top of page

Adult Education Definitions

What is Adult Learning Theory?

In short, adult learning theory is a set of requirements that elicit an optimal educational environment for adult learners. Adult learning theory is sometimes referred to as "andragogy". Malcolm Knowles, an American educator, is known as "The Father of Andragogy". According to Knowles, andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, thus andragogy refers to any form of adult learning. (Kearsley, 2010). Malcolm Knowles established a set of core adult learning principles and attributes that are the foundation for adult education today. See below:

Knowles' 4 Principles of Andragogy

In 1984 Malcolm Knowles recommended 4 principles that apply to adult learning:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.

  3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.

  4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (Kearsley, 2010)

Learning professionals that are creating instructional materials for adult learners should know the principles and assumptions of adult learning theory to effectively implement them into their learning experiences. The learning content should allow adult learners to set and achieve personal goals and to guide them in choosing the content needed to fulfill these goals. Learning professionals need to keep in mind that the adult learner should know why the course is important to their learning and life situation. The adult learner brings a rich set of diverse experiences that will affect the learning styles and application of new knowledge. Lastly, it is critical that adult learners have the opportunity apply their new knowledge into real life situations. 

Adult Learning Principles

Knowles' 5 Assumptions of Adult Learners

In 1980 Malcolm Knowles established 5 assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners (andragogy) that are unique from that of child learners (pedagogy). See below:

  1. Self-Concept
    As a person matures his/her self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being


  2. Adult Learner Experience
    As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.


  3. Readiness to Learn
    As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.


  4. Orientation to Learning
    As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.


  5. Motivation to Learn
    As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).




Adult Learning Assumptions

Download FREE Instructional Design Templates

bottom of page