Adult Learning Theory: Andragogy

The history of andragogy

The process of education is not a simple one. There are a lot of theories that explain how to teach people and how they learn. One of the best-known theories of adult learning is andragogy. This theory was introduced by the American educator, Malcolm Knowles in 1970 in his book The Modern Practice of Adult Education. Knowles was known as a teacher and leader in educational development in the Western world. His ideas are still very useful for education especially for teaching adults. The term andragogy was firstly used in 1833 by Alexander Kapp. He used this term to explain Plato’s approaches to education. Andragogy was used to denote “man led” while pedagogy has the root “ped” which means “child” (Smith, 1999).

Adult education in North America began to develop in the 1920s when educators faced some problems between teaching children and adults. It was necessary to provide boundaries between little learners and adult ones in order to achieve good results in the process of learning. The assumptions of adult learners were necessary to define in order to determine what should be learned, how it will be learned and when it will be learned.

The present researches

Andragogy is still developed by many educators. One of the latest researches is Carol Hoare’s book Handbook of Adult Development and Learning published in 2006. The author provides the differences between the process of adult development based on psychology and the process of adult learning connected with andragogy. The synchronicity between development and learning guarantees success in the process of education. It is the first research connecting these two fields namely psychology and andragogy. Another interesting piece of research is Ana Krajnc’s The Study of Andragogy and Education of Androgogues. Post-war time demonstrated the necessity of adults as far as newly qualified workers were in demand. As a result, the education of adults expanded quite rapidly. The first lectures on andragogy were presented in 1956 at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb and this art of learning adults has been on the agenda since that time. Knowles was the first who systematized this knowledge and presented them as the theory of learning adults.

Knowles’ model of assumptions

Knowles’ theory was the attempt to provide differences between teaching the child and teaching the adult. He differentiates andragogy as the art to learn adults and pedagogy as the science of teaching children (Knowles, p. 43). In the second addition, Knowles’ point of view is a little bit changed and he does not oppose andragogy to pedagogy but he provides the way of development from pedagogy to andragogy (Keesee, 2011). The choice of the approach to the process f teaching and learning does not depend on the age of the learners it rather depends on the situation as Knowles points out in his book.

Andragogy is defined in Knowles’ book as “the model of assumptions” (p. 43) providing the peculiar features of adult learning compared to the assumptions about little learners. Knowles’ learner is considered to be independent, growth-oriented and free. This learner is motivated and understands the importance of learning. There are six basic assumptions of adult learners provided in Knowles’ book. It should be noted that in the first edition Knowles provided only five peculiar features of the adult learner and he added the fifth and sixth ones in the second edition. These peculiar features are self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, motivation to learn and relevance (Keesee, 2011).

Self-concept is a peculiar feature of maturation. An adult learner realizes the necessity of learning. Nevertheless, teachers should control this process and increase the motivation of the learner. Every adult learner has a certain experience that may be helpful for his learning or not. It should be noted that there may be a positive and negative experiences of learning. The most complicated thing is to retrain an adult learner. It is easier to do as far as adult learners are ready to be taught. The educator has the responsibility to create the necessary conditions and provide tools for learning. The educator should create the educational program taking into account the learner’s experience and his desire to learn. Adult learners consider the process of learning to be life-oriented. It is very important for adult learners to observe the usefulness of the accepted knowledge in practice.

The use of andragogy in present education

The key assumption of andragogy is self-directed learning. Knowles defines it in his book Self-directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers (1975) as a process “… in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (p. 18). Adult learners are aware of their needs and possibilities. They know what they want to know and how they want to do it. Knowles’ model of assumptions helps to create programs of learning for adults. The theory of learning adults helps to make the process of education more effective nowadays.

Reference List

Keesee, G. (2011). Andragogy – Adult Learning Theory. Web.

Knowles, M. (1983). Self-directed Learning. A Guide for Learners and teachers. England: Cambridge Books.

Knowles, M. (1988). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: from Pedagogy to Andragogy. England: Cambridge Books.

Smith, M. K. (1999). ‘Andragogy’, The encyclopedia of informal education. Web.