Posted in Adult Learning Theory

Andragogy is not a Pokémon!


The translation of Andragogy is man-leading, but it is a term widely used to describe adult learning. 

Time to train those colleagues! Or help a coworker embrace the new technology the boss just purchased. Maybe this is your role or maybe this is a new experience for you. But, there you are – in charge of someone else’s learning. What are some ideas to get you started on the path of successful training?

Instructing adults demands a specialized skill-set and an understanding of underlying principles that influence the path to successful interactions. It is best to honor the adult learner from where they are at in their experiences, life situations, and abilities to take on new challenges. In other words, adult learning is sculpted by the learner’s experiences, needs, and intrinsic motivation.

The needs of adults as leaners are very different than children. As people mature, gain life experience, and develop into autonomous individuals, learning shifts from a nice-to-know activity to a need-to-know objective. Adults are self-directed and set their own goals. Adults have social roles that influence learning tasks. They come to learning with past experiences that influence the effectiveness of instruction, attitudes, and transfer of skills.

Malcolm Knowles is known for his analysis of andragogy and his observations of adults as learners. Knowles explains that andragogy is an art and a science, or creativity with data-driven activities.


According to Knowles, adults need:

  • A purpose or reason for learning
  • A connection to prior experiences
  • To be responsible for their own learning
  • A readiness to learn or solve immediate problems
  • Problem-centered instruction
  • To be intrinsically motivated

These assumptions of adult learners are important to reflect upon while designing lessons for adults. It helps to remember that adults are independent. If they are so inclined, they may jump in their car and drive off – never to be trained by you again!

Let’s plan for happy learner – happy trainer!

 Knowles applied these assumptions about adult learners and created four principles to define adult learning needs:

  1. Adults need to be involved with personal goal setting.
  2. Training should be based on experiences.
  3. There should be an immediate need for the skill.
  4. The training should be specific not general.

When reviewing Knowles’ assumptions of adult learners, the ribbon of consistency is getting to know the learner before jumping into the training. Depending on the scale of training, this can be informal through conversations or formal with interviews or surveys.

If you have several people to train, start with a learner survey to get to know your learners. It can be open-ended; such as, tell me about yourself. Or skill specific; tell me about the last time you used this procedure.

Remember, the goal is to connect the learner to the learning objectives through Knowles’ principles of adult learners. You will want to unearth:

  • their purpose for training
  • prior experience to address their needs and attitudes
  • knowledge or skills that are desired
  • problems to be solved
  • work related goals.

Another great idea is to blend the learner survey with a goal setting activity.  Mix survey questions with goal setting statements to engage the adult learner with a personal vision and an action plan.

Some questions to include might be:

  • How is this training relevant to you?
  • How can you apply what you are learning to your work situation?
  • Provide a list of things you would like to learn.
  • Do you have experience or expertise that would be important for the instructor to know?
  • How can the trainer best support you when you have completed training?
  • Describe how you plan to implement what you learn.

This is just the beginning! Once you wrap your mind around Knowles’ principles of andragogy, make sure you review what Noel Burch has to say about the Learning Curve and the four stages of competency.

Happy Designing!


References and links:
Andragogy principles retrieved from:
Goal setting worksheets retrieved from:
Malcom Knowles retrieved from:
Noel Burch: Four Stages of Competence retrieved from:






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