Retelling A Theory: Andragogy   Leave a comment

Theorists had argued that children’s learning and adult learning have differences as well as similarities. Andragogy was named after a German grammar school teacher, Alexander Kapp in 1833 in which he discussed an educational theory based off of the Greek philosopher Plato (Henschke, 2009, para. p. 3). Although his theory fell to the waste side, for Malcolm S. Knowles, who drew upon the work found that this theory was a breakthrough, the conceptualization that adult’s learn differently from children as Hanson concluded, “Further, children in certain situations may have a range of experiences qualitatively richer than some adults” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 86).

The European concept of andragogy, which he defined as “the art and science of helping adults learn, was contrasted with pedagogy, the art and science of helping children learn” (Merriam, 2001, p. 5). This breakthrough came as a result of a Yugoslavian adult educator, Dusan Savicevic, introducing him to the term with Knowles attaching his own special philosophy and meaning” (Henschke, 2009, p. 3). It was the social movements that influenced Knowles thinking as Sopher & Henschke (2011) reported, “The social movements, which provide context of Knowles’ times included: the humanistic adult education movement (consistency in philosophy), the human services movement (need to be practical with learners), the group dynamics movement (more authentic in his style), and the human resource development movement.” As time progressed he defined Andragogy as, “more by the learning situation than by the learner…and remains as the most learner-centered of all patterns of adult educational programming” (Merriam, 2001, para. p.6).

Knowles found a connection with the principle and concepts leading him to become known as the “father of education.”

The theory’s assumptions are based on:

(1) The need to know – Adults need to know why they need to learn.

(2) The learner’s self-concept – Adult learner’s self-concept moves from dependent to one of being responsible for their own learning.

(3) The role of the learner’s experience – The adult learner’s experiences serve as rich resources in the learning atmosphere.

(4) Readiness to learn – Adult learner’s readiness to learn is connected to developmental tasks of social roles and managing real life situations.

(5) Orientation to learning – Adults orientation to learning is unlike that from children, adults are more problem centered than subject centered (in school) and is most likely life and or task centered.

(6) Motivation – Adult-learner motivation comes mostly from internal motivators

including promotion, job change, self-esteem, and quality of life (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, para. p.84).

The theory also represents a connection with self-directed learning in which Knowles (1975) himself contributed to the self-directed learning literature with a book explaining, “…the concept and outlining how to implement it through learning contracts” (Merriam, 2001, p. 8). It is in this context that adults want and need to be involved in the planning process as well as their evaluations, experience is found through trial and error, the role of the adult learner needs to have a connection with and why they are learning whether it is on a personal or professional level, and most adult learning is task and problem-centered due to the diversity of the learners. The role of the educator is constantly being modified due to social, cultural and technological changes. Teachers become facilitators and co-learners. The bottom line of the theory is that the roles of the adult learners and the educators are to be lifelong learners.

Two Theories and a conversation:

African indigenous education researchers, Morolong, Mautle, Magagula & Maziboku on one side of the table, and Cultural-Spiritual theorist, Tisdell on the other.

Morolong, Mautle, Magagula & Maziboku: Botho (humanism of humans beings collectively) “education is supposed to help groups of people reach the highest level of important societal values” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 235)

Tisdell: education “…may occur more easily in community-based culturally relevant settings” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p.142)

Morolong, Mautle, Magagula & Maziboku: “to learn is to live usefully and happily with one’s family, with one’s community, one’s society and the spirits of one’s ancestors” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 235).

Tisdell: to learn, “environment needs to allow cognitive, affective, relational and symbolic exploration” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p.142)


Merriam, S. B. (2001, Spring). Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 8 (9). Retrieved from,

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Henschke, J. A. (2009). Beginnings of the History and Philosophy of Andragogy 1833-2000. In Integrating Adult Learning and Technology for Effective Education: Strategic. Retrieved from,

Sopher, M & Henschke, J. (2011). The Four Forces Behind Knowles’ Andragogy. Midwest Research – to – Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, Community and Extension Education. Retrieved from,

Tennant, M. (2011). An evaluation of Knowles’ theory of adult learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 5 (2), 113-122. (Supplemental reading).



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