Snapshot of Andragogy

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Snapshot of Andragogy

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Author :
Anne Baker
Snapshot of Andragogy

AB Contact profile image
Author :
Anne Baker

Andragogy is a useful framework for talking about adult learning. While no theory is perfect, andragogy, as presented by researcher Malcolm Knowles, provides educators of adults with much food for thought regarding how adults learn, and, in turn, how we can facilitate their learning. 

Most theories, including this one, are basing assumptions on an ideal learner. In the case of andragogy, much of the theory assumes that adult learners are self-directed and motivated, and this is not always the case. Here's a short elearning module on Andragogy, and a chart of assumptions and their applications, below. 

Andragogy:  The Art and Science of Helping Adults Learn




Need to know

“Do I need to know this?”


Meaningful learning happens when teachers know the learners enough to be able to show them why they should care.  

Help adults understand why they need to know something. Use diagnostic self-assessments to reveal the gaps in their knowledge and share these results with them (individually).

Think of the learners and learn about them beforehand. Who are they? What are their needs? What is their context? Start with where THEY are on the topic, not where you are. Focus on what they NEED and not just on all you know.

Self-concept (self-directed)

“Is this my choice to learn? Am I in control of learning it?”


Adults need to feel self-directed and be seen by others as such. They want to take responsibility for their own learning and feel like it is a choice. Adults are rich in life experiences and they are partners in the learning process. This can create a problem: If an adult walks into a situation labeled as “training” or “education,” and is treated like a student, they may take up the attitude of a kid in school: passive, with a “teach me” attitude.

Do not let participants slip into the “teach me” attitude of a passive child in school.  Make it clear that the burden of learning is on them. Let them have choices. Use self-study or group collaboration projects that involve minimal instructor intervention. Ask participants to help set learning objectives. Think of yourself as a facilitator, and set up the instructional space as such.

Readiness & relevancy

“Do I need and want to learn this?”


Adults typically become ready to learn when they experience a need to cope with a life situation or perform a task.

Make learning timely. Adults are concerned with what they need to know RIGHT now. People want to learn something when they are ready to and need to learn it.

Teach them what they need at the right time.

Having online self-access materials aligns well with this principle, since the learner can then learn what they need at the time they need to.

Use realistic scenarios, stories, and problems to introduce concepts.

Experience as foundation

“What do I already know about this? How does it relate to my experiences?”


The older we get, the more life experiences we have. These experiences shape us as people and shape how we learn. Adults have more life experience than children do, and are more apt to define themselves through these experiences.

Life experiences form the lens through which new information, or learning, must pass. When the two are in harmony, it helps learners understand and integrate the new information into their mental representation of the world.

When new information does not fit in with their life experiences, this can block learning.


Often learners themselves are your best resource for teaching. Use techniques that tap this resource:

  • Group discussions
  • Peer teaching
  • Simulations and role plays
  • Problem solving, scenarios  and case studies
  • Laboratory and hands-on learning

When new material does not fit into their life experiences, you have to help adults think critically and challenge their assumptions.

Orientation to learning

“What problem does this solve in my life?”


Adults have an orientation to learning that is based on their immediate needs – on completing a task or solving a problem.  This is very different compared to how kids learn by subject in traditional schools. Adults want answers to the question: “What problem does this solve in my life?”

Use problem solving, scenarios, and case studies. Start with the problem, not the solution or the information. Let them work together at solving the problem, and learn from the process.

Make use of this orientation to learning by introducing a topic by presenting the problem first.  The process of solving the problem can be intertwined with the discovery of new ideas and concepts.


Motivation to learn

“Why do I care? What is driving me to learn?”

In adults, internal incentives become an important form of motivation for people as they mature. These internal incentives include notions such as self-esteem, quality of life, and personal achievement. 

Find out what motivation they have, or what problem they want to solve. Focus on that.

Do you also work with youth? Think about how the concepts in this module also apply to working with youth. Most of them do to some extent or another, especially when the youth are choosing to engage with the subject they are learning about.

Some of these tenants of andragogy may or may not fit well with your teaching context. If you have a rigid curriculum, then you may not having the luxury of co-creating learning objectives with your audience, for example. But perhaps you can honor their input on which objectives to spend more time on, or on how they want to acheive those objectives. 


Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2010). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 


Posted by:
Anne Marie Baker #iteachmsu
#andragogy #adult learning