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Andragogy is the theory and practice of education of adults. The word is a combination of andro (from Ancient Greek: ἀνήρ, anēr, genitive ἀνδρός, andros, "man") and ἄγω (ágō), meaning "to lead". It arose from the practice of pedagogy to address the specific needs in the education of adults as opposed to the education of children.


Two primary understandings of "andragogy" currently exist:

  1. The science of understanding (= theory) and supporting (= practice) lifelong and life-wide education of adults.
  2. 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.[1]


Adult learning is based upon comprehension, organization and synthesis of knowledge rather than rote memory. Seven Principles of Adult Learning:[2]

  • Adults must want to learn They learn effectively only when they are free to direct their own learning and have a strong inner and excited motivation to develop a new skill or acquire a particular type of knowledge, this sustains learning.
  • Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn Adults are practical in their approach to learning; they want to know, "How is this going to help me right now? – Is it relevant (Content, Connection and Application) and does it meet my targeted goals."
  • Adults learn by doing Adolescents learn by doing, but adults do through an active practice and participation, this helps in integrating component skills into a coherent whole.
  • Adult learning focuses on problems solving Adolescents learn skills sequentially. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution. A meaningful engagement, such as posing and answering realistic questions and problems is necessary for deeper learning. This leads to more elaborate, longer lasting, and stronger representations of the knowledge (Craik and Lockhart, 1972).
  • Experience affects adult learning Adults have more experience than adolescents. This can be an asset and a liability, if prior knowledge is inaccurate, incomplete, or naive, it can interfere with or distort the integration of incoming information (Clement, 1982; National Research Council, 2000).
  • Adults learn best in an informal situation Adolescents have to follow a curriculum. Often, adults learn by taking responsibility by the value and need of content they have to understand and the particular goals it will achieve. Being in an inviting, collaborative and networking environment as an active participant in the learning process makes it efficient.
  • Adults want guidance and consideration as equal partners in the process Adults want information that will help them improve their situation. They do not want to be told what to do and they evaluate what helps and what doesn't. They want to choose options based on their individual needs and meaningful impact a learning engagement could provide. Socialization is more important among adults.[3][4]


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.

Knowles' theory can be stated with six assumptions related to motivation of adult learning:[5][6]

  1. Need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something.
  2. Foundation: Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities.
  3. Self-concept: Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  4. Readiness: Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives.
  5. Orientation: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
  6. 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 emerging academic and professional institutions, publications, or programs, triggered by a similar growth of adult education in practice and theory as in the United States. "Andragogy" functioned here as a header for (places of) systematic reflections, parallel to other academic headers like "biology", "medicine", and "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) the Katedra sociologie a andragogiky (Sociology and Andragogy Department) was established in 1990. Also, Prague University has a Katedra Andragogiky (Andragogical Department); in 1993, Slovenia's Andragoski Center Republike Slovenije (Slovenian Republic Andragogy Center) was founded with the journal Andragoska Spoznanja; in 1995, Bamberg University (Germany) named a Lehrstuhl Andragogik (Androgogy Chair).

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, or human resource development.

Academic discipline[edit]

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 claims 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,[7] similarly Henschke, 2003,[8] Reischmann, 2003[9]).

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.[10] It gives scope to self-directed learners. Andragogy helps in designing and delivering the solution focused instructions to self-directed.[11] The methods used by andragogy can be used in different educational environments[12] (e.g. adolescent education[13]).

Differences from pedagogy[edit]

Here are some of the main differences between pedagogy and andragogy:[14][15]

LEARNER: —The learner is dependent on the instructor, the teacher schedules all the activities; determining how, when and where they should take place

—Teacher is the one who is responsible for what is taught and how it is taught

—Teacher evaluates the learning

—Learner is self-directed and moves towards independence

—Learner is responsible for the learning

—Self-evaluation is seen

LEARNER'S EXPERIENCE —There is little experience which could be gained from this kind of learning

—Method is didactic

—There is large quantity of experience gained

— Method used is problem solving, discussion, service-learning[16]

READINESS TO LEARN —Standardized curriculum set which will be based on societal needs Curriculum is more application based and it revolves around life
ORIENTATION TO LEARNING —Here, it is a process of acquiring subject matter —Here learning is for performing tasks and solving problems
MOTIVATION —Motivation is by external pressure, and there is lot of competition for grades —It is driven by internal motivation.Includes self-actualisation, self-confidence etc.

Optimal learning[edit]

Neuroscientist and educator Eric Jensen's factors for optimal learning[17] include:

  • Personal meaning.
  • Circumstances present.
  • Personal-concept. (A person's collection of thoughts about beliefs, experiences, values and knowledge.)
  • Mode of sensory input. (Visual; auditory; kinesthetic; olfactory; gustatory.)
  • Information processing. (Learning styles; processing states like linear, holistic, random, logical, concrete, reality based, temporal, non-temporal...etc.; artistic/analytic orientation; abstract/concrete...etc.)
  • Responses. (Theory of multiple intelligences.)


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."[18][19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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 what 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.[22]

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.[23] 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."[24] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hansman (2008) Adult Learning in Communities of Practice: Situating Theory in Practice
  2. ^ "Principles of Adult Learning". 
  3. ^ "Adult Learning Techniques" (PDF). 
  4. ^ "Educating adult learners: twelve tips for teaching business professionals" (PDF). University of Oklahoma, Tulsa, U.S.A. 
  5. ^ "Instructional Design: Theories - Andragogy (M. Knowles)". Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved 2011-05-16. 
  6. ^ "andragogy @ the informal education homepage". the encyclopaedia of informal education. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Henschke, John (2003): Andragogy Website
  9. ^ Reischmann, Jost (2003): Why Andragogy? Bamberg University, Germany
  10. ^ Bowe, Hoewe & Zeldes (2012) An Andragogical Approach to Developing Dialogic Learning through Wikis. Middle East Media Educator 2(1)
  11. ^ Holt, Debbie. "Andragogy and its implications for teaching adult students in community colleges" (PDF). 
  12. ^ "Adult Learning". 
  13. ^ "Andragogy (Knowledge + Learning = Performance)". 
  14. ^ Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999, 2010) 'Andragogy', the encyclopaedia of informal education. Retrieved: 9/24/2015
  15. ^ Yazdani, Shahram. "Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy". 
  16. ^ Risley, L.; McKee, S. "Andragogical Methods Applied to Adult Learning Environments: Adult Education for Adult Learners in and out of the Traditional Classroom" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2014. 
  17. ^ Jensen, Eric (16 February 1998). "Super Teaching". SAGE Publications. Retrieved 19 October 2016 – via Google Books. 
  18. ^ Merriam, et al (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, p. 87
  19. ^ (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007, p. 87)
  20. ^ Hanson, A. (1996) The search for separate theories of adult learning: does anyone really need andragogy? In Edwards, R., Hanson, A., and Raggatt, P. (eds.) Boundaries of Adult Learning. Adult Learners, Education and Training, Vol. 1 (p. 107) London: Routledge.
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ " - Andragogy: what is it and does it help thinking about adult learning?". 
  24. ^ Knowles, M. (1989) The making of an adult educator: An autobiographical journey (Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]