Digital andragogy: A richer blend of initial teacher education in the 21st century
Susan Blackley and Rachel Sheffield
Curtin University, Australia
This paper revisits the term 'andragogy' (adult education) and develops a new concept based upon an analysis of the skills and dispositions of 21st century learners in initial teacher education through the lens of adult education: 'digital andragogy'. In order to engage and retain students and revitalise education courses by optimising digital affordances, lecturers must examine the profiles of their learners and seek to create learning spaces that best suit their needs and wants. We posit that learners in initial teacher education programs should be encouraged and supported to transition from pedagogical practices experienced in their school years to higher education contexts for learning that are based upon digital andragogy.
Whilst is has been argued that andragogy is not an 'educational theory' (Merriam, 2001) or that it describes principles of effective practice in adult education (Hartree, 1984), the point of agreement is that adults learn differently to children, and so they should be taught differently. Conner (2004) referred to andragogy as learner-focused education and pedagogy as teacher-focused; others contend that pedagogy focuses upon transmission of content subject matter, whilst andragogy has a focus on the acquisition of and critical thinking about the content and its application (Batson, 2008; Pew, 2007).
Knowles (1984) described five characteristics of adult learners that shaped early andragogical approaches to the adult education movement:
Most of the current learners in tertiary institutions were exposed to pedagogical educational experiences throughout their primary and secondary years of schooling (McGrath, 2009), and as a result may expect the same practices to be enacted by their lecturers in the tertiary context. When mature adult learners are confronted with pedagogical approaches in their tertiary studies, existing predispositions to surface learning may emerge. Whilst surface learning and pedagogical practices may require less energy than deep learning and andragogical practices on the part of both the student and teacher, we believe that neither is conducive to developing 21st century skills or profession-readiness, particularly in the sphere of teaching.
Another issue is the time it takes for the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the preparedness and willingness of a new adult in becoming a responsible, self-directed learner. Students who have made a recent transition from childhood to adulthood, because of the change in their age (17 to 18) or societal role, may still lack the educational experience necessary to function as independent, self-directed adult learners (Miflin, 2004). This may well be the case for first year university students who have just graduated from secondary school.
The student participants were drawn from two cohorts: a first year group and a second year group. The first year group of students undertook one of four iterations of a common, core unit - Inquiry about the World. This unit was taught in three different modes: on campus (face to face), regional (online), and through Open Universities Australia (OUA).The second, smaller cohort were students undertaking the second year Professional Studies unit (again delivered in the three modes) in the Bachelor of Primary Education course.
The data from the first year cohort was collected in 2013 and 2014, and pertained to the students' frequency of use and confidence in using different forms of digital technology (such as Facebook, email, and Twitter), and their ability to successfully manipulate data (e.g., uploading various file types, and zipping and unzipping large files). In all 1159 students over the two years completed the survey. The data from the second year cohort was collected in 2015 from 79 students and focused on their frequency of use and confidence using digital technologies, and in addition, how they enacted their studies and juggled other commitments in their life.
The gender profile for the internal and OUA iterations of the unit were reasonably consistent, with between 85-91% of the enrolling students being female, as indicated in Table 2.
|Iteration||Number of students|
|2013 Internal cohort||219|
|2014 Internal cohort||236|
|OUA SP2 2014||411|
|OUA SP4 2014||293|
|OUA SP2 2014|
|OUA SP4 2014|
The age profile of students was very different across the modes: the number of students who were under 24 years old varied from 76% in the 2013 internal cohort to only 18 % of the 2014 OUA SP4 cohort. The students were significantly older in the OUA classes with 76% of students in SP4 and 68 % of students SP2 being between the ages of 25 to 44, as shown in Table 3.
|OUA SP2 2014|
|OUA SP4 2014|
|18 to 24||76.5||58.5||25||18|
|25 to 34||14||25||44||45|
|35 to 44||8||13||24||31|
|45 to 54||1||2||6||6|
|55 to 64||0.5||1||1||0|
|65 to 74||0||0.5||0||0|
To confirm this data, the students were also asked how long it had been since they had left school. The OUA cohort indicated that between 83-90% of them had been out of school for longer than 5 years, as shown in Table 4.
|Internal 2013||Internal 2014||OUA SP2 2014||OUA SP4 2014|
|Left last year||29||64||31.5||74||4||15||1.5||4|
|Left 2 years ago||17||37||7.5||18||2.5||10||2||6|
|Left 2 to 5 years ago||21.5||47||13||30||11||44||6.5||19|
|Left more than 5 years||32.5||71||48||114||83||339||90||263|
All student cohorts were asked about their use and confidence in using a range of technology tools, and the results show that there is a wide range of usage and confidence in regards to the tools selected in the surveys. Students in both cohorts indicated that they use "primary personal digital technologies" on a daily basis: these are Internet, email, and social media. Table 5 shows the self-reported use of these technologies for the internal students, with the primary personal digital technologies shaded.
|* Once means once or twice per week|
** Specialised software including MYOB
In 2013, the internal students indicated that there were a number of tools that the majority of them did not use: these were Dropbox (78%), Wiki (68%), Blog (83%) and Web 2.0 tools (68%). Table 6 presents the OUA students' use of technology tools, again the primary personal digital technologies are shaded.
Students in the internal cohort indicted that they played games and watched YouTube more frequently than the OUA students, which is not surprising given their age and stage of life. Another point of interest is the usage of Microsoft Word: internal students' daily use is reported at 16% and 37% (2013-2014) whilst 45% of OUA students across the two study periods, reported a daily use of Word.
The next consideration in the survey was about the students' confidence in using the technology tools. The data is shown in Table 7 for internal students and Table 8 for OUA students.
|Web 2.0 tools||1||2||2||5||4||6||16||14||19||22||56||49|
|* Once means once or twice per week|
** Specialised software including MYOB
|Web 2.0 tools||40||34||38||33||12||22||6||9||3||3|
When comparing confidence levels between internal and OUA students, the following can be noted: 'extreme confidence' reported across the primary personal digital technologies with the addition of Word and YouTube is consistent - ranging from 50% to 83% (average proportion 67.35%). Another interesting finding was that for Dropbox, with the exception of the internal 2013 cohort, approximately twice the number of 'extremely confident' students reported that they 'never use' the tool. On the other hand, the reverse is noticed for presentation software, where across all cohorts the number of students responding 'extremely confident' is approximately four times the reported 'never use'.
|Web 2.0 tools||28||24||35||32||19||22||12||14||5||8|
Students were also asked where they had learnt many of their ICT skills: in the internal cohort, skills with the Internet and email were fairly evenly distributed across learning from school, online, and family/friends (although these may not be mutually exclusive). In regards to the use of social media, this was mainly achieved online or family/friends; not startling, given the policies of many schools in regards to such usage. They reported that school had been responsible for teaching them to use Word, spreadsheets (for the most part Excel), and also presentation tools (such as PowerPoint and Prezi). Learning how to use YouTube was strongly attributed to online (51% and 61%), whereas university seems to have strengths in the learning of blogs, and some influence with Dropbox and Wiki, although the numbers of 'never use' are high for both applications.
In the OUA cohort, the students were much more likely to have acquired their Internet skills online, 47% of students in SP2 and 55% in SP4; as well as email skills with 50% of students in SP2 and 54% in SP4 learning on their own. An even higher proportion of students taught themselves to use social media (Facebook and Twitter) - 59% of SP2 students and 65% of SP4 students. A similar trend to internal students is evident for the school's influence learning to use the Internet, email, Word, and spreadsheets, and the lack of influence over social media.
When asked about the search engine use (Table 9), the majority of students across the cohorts reported using only Google; a sign that we really are the 'googling' our way to find information with only 3% using a search engine other than Google.
|I only use Google||85||80||80||80|
|I mainly use one, but not Google||0||3||3||3|
|I use two search engines||11||14||14||12|
|I use thee or more||4||4||3||5|
Finally students were asked if they thought that they would be able to use a range of tools in their classrooms and to give examples of how they would use them. Students saw value in many of the tools including gaming and social media. Table 10 summarises this data: of interest is the high scoring of the Internet, Word, and YouTube amongst both internal and OUA students.
|Factor||Range of responses|
|Work-life balance||15% study||60% study + part-time work||6% study + fulltime work||13% study + work + young children|
|Voluntary time commitment to the unit||6% only workshop attendance||62% 2 - 6 hours/week||17% 6 - 8 hours/week||10% more than 10 hours/week|
This is in line with other research (e.g., Seely-Brown, 2000) that indicates that 21st century learners have a range of tasks that they juggle and choose to strategically assign value in the form of time.
Students were asked about functionality of a learning management system (LMS) that they valued highly. It was stressed that this was a wish list of features rather than the actual functionality of the LMS (in this case Blackboard) that was being used in the delivery of the targeted units. Students rated each one on a scale from zero (not at all important) to five (could not live without). Table 12 summarises this data.
|Access units online||4.6||0.65|
|Use phone to access unit||3.1||1.42|
|Receive notifications through SMS, Facebook or personal emails||3.47||1.3|
|Unit materials chunked and unit progression visible||4.5||0.7|
Students reported that attending tutorials on campus was not overly important (average 3.5, std. dev 1.3), nor was having a choice of tutorial to attend (average 3.3, std. dev 1.7), while having access to the tutorial recordings (via Echo360) was only slightly more valued (average 3.8 std. dev, 1.1). Students did not consider peer conversation and collaboration through discussion boards of particular value, with average 2.8 and std. dev 1.2.
Students were also asked about their use of online communication tools. Email had a reported everyday use of 48% of the cohort or several times per day (at 44%), whilst 62% of students reported using Facebook several times a day, with 21% using it once a day. This could suggest that to communicate with students immediately, Facebook would be the most effective form. Twitter seemed to be poorly used by students with 71% saying they use it infrequently or rarely, and only 16% using it weekly. Instagram was more widely used, but this was somewhat polarised with 53% using it daily or multiple times per day, and 30% using it infrequently or not at all. It would seem that the popularity of tools such as Instagram and Twitter waxes and wanes.
Students were also asked to rate their confidence with a number of ICTs choosing from zero (not familiar with) then on a scale from one (not confident) to five (very confident), presented in Table 13.
|Presentation tools (e.g., PowerPoint, Prezi)||3.3||1.1|
|Content curation tools (e.g., scoop.it, Pinterest)||2.7||1.3|
The reported frequency of use of Facebook and email seems to link to the level of confidence indicated by the participants. This is logical as one would not be a frequent user of technology with which one is not confident.
Generally students have informally developed their competence in using these tools. The majority of OUA students taught themselves to use tools whilst, in the internal cohort, students learned from friends and family as well as learning online (such as instructional video clips). For all the students, university was the least likely way that they learnt how to use these technology tools.
In summary they believe they have competency and confidence to use a suite of basic productivity and communication tools that they use frequently: email, the Internet, social media and, to a lesser extent, YouTube. After their time at school, if they want to learn a new tool they do not look to the university or other formalised learning; they look to online tutorials, YouTube videos and the experience of others, either unknown online or known including family and friends to help them. They demonstrate a learning aligned with 'what they need right now' learning rather than the 'just in case' learning of the past.
Building on this profile, the second year cohort was asked about their propensity to study and how they wanted to engage with their learning spaces. In summary, they want to have the ability to move in and out of the university landscape quickly and easily, leaving digital bookmarks to know what they have done and what needs to be completed and when. Examining the responses from the second year cohort, it can be confirmed that students are busy and have many facets to their lives. They have a spread of technological competencies and an accompanying range of abilities to manage these aspects of their university lives. The majority do not report valuing collaborative spaces such as Collaborate sessions and discussion boards, which we feel needs to be addressed as they prepare for a career in a strongly defined social domain - schools.
Our notion of digital andragogy draws on the 21st century learning skills, our profile of 21st century learners in initial teacher education progams, and the affordances of Web 2.0 technologies. Silva (2009, p.630) states that "an emphasis on what students can do with knowledge, rather than what units of knowledge they have, is the essence of 21st century skills". Whilst there appears to be many differing lists and descriptions of '21st century learning skills', there are four components that are consistent: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These are clearly not new skills, but perhaps the point is that they have new importance (Silva, 2009).
In Western societies people are "inundated by enormous amounts of data that they must access, integrate, and evaluate" (Dede, 2009, p.2). The ability to think critically is paramount to successfully surviving the digital flood; students need to be explicitly taught to recognise, with some speed and fluency, information that is irrelevant, incomplete, lacking consistency, and perhaps even skewed. Communication and collaboration seem to be inextricably tethered in the context of the 21st century suite of learning skills. Successful collaboration is reliant on an ability to engage in rich dialogue whether in face to face situations or in mediated online spaces. Although collaboration can be viewed as a "perennial capability" (Dede, 2009, p.2), the complexities of synchronous and asynchronous team work made possible by current and emerging technologies make for collaborative skills that are more sophisticated than those of the post-industrial era. Saavedra and Opfer (2012, p.12) contended that "creativity is prized in the economic, civic, and global spheres because it sparks innovations that can create jobs, address challenges, and motivate social and individual progress" (p. 12). If creativity is viewed as an incremental rather than a fixed characteristic, then students can learn to be more creative (Saavedra & Opfer, 2012).
It would be a fallacy to state that all 21st century learners exhibit NetGen characteristics; as can be seen from the data, increasingly initial teacher education students are drawn from career-changers, Gen X and Baby Boomers as they pursue long-held but not-able-to-be-acted-upon dreams. However the affordances of digital technologies and Web 2.0 environments for all students in the 21st century seem to influence their 'student behaviour'. Digital technologies have become a way of life; they are used to acknowledge others and to form personal identities (Seely-Brown, 2000). Students want personalised flexible learning, and instantaneous feedback and communication. They multi-task rather than complete tasks in a linear fashion and so pick up and put down tasks multiple times. There is also a somewhat misguided or na•ve belief about the tech-savviness of these students. We make many assumptions about their ability to trouble shoot, file manage, select browsers, access materials, and effectively navigate around learning management systems.
Our definition of 'digital andragogy', distilled by from our investigation and analysis, is "the practice of educators to equip and encourage adult learners to choose and use the affordances of accessible digital technologies to personalise their learning and facilitate their interactions with peers and tutors". However to achieve this, we contend that particular ways of working need to be made explicit for both the educator and the learner, as the locus of control for learning subtly shifts from teacher to learner (Cochrane & Antonczak, 2015). Table 14 provides details of these ways of working.
|Educator actions||Learner actions|
|Navigation through the unit is scaffolded by 'chunking' content and tasks.||Self-directed navigation through the content and tasks is undertaken.|
|The immediate application of learning is made obvious.||Internal motivation is developed and personal progress monitored.|
|Tasks and activities are designed to require collaborative team work.||Collaboration with peers occurs in teams with complementary skill sets.|
|Creative and innovative solutions and practices are modelled.||Past experience and prior learning is drawn upon.|
|Opportunities for creative development and reflection are provided.||Contextual creativity is developed.|
|A variety of modes and mediums of communication are engaged with.||A variety of modes and mediums of communication are engaged with.|
Approximately 17% of students in Semester 1 participated in individual semi-structured interviews designed to garner feedback about both the LMS and the digital andragogical approach taken in the unit. Student 6 said "I found it really effective having both the Masterclasses which were quite intensive but also having the time to sort of consolidate that learning and speak with you[rself]" which was a sentiment reflected by the majority of the interviewees. Student 7 stated "I thought it was good that we had weekly activities because it keeps you thinking about the unit and you don't just forget about it for a few weeks until you come back for the next assignment" which related to the chunking of the unit content.
The post-unit survey for Semester 1 had a 96.6% response rate and Table 15 summarises the responses to Question 4 "How important are the following to you?" which was intended to seek feedback on the key features of our digital andragogical approach.
Upon completion of the unit, students reflecting on whether or not the importance placed upon these functions of the LMS and mode of unit delivery had changed revealed that 51% indicated that it was more important for them to be able to access their unit progression, closely followed by 49% indicating that having access to their tutor was more important. Interestingly, the lowest scoring aspect from this survey item as shown in Table 15 (contributing to peer conversation) revealed that 62.5% stated that there was no change in their opinion and 8% stated that this aspect was now less important.
|Unit delivery aspect||% strongly|
|Having access to my tutor||96|
|Being able to access my unit online||92|
|Being able to access my unit progression (know what I have done and what to do next)||89|
|Being able to attend any workshop in the week I want to||73|
|Attending workshops on campus||72.5|
|Accessing recorded materials (lectures)||56|
|Receiving notifications in multiple ways (SMS, Facebook, email)||55|
|Using my phone to access unit information through the app||47|
|Contributing to peer conversation (e.g. discussion board)||34|
The mandatory weekly tasks (scaffolded chunking of unit content and reflection) were contentiously viewed; approximately two-thirds of the cohort valued them and understood the connection to their learning, whilst the remaining third considered them an imposition. From the survey responses, 87.7% indicated that they strongly agreed or agreed with the statement "The weekly tasks were related to my forthcoming practicum and future professional identity", and the second highest scoring response was 79.5% agreement with the statement "The weekly tasks scaffolded my progress through the unit".
The purpose of the Masterclasses was to provide more flexibility for student engagement in the unit. Table 16 shows the high level of success of this mode.
|The focus of each Masterclass was clear and relevant||98.6|
|The Masterclasses were engaging and student-focused||94.5|
|The Masterclasses allowed me to collaborate with my peers in real time||93|
|The 5 Masterclasses in combination with drop-in sessions supported my learning and life-style commitments||90.5|
|The schedule of the Masterclasses allowed me to make choices about my attendance||87.8|
|The unit delivery worked better for me than the traditional 12 weeks attendance||83.8|
The following are two quotes from students who undertook the post-unit Semester 1 interviews:
The notifications were great and also the ability to upload the weekly tasks and get feedback was good. The Masterclasses were GREAT, quality over quantity!Semester 2 survey data reflected the high agreement levels of Semester 1, with 85% of students indicating that they would like all of their units delivered in the manner. The success of the approach has been further validated by 100% agreement in the Student Unit Evaluations for both semesters for all criteria. In addition, no student failed the theory component of either unit.
This has been a very successful learning experience. Having achievable weekly tasks and readings to complete was something I found extremely useful, along with the accessible syllabus and module resources.
The key components of digital andragogy, as enacted in the POC project, will constitute the foundation of the next iteration. These are: chunking of content and tasks; Masterclasses for key content delivery and collaboration opportunities; additional optional workshops specifically relating to assessment tasks and technical support; and instant, informative, and personalised feedback to students.
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|Authors: Dr Susan Blackley is an experienced educator and Primary Course Coordinator, currently researching in STEM education, digital andragogy and teacher identity. Convenor of the AARE STEM SIG and chair of the HERDSA STEM SIG, she was awarded a Curtin University Excellence and Innovation in Teaching Award and a HERDSA Fellowship (2015).|
Dr Rachel Sheffield is an experienced science educator currently, researching in STEM education, digital andragogy and teacher identity. A member of the AARE STEM SIG and co-chair of the HERDSA STEM SIG, she was co-guest editor of the 2015 special issue of International Journal of Innovations in Science and Mathematics Education.
Please cite as: Blackley, S. & Sheffield, R. (2015). Digital andragogy: A richer blend of initial teacher education in the 21st century. Issues in Educational Research, 25(4), 397-414. http://www.iier.org.au/iier25/blackley-2.html