leaders in China and the United States.
Victor C. X. Wang, ED. D.
Assistant Professor/Credential Coordinator
Department of Professional Studies
California State University, Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA. USA 90840-5601