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An understanding about the characteristics of adult learners (andragogy) is crucial if teachers are to design effective learning environments. In adult education, learners need to be scaffolded if they are to develop independence as learners. Also, the knowledge, experience and skills that they bring to the classroom should be acknowledged. Therefore, the concepts of self-direction, self-regulation and how a teacher can facilitate and support novice learners to become expert learners is covered.

What is andragogy and why is it different to pedagogy? Andragogy involves learning strategies focused on adults. Adults are a diverse group. They bring a range of knowledge, experience and skills to learning. They may have already formed a concept of themselves as learners and may have a number of competing demands on their time. For a quick overview, look at this short video Andragogy (Adult learning).

Malcolm Knowles pioneered the field of adult learning and identified characteristics of adult learners. He believes adults are autonomous and self-directed, have accumulated life experiences and knowledge, are goal oriented and relevancy-oriented, are practical and need to be shown respect. Therefore, instructors must acknowledge the wealth of experiences that adult participants bring to the classroom.


Scenario: Adult Learners

Within the small group of learners shown in the photo:

  • There are formal qualifications in science, psychology, business administration and art.
  • Two people studied at a university, one by distance, and two people went to a polytechnic where one person underwent Assessment of Prior Learning (APL).
  • One person has some experience as a builder and no formal qualifications.
  • Most of the group have been employed full time or worked for themselves. One person supported her study with part-time work.

Based on this information, what different sorts of life skills and experience with learning do you think members of the group might have?

To gain an understanding of how andragogy evolved, it is worth reading this chapter - What is andragogy? from The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy by Malcolm Knowles' (1980).