Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to teach children as well as adults. Although there are many similarities, there are also many differences between designing curriculum and facilitating a class for adults rather that for children. One of the biggest differences is that children are clean slates, while adults bring a lifetime of past experiences, existing knowledge (or bias/opinion), and social/cultural influences into their learning environment. Adults also do not learn in the same ways that children do. Therefore, typical pedagogy that works with younger learners may not apply to adult learners.

In comparison to pedagogy, which is Greek for “child-leading” (although it applies to learners of all ages), the word andragogy comes from the Greek for “man-leading” and specifically focuses on adult learning theory (for all genders).

Andragogy (Adult Learning Theory) includes formal, informal, and non-formal learning:

Formal – learning goals and objectives are formally set by someone other than the learner, such as a trainer or organization

Informal – the learner sets the learning goals and objectives

Non-Formal – blends formal and informal learning, as when the learner’s boss or manager requests that he or she conduct self-directed learning on a topic that will lead to improved job performance

The 5 Assumptions About Adult Learners

Malcolm Knowles, who is known for developing Andragogy (Adult Learning) theories, made five (5) assumptions about adult learners:

1. Adult learning is self-directed and independent;

2. Adult learners bring prior experiences and knowledge into learning situations;

3. Adult learners are ready to learn;

4. Adult learners thrive in problem-based learning situations that immediately impact their current situations/carrers/lives

5. Adult learners have internal (intrinsic) motivation

The 4 Principles of Adult Learning

Knowles also believed that the following four (4) principles apply to adult learning:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluating their instruction.

  2. Experience is the basis for learning.

  3. Adults flourish when learning subjects of immediate relevance and impact to them.

  4. Adult learning is problem-centered (Kearsley, 2010)

Andragogy in Action

To help illustrate how andragogy might apply to a real world learning scenario, let’s say you are an Instructional Developer who has been tasked with creating an online course that teaches new business owners how to use a digital media tool to streamline the e-Business process. You will need to:

  1. Explain to the learners why it’s important for them to master this tool and/or learn specific information

  2. Ensure instruction is task-oriented.

  3. Consider the broad experiences, skill levels, and backgrounds of learners when it comes to using computers or digital media software.

  4. Ensure the online course is self-directed and autonomous; however, as an instructor, you should also be available to offer support, guidance, and troubleshooting as needed.

For additional information, view my infographic on adult learning theory:

Andragogy Adult Learning Theory Infographic by Brittany Thompson Robinson Instructional Designer