Andragogy is the method and practice of teaching adult learners, with a focus on strategies that accommodate the unique needs of adults. Introduced by Malcolm Knowles, this theory highlights the importance of self-directed learning, the application of knowledge to real-world situations, and the leveraging of adults’ prior experiences.

Key dates & researchers


The term “andragogy” was first used by German educator Alexander Kapp to describe the educational theory of Greek philosopher Plato, focusing on the development of adults.


Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy expanded on the concept, emphasising practical application of learning based on necessity.


Malcolm Knowles, an American educator, popularised andragogy in the United States, distinguishing it from traditional pedagogy. He proposed that adult learning should be self-directed and relevant to real-life situations.

Knowles articulated five key assumptions about adult learners which differentiated them from children.

He added a sixth assumption and formulated four principles to guide adult learning.

Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913 – 1997)
Known for Andragogy

In the 1960s, Knowles introduced the concept of andragogy in the United States, framing it as the art and science of helping adults learn. This contrasted with pedagogy, the traditional approach focused on teaching children.

Knowles identified five key assumptions about adult learners that distinguish them from children:

  1. Self-Concept: As people mature, they become more self-directed.
  2. Experience: Adults have a rich reservoir of experiences that serve as a foundation for learning.
  3. Readiness to Learn: Adults are ready to learn things they feel they need to know, usually related to their social roles.
  4. Orientation to Learning: Adults are problem-centered in their approach to learning and prefer learning that has immediate relevance.
  5. Motivation to Learn: Adults are primarily motivated by internal factors rather than external rewards.

Knowles also formulated four principles to guide the design of adult learning:

  1. Involvement: Adults should be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience: Learning activities should be based on the learners’ experiences.
  3. Relevance: Learning should be relevant to the learners’ personal and professional lives.
  4. Problem-Centered: Learning should be centered around solving real-world problems rather than merely acquiring content.

Implications of Andragogy for Instructional Design

An emphasis on Self-Directed Learning

As an adult learner, I very much appreciate autonomy. and self-paced courses that allow me to set my own learning goals.

Leveraging Prior Experience

Creating activities that draw on learner’s prior knowledge and using relevant case studies.

Readiness to Learn

As a learner, I am motivated to learn and to build on previous experience. Therefore, providing practical skills that can be 

Problem solving activites

Problem-solving activities and project-based learning, help learners see the practical value and apply what they learn to actual challenges.

What’s in it for me?

Clearly communicating the relevance and practical benefits of learning activities. Helping learners understand how the content will benefit them personally or professionally.

Implications of Andragogy for Instructional Design


Self-Directed Learning
Andragogy supports self-paced and autonomous learning, allowing adults to take control of their educational journey, which is beneficial in online training.

Leveraging Prior Experience
Adult learners bring valuable experiences that enrich the learning process, making it more relevant and impactful.

Relevance to Real-World Applications
Andragogy emphasises practical, real-life applications, enhancing the practicality and relevance of the training.

Problem-Centered Learning
Focusing on problem-solving and real-world challenges makes learning more engaging and practical.

Intrinsic Motivation
Adults are intrinsically motivated by the relevance and applicability of the learning, leading to higher engagement and completion rates.


High Self-Motivation Required
Andragogy assumes high self-motivation and discipline, which can lead to low engagement or completion rates if learners struggle with time management and motivation.

Variability in Technological Skills
Not all adult learners are equally comfortable or skilled with digital tools, creating barriers to effective learning.

Limited Social Interaction
Online training can lack the social interaction and peer learning opportunities found in traditional classroom settings.

Resource Quality and Credibility
The quality of online learning materials can vary, and learners might struggle to identify credible sources without proper guidance.

Instructor Role
Instructors act more as facilitators, which might leave some learners feeling unsupported without structured guidance and direct instruction.

Past learning experiences

Back in 2016 I undertook a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. I was definitely motivated to do the course as I was working in a training role at the time and I was keen to develop my skills, especially in the area of assessment. 
I really enjoyed the course and I was able to bring plenty of online and classroom-based training experience with me. The course involved several group activities and also each student was required to deliver two training sessions. These were on any subjects that we wanted to deliver and so I really enjoyed planning and delivering training sessions which were completely different from my role as an instructional designer for the aviastion industry.
The experience I brought to the course was very relevant and I was able to build on prior skills and knowledge.
Overall, it was a very positive and a successful learning experience.

My preferences

My preference currently is for informal learning and as such, I will seek learning experiences primarily through my LinkedIn network. Every day I am learning new things, expecially around the area of AI and I am fascinated with how AI will affect education at all levels.

As well as picking up and implementing new knowledge, I intend to share my thoughts, observations and what i am working on with my Personal Learning Network.


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