Adult Learning Theories – Andragogy

Andragogy – andr means ‘man’ and agogos meaning ‘leading’

Pedagogy – ped- means ‘child’ (see Davenport 1993: 114).

For Malcom Knowles, andragogy is premised on at least four crucial assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners on which traditional pedagogy is premised. A fifth was added later.

Exploring a comparison of the assumptions of pedagogy, andragogy following Knowles (Jarvis 1985: 51) and my own learning experiences before I read about these theories:

Pedagogy (passive learner) Andragogy              (active learner) My view as an adult learner
1. Learner Self-concept – As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. Dependent. Teacher directs what, when, how a subject is learned and tests that it has been learned. Moves towards independence. Self-directing. Teacher encourages and nurtures this movement. As adults we still do need a level of guidance. “My best teachers were when I was in year 6, home economics teachers and my aromatherapy lecturer – what they all had income was ‘empowering us with info’, by giving us a lot of material to study/work, so that we were prepared for the exams.”
2. The learners experience – As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Of little worth. Hence teaching methods are didactic A rich resource for learning. Hence teaching methods include discussion, problem-solving etc. I learn through reflective practice. “Today I obviously do learn differently compared to when I was a child. Now, I have found my own strategies how to learn and also experienced what works for me.”
3. Readiness to learn – As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles. People learn what society expects them to. So that the curriculum is standardized. People learn what they need to know, so that learning programmes organised around life application. Now as a mature learner I’m more capable to reason out things and find a way to learn. If it’s possible I will be a selective learner, however if the need is to learn what society expects, I will do what’s necessary.
4. Orientation to learning –  As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness. Acquisition of subject matter. Curriculum organized by subjects. Learning experiences should be based around experiences, since people are performance. centred in their learning. “Now that I have a stronger will to learn, the experience which strategies work for me to learn; my main challenge to learn at this time of my life is ‘TIME’, continuously trying to find a balance between work-family-learning.

Being an adult with a career, my only possibility of learning is that of an online learning. I would expect to be taught very similarly to when I was young, as in being given the right resources and pushed to finish the assignments with deadlines. However deadlines should be a personalised to my needy lifestyle – as I that work 9 to 7 plus family commitments, is far more difficult to have time to research and learn than someone who is at home earlier and doesn’t have family commitments…”

5. Motivation to learn – As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal ”The ambition of achieving what I’m working for, was always my motivational driver before and to date”.

I think that Knowels theory of andragogy is very realistic, as I when I compared my experiences as an adult learner I have paired close with his assumptions. Obviously not every being has the same history of experiences, level of maturity, motivation to learn and learning strategies/problem solving.

This is why then the lecturer needs to recognize the needs of the learners by checking on them, asking them if they are learning and if there’s the need of further help, etc. This reasoning can take us close to pedagogy, however I believe that even when adults are learning something new, some level of nurturing is needed!

An important contributor to education theories, Paulo Freire, in working with peasants in Brazil, saw education as a route to liberation, especially liberation from poverty and oppression.  The ideas that Freire used to capture this were:

  1. His emphasis on dialogue. That education is a route to liberation and not banking (putting in learning and getting out a compliant learner).
  2. Praxis –Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. Reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it. It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality.  They must act together upon their environment in order to critically reflect upon their reality and to transform it through further action and critical reflection.
  3. The idea of building a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ or a ‘pedagogy of hope’. That education is an intervention and a catalyst for change.
  4. Situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants has opened up a series of possibilities for the way informal educators can approach practice.
  5. Teachers and learners can be transcended. That there is a flat/equal relationship between student and teacher – each learning from and respecting the other

Freire named the fact that education was primarily about liberation, and mainly about the liberation of the collective (villagers, peasants). He also explored ideas about internalised oppression, conscientization, praxis and equality between student and teacher as significant concepts for community education which seeks to challenge inequality and oppression in society.


What are the essential characteristics an online instructor should have in order to be an effective virtual teacher?

In our era where forms of communication are continuously evolving in the researching for the most effective ones. This context applies for the Online Education Community. When we are teaching we are communicating information, thus we first try to get to know who is our audience so that then we can adapt the way we will be communicating and deliver the information/lesson…

In the last 2 weeks we have been highlighting the common and differences between teaching in a face to face and an online class.

After that I have read the resources provided by our online lecturer and researched online, here under the main characteristics that I think an online educator should have:

–          Effective communication skills

–          Provide students with immediate feedback (within 24hours).

–          When grading student assignments, it’s best to provide constructive recommendations for improvement that are highly motivating and encouraging.

–          Make students feel they are a part of the program by letting them know how important their contribution is to the class.

–          Let students know they were missed when they return from being absent.

–          Students should perceive that the goals of their learning experience are directly related to their own personal goals. Also, their learning experience should be organized around what they see as relevant to the “real world.” The student is provided with self-directed and independent learning activities. The faculty should ensure that the learning environment is characterized by mutual trust and respect, freedom of expression, and acceptance of differences.

–          Engage students by hosting live webinars.

–          Establish an early alert system. Identify and assist underperforming students who are at risk. Recommend to the students to seek assistance with the appropriate support staff.

–          Help students establish specific goals for attending the program and each course. At the very beginning of the course, in the announcement section, the instructor should establish the course expectations. This ensures the students know early on what is required of them for a successful completion of the course. If the student does not meet their weekly goals, the faculty should contact the student and remind them of the course goals and help to get the student back on track.

–          Don’t wait for students to come to you with questions. Being proactive in encouraging communication is a good way to make sure students stay on track. [1]

–          Be open to trying new technology tools. Technology changes rapidly, and an important part of your job is being able to explore new tools and decide what does and doesn’t work.

–          Experience online courses from a learner’s perspective by taking a virtual class. Being a student in an online environment is likely to help you pinpoint what works best.

–          Teach to manage online time well. Virtual teaching requires a lot of advance planning to pull together the resources for each lesson and to have a backup plan if technical problems arise.

A challenging question about what other students think not what Colleges highlight…

Which online instructor characteristics would help students succeed ? [2]

Anne Arundel Community College asked students in 27 sections of online psychology courses to answer the following multiple-choice question:

The comments from participants, they identified communication/availability and feedback as the two primary characteristics that the students found important in their online courses. Students wanted frequent, timely communication and substantive feedback on their assignments.


[1] Katie Ash,  Published in Print: June 17, 2009, as Characteristics of ‘Highly Qualified’ Online Teachers

[2] Donald Orso and Joan Doolittle are psychology professors at Anne Arundel Community College Reprinted from “Instructor Characteristics That Affect Online Student Success.” Online Classroom,(October 2011): 2,7.