Andragogy consists of teaching strategies focused on adults. It is often interpreted as the process of engaging adult learners with the structure of learning experience.
Two primary understandings of ‘andragogy’ currently exist:
- The science of understanding (= theory) and supporting (= practice) lifelong and life-wide education of adults.
- In the tradition of Malcolm Knowles, a specific theoretical and practical approach, based on a humanistic conception of self-directed and autonomous learners and teachers as facilitators of learning.
Interpreted broadly throughout the academic literature, the term also invites such definitions as ‘adult education practice,’ ‘desirable values,’ ‘specific teaching methods,’ ‘reflections,’ and ‘academic discipline,' with many authors claiming it to be better than traditional adult education.
The term has been used by some to allow discussion of contrast between self-directed and 'taught' education.
Originally used by Alexander Kapp (a German educator) in 1833, andragogy was developed into a theory of adult education by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and was popularized in the US by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: "man-leading") should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: "child-leading").
Knowles collected ideas about a theory of adult education from the end of WWII until he was introduced to the term "andragogy." In 1966, Knowles met Dusan Savicevic in Boston. Savicevic shared the term andragogy with Knowles, and explained how it was used in the European context. In 1967, Knowles made use of the term "androgogy" to explain his theory of adult education. Then, after consulting Merriam-Webster, he corrected the spelling of the term to "andragogy" and continued to make use of the term to explain his collection of ideas about adult learning.
- Need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something.
- Foundation: Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities.
- Self-concept: Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
- Readiness: Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives.
- Orientation: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
- Motivation: Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators.
In most countries of Europe the Knowles discussion played, at best, a marginal role. ‘Andragogy’ was, from 1970 on, connected with the in existence coming academic and professional institutions, publications, programs, triggered by a similar growth of adult education in practice and theory as in the USA. ‘Andragogy’ functioned here as a header for (places of) systematic reflections, parallel to other academic headers like ‘biology’, ‘medicine’, ‘physics’. Examples of this use of andragogy are the Yugoslavian (scholarly) journal for adult education, named ‘Andragogija’ in 1969; and the ‘Yugoslavian Society for Andragogy’; at Palacky University in Olomouc (Czech republic) in 1990 the 'Katedra sociologie an andragogiky' was established. Also Prague University has a ‘Katedra Andragogiky’; in 1993, Slovenia’s ‘Andragoski Center Republike Slovenije' was founded with the journal ‘Andragoska Spoznanja’; in 1995, Bamberg University (Germany) named a ‘Lehrstuhl Andragogik’.
On this formal level ‘above practice’ and specific approaches, the term andragogy could be used relating to all types of theories, for reflection, analysis, training, in person-oriented programs as well as human resource development.
In the field of adult education during recent decades, a process of growth and differentiation emerged as a scholarly and scientific approach, andragogy. Andragogy refers to the academic discipline(s) within university programs that focus on the education of adults; andragogy exists today worldwide. The term refers to a new type of education which was not qualified by missions and visions, but by academic learning including: reflection, critique,and historical analyses.
Dusan Savicevic, who provided Knowles with the term andragogy, explicitly claim andragogy as a discipline, the subject of which is the study of education and learning of adults in all its forms of expression’ (Savicevic, 1999, p. 97, similarly Henschke, 2003, Reischmann, 2003).
Recent research has expanded andragogy into the online world, finding that using collaborative tools like a wiki can encourage learners to become more self-directed, thereby enriching the classroom environment.
Knowles himself changed his position on whether andragogy really applied only to adults and came to believe that "pedagogy-andragogy represents a continuum ranging from teacher-directed to student-directed learning and that both approaches are appropriate with children and adults, depending on the situation."  Hanson (1996) argues that the difference in learning is not related to the age and stage of one's life, but instead related to individual characteristics and the differences in "context, culture and power" within different educational settings.
In another critique of Knowles' work, Knowles' was not able to use one of his principles (Self-concept) with adult learners to the extent that he describes in his practices. In one course, Knowles appears to allow "near total freedom in learner determination of objectives" but still "intended" the students to choose from a list of 18 objectives on the syllabus. Self-concept can be critiqued not just from the instructor's point of view, but also from the student's point of view. Not all adult learners will know exactly they want to learn in a course and may seek a more structured outline from an instructor. An instructor cannot assume that an adult will desire self-directed learning in every situation.
J.R. Kidd goes further by claiming that principles of learning have to be applied to lifelong development. He suggested that building a theory on adult learning would be meaningless, as there is no real basis for it. P. Jarvis even implies that andragogy would be more the result of an ideology than a scientific contribution to the comprehension of the learning processes. Knowles himself mentions that andragogy is a "model of assumptions about learning or a conceptual framework that serves as a basis for an emergent theory." There appears to be a lack of research on whether this framework of teaching and learning principles is more relevant to adult learners or if it is just a set of good practices that could be used for both children and adult learners.
- Hansman (2008) Adult Learning in Communities of Practice: Situating Theory in Practice
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- Savicevic, Dusan (1999): Understanding Andragogy in Europe and America: Comparing and Contrasting. In: Reischmann, Jost/ Bron, Michal/ Jelenc, Zoran (eds): Comparative Adult Education 1998: the Contribution of ISCAE to an Emerging Field of Study. Ljubljana, Slovenia: Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, p. 97-119.
- Henschke, John (2003): Andragogy Website http://www.umsl.edu/~henschkej/
- Reischmann, Jost (2003): Why Andragogy? Bamberg University, Germany http://www.andragogy.net
- Bowe, Hoewe & Zeldes (2012) An Andragogical Approach to Developing Dialogic Learning through Wikis. Middle East Media Educator 2(1)
- Merriam, et al (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, p. 87
- (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007, p. 87)
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- Rachel, J.R. (2002) Andragogy's detectives: A critique of the present and a proposal for the future. Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 3, p. 216
- Merriam, S.B. (2001) Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Vol. spring 2001, No. 89, p. 10
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- Bowe, Brian J.; Hoewe, Jennifer; Zeldes, Geri Alumit (2012). An Andragogical Approach to Developing Dialogic Learning through Wikis. Middle East Media Educator vol. 1 issue 2.
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- Roberts, Michael (2007). "Applying the Andragogical Model of Adult Learning: A Case Study of the Texas Comptroller's Fiscal Management Division". Applied Research Project. Texas State University.
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