A Teacher’s Guide to Andragogy & Adult Learning Trusted Site
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andragogy and adult learning theory

Teaching adults is an entirely different challenge to teaching children. The best teachers understand that adults and children learn in very different ways, and so they adapt their teaching methods accordingly.

Andragogy is a theory of learning pertaining specifically to adults. It identifies four ways in which adults approach learning and establishes four key principles to help adults get the most from their learning. If you’re currently a teacher in the adult education sector or you’re working towards getting into a teaching role, understanding the Adult Learning Theory will be indispensable to you.

In this guide, we take a look at everything you need to know about Andragogy & Adult Learning. We discuss the four pillars of adult learning, the four key principles all teachers in adult education should know, plus details of the most useful qualifications to earn for a role in adult teaching.

What is Andragogy Learning Theory?

Andragogy, more commonly referred to as Adult Learning Theory, refers to the method and process by which adults learn. The theory was first developed in 1833 by a German educator named Alexander Kapp. Kapp believed that learning should be pursued throughout one’s life and therefore should not be perceived as an endeavour for children. 

What are Knowles’ four pillars of adult learning?

In 1980, Malcolm Shepherd Knowles developed the Adult Learning Theory by identifying four ways in which adults approach learning differently from children. These four ‘pillars’ of adult learning are as follows:

  • Self concept

A key difference between adult and child learners is independence. Children typically depend on instruction to learn, whereas adults being at a mature developmental stage approach learning in a much more independent manner. Adults can better recognise their areas of weakness and can identify the most effective methods to improve.

self concept - adult learning theory

Adults also have a need to be seen by others as having responsibility and making decisions for themselves. 

  • The adult learning experience

Children have few experiences to draw from when learning new concepts. Adults, however, have many more experiences to draw on as they learn, which allows ideas to come to them more intuitively.

the adult learning experience- andragogy

  • Reason to learn

Children must learn by necessity rather than through choice. They typically don’t value learning in the same way as adults. As we mature, our learning tends to centre around roles and responsibilities in both our personal and professional lives.

Reasons to learn - andragogy

We are driven to learn and develop new skills in order to improve our lives where needed. Consequently, adults need a reason to learn. They need to know ‘why’ they are learning to justify the time they are investing.

  • Orientation to learning

Children are generally more receptive to subject-based learning, whereas adults tend to seek out more practical and problem-based learning that they can apply to their everyday lives. 

Orientation to learning - Adult learning theory

What are the four principles of Andragogy?

Using the four concepts he identified in adult learning, Knowles would go on to discuss four principles that could be applied to help adults get the most from their learning:

  1. Adults are more independent and should therefore have a say in the content and process of their learning.
  2. Adults have more experience to draw on, which means their learning should focus on adding to what they have already learned in the past.
  3. Adults need a reason to learn, and so the goals and benefits of the content should be clear.
  4. Adults typically invest in learning for practical purposes, and so the content they learn should have real-world applications.

How to use Andragogy and Adult Learning Theory within your teaching 

By understanding Andragogy and Adult Learning Theory, you can apply techniques and structure your teaching to cater to adults and help them get the most from their learning.

For independent learning:

  • Liaise with the learners to get to know their strengths, weaknesses and goals
  • Tailor the content and processes of the learning accordingly
  • Incorporate self assessments 
  • Provide choices when creating assignments and selecting readings

For drawing on previous experiences:

  • Provide opportunities for learners to integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge
  • Encourage adult learners to relate their life experiences to what they are currently learning

For meaningful learning:

  • Explain/demonstrate the personal benefits of learning
  • Have your students write personal goals and action plans

For practical learning:

  • Focus on content that relates to their work or personal lives
  • Provide authentic learning experiences
  • Provide immediate real-world applications.

How to use adult learning theory within your teaching

What courses do you need to teach adults?

Are you thinking about a career in adult teaching? CTC Training offers a range of teaching courses for teaching in the adult education sector. 

A foundation award, the AET is designed for learners with no prior experience of training or teaching. It is designed to be an introductory qualification to the adult education sector, giving you a beginner’s look into teaching and what it involves.

The CET qualification is the second step towards teaching in post-16 education. It is a nationally-recognised qualification that enhances your teaching skills and knowledge. 

The Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training is a recognised teaching qualification for the post-16 education sector. The course extends your skills as a trainee teacher, helping you deliver learning sessions, plan schemes of work and develop teaching and learning strategies. 

Start your journey to becoming a teacher in the adult education sector today. Enrol on a course and you’ll gain access to our 24/7 student portal, where you can view course content and upload assessments at your leisure. You’ll also be assigned a tutor who you can contact for help and advice whenever you need it. 

Enrol today or contact our team for more information.


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