Adult Learning Theory (Andragogy) / by Tyler Wood

Pedagogy versus Andragogy

This video presentation is based on the research of Malcolm Knowles and his Adult Learning Theory. It outlines, in brief, a few major points about the differences between pedagogy (usually used with younger students) and andragogy (the learning theory for adults). 

I chose three main ideas from each to present for comparison. The three main points I highlighted for pedagogy are that the learner is dependent on the instructor, motivated by external pressures, and the subject matter is prescribed for them. The three main points I chose for andragogy are that learners are independent, motivated by internal pressures, and the subject matter is based on relevance. 

After the comparison of the two theories, I present three strategies for working with adult learners based on the andragogy principles. The three strategies are about getting buy-in, making it relevant, and ensuring successful learning. I will get into more detail with each.

Getting buy-in

Adult learners are less likely to want to be told what to do and how to do it, especially if they do not see the point. Adult learners know what they want and how they learn, more or less. Instructors should allow for adult learners to participate more in the process. Allow the adult learners to discuss the what problems they have or want to solve. My example is based on what I am implementing in my school currently - flipped classes. Other teachers may be resistant to change or something new, especially from a fellow teacher and not an administrator or authority. In order to reduce the backlash of the change, I want to have open discussion with them about the issues they have with our school, curriculum, and the technology (or lack of) we use. I am not dictating change onto them, I am trying to help all of us, and the students, have a better experience. Having a discussion allows the teachers to participate, have some autonomy, in this change. They will be more inclined to play a positive role in the change if they can see and understand the reasons behind it and the benefits to them. Involving the adult learners (or fellow teachers, in my case) creates a better, more trusting environment. And it does not stop at the initial stages, but it continues throughout the process, from planning to implementation to evaluation of the changes. Another, more succinct word for this would be collaboration. 

Making it Relevant

I touched on this already in the last paragraph, but making it relevant is to frame the change or learning in the larger picture and how it fits, or benefits, the learners' lives. In my example of implementing flipped classes, I will need to make sure my fellow teachers see the benefits to their life (buy-in) and can see how these changes fit into their life. By using authentic assessments or experiences the learners are immersed in the learning based on real-life situations. My plan is to have a flipped lesson the teachers participate in to teach the principles of a flipped lesson. This way the teachers can be immersed in the idea while also getting the students' perspective. They will be able to see what the possibilities are and can transfer that knowledge directly into their actual planning and lesson designing. It is a direct path to relevance for the teachers. 

Ensure Successful Learning

"Adults are prone to like what they can be successful with" (O' Connell, 2005). Creating an environment of positivity and success will help build confidence and motivation for adults. Being conscious of this issue can help build successful students. Make sure there is "concrete evidence that their effort makes and difference" (O'Connell, 2005) and offer consistent feedback for how well they are progressing toward their goals. My example is to split the course into small, winnable chunks that can offer learners a better opportunity to succeed. This will create small wins that build confidence. If also offering feedback during the lesson on a regular basis, then you are creating a positive environment for successful learning. 



Pappas, C. (2013, May). The adult learning theory - andragogy - of Malcolm Knowles. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from

O' Connell, K. (2005). Motivating adult learners. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Retrieved from

QOTFC. (n.d.). Adult learning theory and principles. The Clinical Educator's Resource Kit. Retrieved from