What is Andragogy?

Learning doesn't stop when you leave school. Many students will go on to attend colleges and universities, but in truth, your learning journey doesn't come to a halt here, either. Adults continue to learn for the rest of their lives - knowledge can always be improved. However, as we age, we learn best in different ways than we did during our youth. In the words of Malcolm Knowles, the American Educator, who continued to develop the system after the death of the German Alexander Kapp, Andragogy is this 'art and science' of instructing and teaching adults.

The philosophy of Andragogy, which was initially suggested by Kapp and developed by Knowles, is based upon five key principles. All of these concepts relate to the fact that adult brains work differently to children's, the assumption that they have experienced more things in life, plus the idea of them having matured as people over a long period of time.

The first assumption focuses on self-concept: as a person gets older, their personality changes. As a child, they are dependent on others, whereas when they age, they become a human being with a greater degree of self independence. This means that they are usually able to have more control and responsibility for their own personal learning and progression.

Secondly, is the assumption of experience. Many philosophers argue that we learn everything through our own experiences, and sometimes that of others. Naturally, older people have experienced more things due to having lived longer, and so they are in a position to use these archives as a useful tool in self-education. This means that in education programs, there is a greater scope for open discussions and experimental tasks based on what is already known. However, there are times when totally new knowledge is required, and so the tutor must step in - as is necessary for more of the time when schooling children and young people.

An adult's readiness to learn is the third element of the five-staged philosophy of Andragogy. Through maturity, a person's readiness to learn shifts towards the 'developmental tasks of his social roles', as depicted by Knowles himself. Because of this concept, adult education is considered to be most effective when centered around 'life education' matters and an adult's 'readiness to learn'.

The penultimate stage is the orientation to learning of an adult. This is founded upon the basis that adults become less subject-centered and more problem-centered with age. This means that adult learning is less generic and content-focused; it is much more specific than it was throughout their childhood.

The last assumption of Knowles' philosophy of Andragogy relates to motivation. It is here stated that adults typically respond more positively to internal motivators, rather than external influences. Knowles believed this to be a conditioned behavior - not one we carry out naturally.

Education programs for adults in the modern age are still built around Andragogy. In effect, the theory is based around the changes that occur in a person's approach to life and learning through maturity. We can see by looking at Pedagogy (children's learning), that there are some clear distinctions between how we learn as children, and later, adults.