What Is Andragogy and Who Needs to Know?

mature students gathered around a laptop
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Andragogy, pronounced an-druh-goh-jee, or -goj-ee, is the process of helping adults learn. The word comes from the Greek andr, meaning man, and agogus, meaning leader. While pedagogy refers to the teaching of children, where the teacher is the focal point, andragogy shifts the focus from the teacher to the learner. Adults learn best when the focus is on them and they have control over their learning.

The first known use of the term andragogy was by the German educator Alexander Kapp in 1833 in his book, Platon’s Erziehungslehre (Plato’s Educational Ideas). The term he used was andragogik. It didn't catch on and largely disappeared from usage until Malcolm Knowles made it widely known in the 1970s. Knowles, a pioneer and advocate of adult education, wrote more than 200 articles and books on adult education. He espoused five principles that he observed about adult learning at its best:

  1. Adults understand why something is important to know or do.
  2. They have the freedom to learn in their own way.
  3. Learning is experiential.
  4. The time is right for them to learn.
  5. The process is positive and encouraging.

Read a full description of these five principles in 5 Principles for the Teacher of Adults

Knowles is also famous for encouraging the informal education of adults. He understood that many of our social problems stem from human relations and can be solved only through education–in the home, on the job, and anywhere else people gather. He wanted people to learn to cooperate with each other, believing this was the foundation of democracy.

Outcomes of Andragogy

In his book, Informal Adult Education, Malcolm Knowles wrote that he believed andragogy should produce the following outcomes:

  1. Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves — they should accept and respect themselves and always strive to become better.
  2. Adults should develop an attitude of acceptance, love, and respect toward others — they should learn to challenge ideas without threatening people.
  3. Adults should develop a dynamic attitude toward life — they should accept that they are always changing and look at every experience as an opportunity to learn.
  4. Adults should learn to react to the causes, not the symptoms, of behavior — solutions to problems lie in their causes, not their symptoms.
  5. Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials of their personalities — every person is capable of contributing to society and has an obligation to develop his own individual talents.
  6. Adults should understand the essential values in the capital of human experience — they should understand the great ideas and traditions of history and realize that these are what bind people together.
  7. Adults should understand their society and should be skillful in directing social change — "In a democracy, the people participate in making decisions that affect the entire social order. It is imperative, therefore, that every factory worker, every salesman, every politician, every housewife, know enough about government, economics, international affairs, and other aspects of social order to be able to take part in them intelligently."

That's a tall order. It is clear that the teacher of adults has a far different job than the teacher of children. That's what andragogy is all about.

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Peterson, Deb. "What Is Andragogy and Who Needs to Know?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-andragogy-31318. Peterson, Deb. (2021, February 16). What Is Andragogy and Who Needs to Know? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-andragogy-31318 Peterson, Deb. "What Is Andragogy and Who Needs to Know?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-andragogy-31318 (accessed March 29, 2023).