Education is a never-ending process and Andragogy is of paramount importance in this process. There is no limit to what you can learn or when you can learn. Most of us consider education as a key that can unlock opportunities in the future. But we are also constantly learning something new, even as adults.

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Educating adults is an entirely different matter when compared to educating children. This is where Adult Learning Theories come in. These theories lay out the guidelines to create a successful course. There are many theories out there but in this article, we will mainly focus on the Andragogy theory by Malcolm Knowles.

History of the term Andragogy

The term andragogy was coined in 1833 by a German educator called Alexander Kapp. Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey first developed andragogy into a theory of adult education. Malcolm Knowles is credited with making the concept popular. He suggested that andragogy (“man-leading” in Greek) should be differentiated from pedagogy (“child-leading”).

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Knowles explained his theory of adult education in 1967 using the term “androgogy”. But after a consultation with Miriam-Webster, he changed the spelling to “andragogy”. From 1970 onwards, andragogy was connected with emerging academic and professional institutions, programs, or publications.

Andragogy can be understood in two ways:

  • The science of understanding (theory) and supporting (practice) lifelong education of adults.
  • As defined by Malcolm Knowles, a specific theoretical and practical approach. It is based on a humanistic conception of self-directed and autonomous learners as well as teachers as facilitators of learners.

Malcolm Knowles developed the concept of Adult Learning Theory in 1968.  The concept was created to demonstrate that adult learning is distinct and to identify the learning styles that can be used to educate adults. The core theory contains five key assumptions about adult learners and four principles of andragogy. The theory has been modified and adapted over the years.

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The five key assumptions are:

  1. Self-Concept: The learners can direct their own learning as they mature. They go from being dependent on an instructor to being self-directing.
  2. Adult Learner Experience: Adults have more life experience which they can use to their advantage while learning. They can draw knowledge and different references from those experiences.
  3. Readiness to Learn: Adults are more ready to learn when there is a reason like a social/economic role to fulfill or when the knowledge will be directed towards their growth and development.
  4. Orientation to Learning: Adults will want what they are studying to be applicable in their everyday lives. They want to learn practical skills that will help solve problems and can lead to a better work environment.
  5. Motivation to Learn: Adults are more motivated to learn. Unlike children who learn because of external factors like parents or teachers, adults want to learn for their own reasons.

 The four principles of Andragogy are:

  1. Adults want to or need to be involved in the planning, delivering and execution of their learning. They have to be able to control what, when and how they will learn.
  2. When adults can use their past experiences including their mistakes in the learning process, they are able to gain more. They can use the past experiences to add a greater context to the learning.
  3. Adults can’t be forced to memorize facts and figures. They have to be able to use reasoning to take in the information and to solve problems.
  4. Adult learning is more problem-centered than content-oriented. This basically means that adults want to use the knowledge that they have acquired sooner rather than later.

Differences between Andragogy and Pedagogy

There are some sizable differences between Andragogy and Pedagogy even in the basic principles. The differences are illustrated below:

1. Learner

Pedagogy: The learner is completely dependent on the instructor for everything. The teacher determines how, when, and where the classes should take place. The teacher also evaluates the learning process.

Andragogy: The learner is self-directed and is independent of the teacher. The learner is responsible for all the aspects of learning. The learner also self-evaluates their progress.

2. Learners’ Experience

Pedagogy: The experience gained from this type of learning is low and the method is mostly didactic.

Andragogy: the experience gained from this learning process is monumental. Methods used are also more focused on problem-solving and discussions.

3. Readiness to learn

Pedagogy: The curriculum set is standardized and based on the needs of society.

Andragogy: Curriculum revolves around the daily life of the learner and is more application-based.

4. Orientation to learning

Pedagogy: The end objective is to only acquire the subject matter.

Andragogy: The learning is mainly done to help in solving problems and performing tasks.

5. Motivation

Pedagogy: The students mainly learn due to pressure from external factors. There is a lot of competition for grades.

Andragogy: This type of learning is mainly driven by internal motivation. This leads to a boost in self-confidence and self-actualization.

Applications of Andragogy

Given below are a few ways in which you can use adult learning theories for training in the corporate sector.

  • Most design methodologies like ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Development, Implement, and Evaluation) have an analysis phase. In this phase, you analyze everything from who, what, when, where, and how. This stage is also great for assessing the previous training which was performed and considering whether it would have fit into the framework. You also have to plan out the practical applications so that the employees and customers can see the value of the course.
  • Since adults like to be involved in the process of learning, you have to include them as much as possible. It would be a good idea to ask the learners what they would like to learn before actually starting the course. Discussions and collaborations with other learners and instructors should be encouraged. Also, make sure to collect feedback on everything from the content to the exams.
  • With the influx of LMS in the education environment, learners now have the option to study whenever and wherever they want. This allows the learners to be more self-directed and independent. They can choose the courses which they feel will help them in achieving their own goals.
  • Inserting more real-world examples into the course content will help the learners take it into context. For example, when you are training customers on using a particular product, you can walk them through the use cases of your product.
  • Adding simulations and assessments will encourage the learner to apply the skills and knowledge that they have learned. This is a great idea since adults prefer problem-solving instead of just memorizing facts.
  • Experimentation is the key to creating a great training system. Take parts of the theory and apply them to your training courses to see how it will improve the overall learning experience.


If you are looking to develop courses or content for adult learners, learning about the different adult learning theories and strategies will go a long way in helping you to create a course that is both beneficial to the learner as well as for you in the long run.

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