I was looking at the Andragogy group on LinkedIn and the question of what makes a llearner an adult learner came up. They discussed age, social responsibility, self-determination, and economic power. The problem with this discussion is that it looks at the question in regard to the learner all by herself. The discussion ignores the fact that 'learner' is a relational construct. You can't be a learner without someone else as an educator. It may be a teacher, an author, a role model. But learning is a social phenomenon. And the difference between how an adult and a child interact with a teacher is the key to andragogy.
This key is best understood through Alan Fiske's relational forms. Fiske is an anthropologist who has developed a model of four fundamental relational forms. Each relationship has elements of all four, but one is predominant. These relational forms are:
Authority Ranking - One person is the boss, father, rule-maker and protector while the other person is subordinate, child, rule-follower (usually) and protected
Communal Sharing - Two people equally own responsibility, property, affect, experience
Equality Matching - Balance is maintained on social metrics - taking turns, exchanging gifts, eye-for-an-eye revenge, one-person-one-vote.
Market Pricing - Relationship mediated by a ratio of value - money, property, time - were parties evaluate the price and do not worry about equality in the distribution of value.
In primary school, the Authority Ranking form is the core characteristic of the student-teacher relationship. Teachers are authorities who know more, create and enforce rules of conduct and evaluate students. This foundation is not feasible for adult education, because the relationship shifts. When a child meets and adult, Authority Ranking is a default relational foundation. When an adult meets another adult, that is no longer true. Equality Matching and Market Pricing are the relational foundation until the relationship establishes. And establishing the authority for Authority Ranking can be a challenge with adults, for many of reasons that andragogy gives for teaching differently.
An adult who is moving towards intrinsic motivation and has real-world experience is not easily swayed by a teacher's approval or disapproval and has a base to evaluate whether a teacher is full of crap or has relevant expertise to share.
So when is an adult an adult? When they no longer treat the teacher as an authority figure. When they approach the relationship from a different form - be it Market pricing, Equality Matching or Communal Sharing. I won't speculate here on the ideal relational foundation for adult education - I'll save that for some later time. But I will propose this new definition for Andragogy: the art and science of teaching people who don't Respect your Authority.