Community-oriented policing (COP) is a relatively simple idea that more and more agencies have adopted. Community policing strategies encourage a partnership between law enforcement and the community members. Officers take on a role of being more community-oriented and the citizens take on a role of being more involved with assisting police with information. Community policing encourages officers to expand the scope of the traditional role of a law enforcement officer.
The move of law enforcement to a COP model requires that officers develop communication and problem-solving skills. A strict pedagogical approach is inadequate for producing the critically thinking officers that are needed for the COP model. Using adult learning theory models can help the officers become more prepared for their role in the COP model. Although this is recognized, there is some resistance by law enforcement instructors to use adult learning to its potential. It has been said that people are not opposed to change itself, but they are opposed to changing. Many police training practices persist because instructors are accustomed to them.
A study of law enforcement trainers in a Midwestern state showed a “disconnect” between what instructors do in the classroom and what they felt was effective instruction. Although the instructors used mostly teacher-centered methods in their instruction, they did not show a strong commitment to this style. They recognized the need to involve the students in the learner-centered methods, but indicated that curriculum and time restraints placed on them block their ability to use any other methods but mostly a traditional lecture method.
The new demands that community policing places on the officers make an Andragogical approach a method to help facilitate the transition. Adult learning principles:
1.) emphasize the skills of analysis and decision making through series of job-related cases
2.) establish a learning approach rather than a teaching approach that enables the learner to acquire the appropriate knowledge
3.) are a practical, job-based approach, which keeps the learner aware of the value of the training and the applicability to their job1.
These demands point out the importance for law enforcement trainers to use an approach that operates from a consistent style that is rooted in adult learning theory. In order for this approach to be used effectively, law enforcement instructors must understand adult learning theory and must be trained to use a variety of instructional methods3.
Law enforcement trainers should embrace the idea of Andragogy as an effective tool in the training of recruits and in-service officers. Adult learning principles have been shown to be effective in training areas that require students to build problem-solving skills that are applicable to their job. Law enforcement trainers should understand that Pedagogy and Andragogy should not be used in an all-or-nothing fashion. Although it has been written that some specific topics lend themselves better to one method or another, a proper blend of the two should be used in order to achieve the optimal learning.
Recruits are obviously adults in a chronological sense as legislative mandates require them to be adults prior to becoming a law enforcement officer. This fact must be respected by the instructor but tempered with the realization that the recruit is still a child in the sense that they have no experience in the world of law enforcement. The recruit comes to the basic academy with very little knowledge base of the actual job. Most of their reality of law enforcement work has been developed from the media or from a strict and sterile academic format. It is therefore important that the academy trainer recognize the entry level knowledge and build from that point. A pedagogical approach may be appropriate to start with, then building on that knowledge with methods based in adult learning theory to build critical thinking skills to apply that knowledge in the real world.
The use of adult learning theory is critical for training in-service officers because of their pre-existing knowledge base. These officers bring an enormous about of valuable experience to the classroom. They are very directed in regard to what their individual goals are related to training. Although they must meet state mandated training requirements, in-service officers will seek out training that will assist them to obtain their goals or further their achievements.
With the increasing need for law enforcement trainers to become more effective due to budget, staffing and time constraints, it is imperative that adult learning methodologies be used. Andragogy has shown its effectiveness in teaching adults and the ability for students to retain and apply the knowledge to real world situations. Instructors that understand and apply adult learning principles will be more effective in developing the police officers that are needed in today’s world.
1. Birzer, M. (2003). The theory of andragogy applied to police training. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 26(1), 29-42.
2. Dwyer, G. & Dwyer, D. (2004). The need for change: A call for action in community police training. Federal Bureau of Investigations Law Enforcement Bulletin 73(11), 18-24.
3. McCoy, M. (2006). Teaching style and the application of adult learning principles by police instructors. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 29(1), 77-91.
4. Cleveland, G. (2006). Using problem-based learning in police training. The Police Chief 73(11).