Adult Learning Theory (Andragogy)

An overview of the Adult Learning Theory and definition of Andragogy.
                                                                      Image by
Please enjoy the Animoto video:

Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997) was an American educator who theorized adult education. He brought the term andragogy into use as a term associated with adult education. The first use of the term andragogy was by Alexander Kapp in 1833. He used it to describe Plato’s elements of education. Andragogy refers to “man led” rather than pedagogy which has the root ped meaning “child”. (Smith, M., 1996, 1999) According Malcolm Knowles, andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, thus andragogy refers to any form of adult learning. (Kearsley, 2010)

                                              Image Source:

Dr. Knowles gave adult learners 5 characteristics:

1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being

2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.

4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness.

5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12 in Smith, M., 2002)


Photo source:                                                      


Also according to Knowles (1984) there are four principles that are applied to adult learning:

1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.

3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.

4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (Kearsley, 2010)

Educators teaching adult learners need to know the concepts of the adult learning theory and be able to incorporate them into their teaching style. Educators need to become facilitators of adult education, helping the adult learner to set and achieve goals and guide them in choosing the subjects and courses needed to fulfill these goals. They need to keep in mind that the adult learner needs to know why the course is important to their learning and life situation. The adult learner brings into the continuing educational arena a rich array of experiences that will affect the learning styles and assimilation of knowledge. Adult learners need to be able to apply the knowledge into their life situations.   

Dr. Knowles opened the doors of inquiry and the study of adult education. There is a need to continue his study and to continue to support, design and implement curriculums tailored to the educational needs of the adult learner in today’s society. With advancing technology, there is a continuing need to re-educate and provide continuing education in the academic as well as the business and industrial environment

For further information please enjoy this video:






Kearsley, G. (2010). Andragogy (M.Knowles). The theory Into practice database. Retrieved from

Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999). 'Andragogy', The encyclopaedia of informal education. Retrieved from:   Last updated September 7, 2009
Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy'.
The encyclopedia of informal education.   Retrieved from:

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Web page designed by Barbara Miroballi June, 2010.