Andragogy is the study and practice of teaching adult learners.
It is built on five assumptions that describe why adults learn differently than children:
1. adults have a sense of being a self-directed human rather than a dependent personality;
2. adults have a lifelong accumulation of experience that is a foundation for learning;
3. adults are ready to focus on education and the learning process because of its inherent value;
4. adults want to apply their new knowledge immediately in their personal or professional lives, and as such shift toward problem-solving rather than content accumulation; and
5. adults’ motivation for learning is intrinsic.
Andragogy leans on four fundamental principles which are critical to consider when designing learning experiences for adults: adults should have input and influence on the content and process of their learning; their learning should focus on building upon their existing knowledge; the content of their learning should be directly relevant to their lives, personal or professional; and learning should be focused on problem-solving rather than content memorization.
One very successful learning experience that I’ve had as an adult was participating in a tango dance festival over the course of a weekend. It was a mix of both formal and informal instruction: there were classes with a professional teacher who taught specific skills to help us reach instructional goals, but there were also milongas (social dances) where I had the chance to dance with and learn from a large and diverse group of dancers, some of whom had participated in the classes and some of whom were total strangers.
While I wasn’t involved with the planning or evaluation of the learning experience, Knowles’ other three principles certainly applied. Especially in the context of a physical and interpersonal skill like tango, experience is crucial: all the book learning in the world won’t make someone a better dancer; instead, the in-person experiences of being in the studio, dancing alone and with a partner, succeeding and struggling, making mistakes, and receiving feedback are the foundation of learning the dance. Being in a setting where that was the sole focus for a whole weekend, and a focus shared by many dedicated, curious, and intrinsically-motivated dancers, made for a powerful learning experience.
The principle of andragogy that will have a major influence on me as I move forward as an instructional designer is the idea of adults being engaged in the planning and evaluation of their own instruction. I already use hands-on experience and relevance to my learners’ lives as the basis for almost all of my education programs, for both youth and adults, and I aim to keep my adult programs problem-focused rather than content-focused. But the idea of going to a group of adults first, opening the conversation about what they want to learn, how they learn best, what their personal goals are, and so on will certainly shift how I approach educational program design.
Andragogy - Adult Learning Theory (Knowles). (2017, September 30). Retrieved from