Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Neglected Species

In 1976, I took a job developing the first business curriculum for a group that two years later morphed into the University of Phoenix. My job was to drag the content out of practitioners, for example getting the accounting essentials from a CPA or the marketing messages from a marketing manager. I was to package and re-assemble this stuff into 120 exercises that would be taught in weekly evening sessions over the course of an academic year. The whole shebang was to be equivalent to the senior year of a Bachelor of Science in Business program.

At the time, I lacked the background to do this. Sure, I had a freshly minted MBA and knew the subject matter, but I had no clue what would fly in an evening workshop for working adults who averaged 33 years of age. I was assembling both student materials and faculty guides with step-by-step instructions on how to run each exercise. Faculty? The faculty consisted of a sales manager, two bankers, a bond analyst, two Stanford grad students, a Navy officer, a couple of consultants, and other amateurs -- including me. Sometimes I was only a week ahead of the classes! I had nightmares. My wife told me that one night I sat up in bed, said "We can fix it in the Faculty Guide," and went right back to sleep.

One day in Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, I came upon a book entitled The Adult Learner, A Neglected Species. A fellow named Malcolm Knowles had written it in 1973. I was overjoyed. Pedagogy was for kids (that's what the peda means). This was andragogy, for adults.
Believe me, I followed the rules myself; I was so thankful someone had written them down. I paid particular attention to applying new knowledge and skills immediately.

Not all good ideas are new. In fact, there aren't many new ideas. "New" often means "rediscovered." Anyway, I'm rereading many of the classics of learning, among them The Adult Learner. After today's afternoon walk, I sat on the front deck, sweating and reading, and was astounded to read these sentences as if for the first time:
My conception of adult education is this: a cooperative venture in nonauthoritarian, informal learning, the chief purpose of which is to discover the meaning of experience; a quest of the mind which digs down to the roots of the preconceptions which formulate our conduct; a technique of learning for adults which makes education coterminous with life and hence elevates living iteself to the level of adventruous experiment. (Knowles, p 30)
That's my book! Precisely. The author even uses the term informal learning, which I thought came along much later. By the way, this is not Knowles speaking. It's Knowles quoting Eduard C. Lindeman, writing in The Meaning of Adult Education, which was published in 1926! Four score years ago.

nothing new under the sun

A phrase adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes; the author complains frequently in the book about the monotony of life. The entire passage reads, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

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