Andragogy: Adult Learning Theories

The andragogy theory developed by Malcolm Knowles specifically targets adult learning, implying that adults tend to be more self-directed and responsible for making their decisions. Andragogy is a humanistic theory, which means that it is focused on the learner and focuses on his or her potential for self-actualization, the motivation that develops internally, and self-direction (Palis & Quiros, 2014). Thus, programs targeted at teaching adults are expected to accommodate such an essential aspect of andragogy, which implies that adults usually have to know something needs to be learned, that experiences facilitate better learning, that the process of acquiring new information is approached as problem-solving, as well as that they learn best when the topic at hand has immediate value for them.

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When comparing andragogy and pedagogy, it should be mentioned that the latter is the teaching approach that targets children while the form is adult-focused. Therefore, while both concepts are concerned with the process of helping individuals learn, they are different in the age of the audience that they target. Compared to child learners, adults are attracted to the offers and opportunities of their learning as well as the promises of allowing them to match their choices to their own perceived predispositions (Barry & Egan, 2018). The following six assumptions characterize andragogy:

  • Assumption 1, self-concept – the ability of adults to be more self-directed and independent when choosing what they want to learn, how, and when. For example, during their learning, adults can develop their own tests to assess their learning progress prior to completing standardized tests;
  • Assumption 2, experience – the new learning experiences of adults are supported by their prior knowledge, which means the process of acquiring new information is enriched with discussions and valuable resources for learning.
  • Assumption 3, readiness to learn depending on need – the assumption is concerned with the necessity of adults to know how the new knowledge can benefit the decision-making in life situations. For example, adults may start learning a new language because they are traveling to a new destination for work.
  • Assumption 4, problem-centered focus – the immediate application of the new information, which means that adults seek learning opportunities as soon as they acquire knowledge.
  • Assumption 5, internal motivation – adults engage in learning opportunities based on their personal (internal) motivators, such as self-esteem improvement, a better quality of life, or self-actualization. For instance, adults may start learning a new language to have more traveling and job opportunities as well as for the purpose of self-improvement.
  • Assumption 6, knowing why something should be learned – there should be a reason for why certain information is being acquired. Adults should be able to apply newly-attained knowledge to their life situations.

The six assumptions pertaining to andragogy explain the motivations that adults pursue when learning something. The new knowledge that adults attain should have real-life application and have a positive influence on the decision-making process. Internal motivation is also important to adults because they do not have the pressure of learning something as a part of discipline but can rather choose the subjects that would benefit their personal and professional aspects of life. When the mentioned assumptions of andragogy are considered, the process of shaping new knowledge and experience is more understandable as applied to the adult context. While adults can experience tremendous challenges in learning, the process is intentional and has potential opportunities for life improvement.


Barry, M., & Egan, A. (2018). An adult learner’s learning style should inform but not limit educational choices. International Review of Education, 64(1), 31-42.

Palis, A. G., & Quiros, P. A. (2014). Adult learning principles and presentation pearls. Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology, 21(2), 114-122.

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