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Adult Education and Training Essay


This paper work presents the summary of the most well known adult learning theory – Andragogy, explains how it accounts for the characteristics, patterns of learning, and motivation adopted by adult learners. Moreover, reflects on my own qualities and circumstance as an adult learner; critique the strengths and weaknesses of Andragogy.

Key Words

Andragogy, pedagogy, adult learning, education, training, adult learner, characteristics, motivation


All these years, the specialized field of education has generated a number of models and theories of adult learning, included transformation learning theory, experiential learning theory, informal learning theory…etc. And the most important one with which to be familiar is Malcolm Knowles’ Andragogy. Andragogy was described as the “art and science to teaching adults to learn” (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005). It also interpreted the foundation and structure of adult learning, the concept of andragogy has been worldwide used in different times with different connotations and seem as a bible of adult education.


The notion of andragogy has been around for nearby two centuries. It originally formulated by a German teacher, Alexander Kapp, in 1833 (Nottingham Andragogy Group 1983). He used “andragogy” to describe education theory. Andragogy literally means “man leading”, which contrasted with pedagogy (Since andr- is Latin for “man”, peda is Latin for “child” and agogus is Latin for “leading”). And later on, couple educators had used the term of “andragogy” in their article. It included Rosenstock in 1921; Lindeman wrote “The Meaning of Adult Education” in 1926. The notion of “Andragogy” was well developed, widely discussed and used in 1980 by Malcolm Shepherd Knowles, a champion of andragogy. Knowles first introduced the concept of in the US in 1968. With his previous work on informal adult education, Knowles used those elements of process and setting to construct the shape and direction of adult education.

The concept he used to explain the theory of adult education was the notion of andragogy. “Malcolm Knowles, Informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy” (Jay-D Man, 2009). Knowles applied the idea of andragogy as the foundation of adult learning, he marked it as a new born technology which moderates the development and performance of adult learning. He posited six assumptions related to the adult learners: 1) Need to know, 2) self-concept, 3) experience, 4) readiness to learn, 5) orientation to learning , and 6) motivation to learn (Knowles, 1980)

Need to know

“Adults want to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it” (Knowles, 2005). Adults are realist, they want to find out what is the advantage and the loss before they make decision to do something. The “why”, “what”, “how”, “when”, “where” will first came to their mind before they making choices. For example: A man find he needs to improve his academy standard to get a promotion at work, which is “why” he wants to continue learning; he will choices a subject related to his present career to learn, he knows “what” he needs to learn and “what” is expected of him; in order to achieve his goal, he knows “how” he going to do and plan; beside works and take care his family, he needs to know “when” he studies; after conducts research, he knows “where” is a best place for his continuing learning.


“Adults have a self-concept of being responsible for their own decisions, for their own lives” (Knowles, 1998). Adult learners are autonomous, they expect and enjoy independence, like to take control in everything and see themselves as self-directed. They don’t want adult educators use a pedagogical model to teach them. They think learning is a process of sharing with the teacher and one another, for example, they prefer interaction rather than formal subject issue. So teacher has responsibility to encourage and promote the process of self-direction. That is why Knowles emphasizes that adult educators must “make efforts to create learning experiences in which adults are helped to make the transition from dependent to self-directing learners” (Knowles, 1998).


For those adult learners, they are individual differences in their background, occupation, education standard, learning style, interests, goals and motivation will cause different experiences than youth when come into an educational activity (Knowles, 2005). Upon the adult learners’ prior experience, Knowles (1998) point out four paths that adult experience learning: A wider range of individual differences will be established. Offer a richest resource for learning.

Create deviation that can restrain, or sculpt new learning.
Provide area for adults’ self-identity.

Since the adult learners have many experiences, teacher must draw on learner experiences. Everyone in class could share their experiences through experiential techniques (simulations, group discussions, or problem-solving activities, etc). Moreover, sometime the adult learners may have more experience than the educator in some area. The communication and knowledge sharing will not only limit between instructor and student, also lead to 2 and 3 way interactions: between instructor and learner, learner and learner as well.

Readiness to Learn

Adults learn in order to cope effectively with real-life tasks. They normally come to class motivated, and ready to learn things they need to know. Knowles observes that “adults generally become ready to learn when their life situation creates a need to know” (Knowles, 2005). Anticipate the adults’ readiness to learn is very important in adult education, it determine how to proceed the training, and what strategies and activities should apply to meet a learner’s readiness. Surveys of learners prior to beginning a course, or some introduction course before the advanced courses are the ways to retrieve the material and aware the learner’s readiness.

Orientation to learning

Learning is a process of increasing competence to achieve full potential in life. According to Knowles, adults are problem-centered in their orientation to learning (Knowles, 2005). They prefer a problem solving orientation to learning (problem centered), rather than content-oriented. This orientation relates to their experience, task or problems in everyday situations. The sense of adults is that learning will allow them to execute task or deal with problems faced in life. When they confront real-life situation, they want to learn what will help them to contribute their effectiveness, and they learn best in this status.


Motivation is the last core of Andragogy assumption, but not the least. Knowles emphasizes the adult learner’s motivation can be blocked by training and education if neglect of adult learning principles (Knowles, 2005). “Adults tend to be more motivated toward learning that helps them solve problems in their livers or results in internal payoffs” (Knowles, 1998). Adult learners are responsive to some motivators. And normally those motivators can be divided into external (e.g., better job, higher salaries) and internal (e.g., desire of job satisfaction, self-esteem). And the andragogical model assumes adult learners tend to be more motived by the internal motivators than the external one.


Base on the six assumptions of Andragogy, let’s see how adult learners and educators began to implement the practical applications:

Adult learner
Need to know

Have a need to know what they expect to learn before investing time in a learning event Make sure that the learners know the aim, goal and purpose of training as early as they can. Self-concept
Must uphold the concept of self-directing, responsible their own growing. Coach learners to find their needs and guide their own learning experience.


Come to a learning occasion with richest of experience and trade-off to contribute. Create and maintain a learning environment to build on and make use of learner’s experience.

Readiness to learn

Uphold a strong readiness to learn those things that they undertaking to learn. Ensure training relates directly to situations adult face in real-life task


Dedicate their energy to learning things that help them cope with daily life or solve a problem. Identify learner’s needs and interests, develop content based on the their needs.


More responsive to internal motivators than external motivators. Create a safe learning environment and make sure the internal motivation will not blocked.

Characteristics of Adult learners

According to the Andragogy, Malcolm Knowles practiced a characterization of the defining features for adult learners, and shown as following: Adults have identifiable goal – they clearly understand what they need and know how to achieve their goal; Adults are independent – they are expect and enjoy independence, like to take control, and should allowed to express themselves freely; Adults have wealth of experience – need others to recognize their previous experience, including both positive and negative; Adults want immediate usefulness of their learning – they want to apply what they learn to solve and handle problems faced in their daily life; Adults fear to the educational process – normally graduated from school years and do not familiar with those process; Adults are hard to change – with their prior experience, their conducts become a habit, and some even though became their character already.

Andragogy vs Pedagogy

Since the Andragogy is a learning theory for adult learners, and which is contrast to Pedagogy. The following table summarizes the assumptions and processes of andragogy and pedagogy:

Assumption / Processes
Need to know
Clearly understand why they need to know before choose to learn. Only need to know what the teacher teaches.
Raise of self-directedness
Learners are a wealth resource for learning
Tiny worth
Readiness to learn
Developed from life’s experience
Directly related to age level and curriculum
Problem centered
Self centered
Motivated by internal payoffs and curiosity
Motivated by external incentives and punishment
Time perspective
Immediacy of application
Postponed application
Learning climate
Mutual self-diagnosis
By educator / instructor
Formulation of objectives
Mutual negotiation
By educator / instructor
Teaching strategies
Experiential techniques
Transmittal techniques
Mutual measurement of program
By educator / instructor

Barriers of learning

Compare with children and teenagers, adult learners have different roles and many responsibilities in their daily life, they must balance against the demands of learning. Those responsibilities will cause barriers against their choice to return to school or participate in workplace training. Normally, those barriers can separated into three categories: 1) Attitudinal barriers; 2) Time and financial barriers; and 3) Education barriers. We need to identify those barriers and overcome them and take control of our own learning.

Attitudinal barriers

Knew already – People with “I already know” attitude to reject learning. He think it does not require training in that area, because he may already trained or thought himself had enough knowledge in that aspect. And properly people has this attitude are come with good education level; Previous experience – Generally people are used to learn in a traditional style, instructor teach with transmittal techniques. With this experience, they may feel the learning is irrelevant or boring, so they reject. Lacks of trust – Students attend a class with different backgrounds and goals. Do not trust the other participants will cause some of them do not participate actively in class for nervous and shy. Problems of motivation – people come to learn without initiative, they were forced to learn. Hard to motivate people if they don’t have own motivation.

Time and financial barriers

Lack of time – No matter the duration of a course, adults need to invest time to join it. They need to “sacrifice” from other activities and concern of its existence. Lack of money – Free training is minority. Therefore, money always is a main barrier to access adult education services. Family responsibilities – Caring for children, the obligation of accompany spouse, will cause shortage of study time. Organizing schedule – You need to change or sacrifice the study timetable because of the family and work responsibilities.

Education barriers

Too old to learn – Generally can be find in older and low education level people. The behaviour of reject learning is because they don’t familiar with the new technology or specialized languages, and their reaction time is often slow. Lack of confidence – Low self-esteem, past failures experience mark the adults, preventing them to overcome frustrations and fears.


First of all, I would like to introduce myself, and the brief of my background are shown as below:

Male, 42 years old, married with 2 children (12 Yrs & 7 Yrs). I’ve been serving the Hong Kong Police Force for 22 years, working in operational field but non-frontline. Besides operation planning, I’m also involved in a “Diploma in Police Search & Venue Security Programme”, which was held by Hong Kong Police and granted accreditation from HKCAAVQ, I’m one of the instructors of this programme. I am F.5 graduated, then granted a diploma of Police Policing on 2002, and that was my last academic certificate.

According to my profile, I am a typical adult learner and faced most of the barriers that I had mentioned previously. I would like to critique the strengths and weaknesses of andragogy with my own circumstance.


As an adult learner, the motivation of learning is very important, is core factor of adult education. Adults have different tasks and needs in their daily life; they will put their needs in orderly with the seniority. If the need is related to learning, they will have a great motivation, and learning become the priority in their life, so no any barriers can block them, and they study best in this situation. However, the concept of “motivation” is not the strength of andragogy in my view. Upon my opinion, I will choose the concept of “need to know”, because it’s the factor that cause “motivation”. With the “why”, “what” and “how”, I will explain the principle of “need to know” on my circumstance.

At the beginning, I come to class for my own promotion and seem as career investment. I like my current career, and seem to be my life occupation. In order to enhance my competitive advantage and help myself excel in my working place, I choose to continue learning. That will offer opportunities for further development and lead promotion. My view have change during this training, I find out I know more about the adult training theory, which help me to teach the trainee in my programme; enhance the communication skill with my children and people around me. The most important is I know myself more, I am shortage not only in academic standard but also in daily knowledge. I enjoy study and hunger for the knowledge. My motivation of learning becomes stronger and stronger, because I clearly understand why I need to learn, what I need to learn and how I need to learn.


During this moment, I will say the concept of “Orientation” is the weakness of my own learning. Since I come for learning is not for a problem solve purpose, and the subject I study also not relate to my daily task.


Knowles introduced and develop the andragogy as core principles of adult learning. It help the educator designing and conducting adult learning, and build more effective learning processes for adults. Andragogy works prefect in practice when it is adapted to fit the special character of the learners and the learning organizations.

Adams, N. B. (n.d.). Andragogy. Andragogy. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www2.southeastern.edu/Academics/Faculty/nadams/etec630%26665/Knowles.html Ana, B. (2013, October/November). Characteristics of adult learning. Characteristics of Adult Learning. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.slideshare.net/aliceproject/39-ana-badea Andragogy how adults learn. (2013, October/November). Andragogy How Adults Learn. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/xilo24/andragogy-how-adults-learn Aspell, D. D. (n.d.). Retrieved August, 2003, from http://www.umsl.edu/~henschkej/andragogy_articles_added_04_06/aspell_Andragogy%20-%20Adult%20Learning.pdf Crawford, S. R. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1,

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