The notion of andragogy has been around for nearly two centuries. It became particularly popular in North America and Britain as a way of describing adult learning through the work of Malcolm Knowles. But what actually does it mean, and how useful a term is it when thinking about adult learning?

Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999) 'Andragogy', the encyclopaedia of informal education,


The Andragogic Approach

-Jerry Nevins

The learner-centered approach assumes that knowledge is not "out there" to be transmitted to the learner. Instead, knowledge is constructed through interactions with experts, other learners and resources. The online learning environment happens to provide an ideal forum for this kind of learning. Page 1, Week 4 Socrates Online Course

Many of our students have chosen to pursue their degree online out of necessity. They are single moms with full time jobs, they are handicapped, they have demands of work and family put upon them that requires they do this course work online or not at all. How can we as educators create a rich, educational experience for them? First we must understand that their abilities, maturity and life experience allows them to bring more to the table in the learning experience than a typical 18 – 21 year old full time boarding student in a full time day program.

Malcom Knowles has spent years researching the essential differences between teaching that is child oriented (pedagogy, as in pediatrician) and a term he is widely credited with coining in this country, the term andragogy. In The Modern Practice of Adult Education (1970), Knowles defined andragogy as "an emerging technology for adult learning." His four andragogical assumptions are that adults:

1) Move from dependency to self-directedness; The teacher is not the sole expert, the student is not an inexperienced child.
2) Draw upon their reservoir of experience for learning; The experiences of a lifetime of experience allow the adult learner to bring more to the table and ought to be celebrated and become part of the process.
3) Are ready to learn when they assume new roles; Adults who choose to return to school later in life do so because they choose to. Adults tend to be more internally motivated and intentional.
4) Want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately. Problem centered learning and practical assignments work well with this student group.

He argued that teaching and learning is a fundamentally different process with adults than it is with children. Thus, unlike a teacher that employs traditional pedagogy or child centered solutions to presenting materials, we would do well to capitalize on the strengths that characterize an adult student. We need to create a climate conducive to learning ever mindful of the above traits of adult learners. Our assumption should be that the adult learner will actively participate in an informed and intentional way in their educational process.

Thus according to Knowles, our role is to:

-Model a supportive, cooperative learning climate.
-Involve our Adult learners in the planning and amount of work in the course.
-Take the time to find out both the needs and interests of our adult learners.
-Create of learning objectives based on the needs and interests of our adult student population.
-Build our courses around a sequenced set of problems for achieving the above objectives.
-Assess the quality of the learning experience through course evaluations and interviews with the students.

Knowles has spent his life working on "the art and science of helping adults learn." Andragogy has come to be understood as an alternative to pedagogy; a learner-focused method that works well with our online adult learning population..

For more information on Knowles see this site:

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Malcolm Knowles