Keeping Up With... Andragogy

This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Joi Jackson.

Joi Jackson is Online Learning Library Specialist at George Mason University, email:


Pedagogy is currently used as the ubiquitous term for the “the art and science... of teaching. [1] However, the original meaning refers to “the art and science of teaching children." [2] As librarians, we strive to create instructional materials that are appropriate for the learning needs of our students. Pedagogy assumes that “learners only need to know that they must learn what the teacher teaches.” [3] For certain types of students, especially adult and online learners, andragogy may be a better alternative.

What is Andragogy?

Andragogy is a model focused on the teaching of adult learners. [4] The term is originally credited to German teacher Alexander Kapp in 1833, but its current meaning is attributed to Malcom Knowles. [5,6] Knowles adopted the word to illustrate the different ways some students learn, typically adults. Knowles argues…

“...that we got hemmed in from the beginning of the development of our educational system by the assumptions about learning that were made when the education of children became organized in the Middle Ages. Pedagogy became a millstone around education’s neck.…  ‘pedagogy’ comes from the same stem as ‘pediatrics’.… So to speak of ‘the pedagogy of adult education’ is a contradiction in terms. Yet, haven’t most adults-including people in professional training-been taught as if they were children?" [7]

There are 6 assumptions about adult learners underlying andragogical principles.

Adult learners:

  • are self-directed;
  • use prior experience for learning;
  • are ready to learn;
  • want to apply new knowledge immediately;
  • learn best through problem based learning; and
  • have intrinsic motivations for learning.[8,9].

How is It Different from Pedagogy?

Pedagogy and andragogy are very different teaching models. Pedagogy is considered a content model, whereas andragogy is a process model. [10] A content model focuses on presenting information to students. [11] In contrast, the process model strives to provide the skills and resources to acquire information. [12] As a result, pedagogy focuses on conveying content. Andragogy encourages the teacher as facilitator, where the emphasis is on enabling the student to learn. These differences occur because pedagogy and andragogy are based on different assumptions about learners. (See Table 1).

How Can I Use It?

For adult learners and online students, who are increasingly non-traditional, andragogy may provide a more suitable teaching model. The maturity and experiences that adult learners have make andragogical principles the preferred option when designing a lesson. Additionally, with the tendency towards asynchronous delivery in online classes, students are increasingly self-directed. Planning a lesson or course around this model is conducive to this environment.

Knowles recommends that teachers/facilitators:

  • establish an environment conducive to learning;
  • allow for mutual planning;
  • assess learning needs;
  • create learning objectives based on the student’s needs;
  • design learning experiences;
  • implement learning experiences with appropriate techniques and materials; and
  • evaluate learning outcomes and reassess learning needs. [13]

Table 2 illustrates the differences between pedagogical and andragogical design.

Learning techniques to implement in an andragogical lesson include:

  • Lectures: 15-20 minute sections interspersed with active learning activities.
  • Problem-based learning, including case studies, educational games, and role play.
  • Discussion. [14]


Although there is current cognitive neuroscience research that suggests the effectiveness of andragogical principles, a debate about the differences between the two remains.[15,16] In fact, Knowles acknowledges that children and adults can both benefit from the andragogical model.[17] Indeed, some children would learn better under this model, while some adults are better served with a pedagogical design. Thus, pedagogy and andragogy are not mutually exclusive.  Understanding the principles of both models will allow for better instruction. The teacher or facilitator must determine the best approach for her or his students.


[1] Malcolm S Knowles, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (Houston: Gulf Pub. Co., 1973).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Malcolm S Knowles, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (Houston: Gulf Pub. Co., Book Division, 1984).

[4] Knowles, The Adult Learner, 1973.

[5] Geraldine Holmes and Michele Abington-Cooper, “Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy?,” Pedagogy 26, no. 2 (2000),

[6] Knowles, The Adult Learner, 1973.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Knowles, The Adult Learner, 1984.

[10] Knowles, The Adult Learner, 1973.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Carrie Ota et al., “Training and the Needs of Adult Learners,” Journal of Extension 44, no. 6 (December 2006),

[15] Marcia Hagen and Sunyoung Park, “We Knew It All along! Using Cognitive Science to Explain How Andragogy Works,” European Journal of Training and Development 40, no. 3 (March 29, 2016): 171–90, doi:10.1108/EJTD-10-2015-0081.

[16] Holmes and Abington-Cooper, “Pedagogy vs. Andragogy.”

[17] Knowles, The Adult Learner, 1973.

Further Reading

Chametzky, Barry. “Andragogy and Engagement in Online Learning: Tenets and Solutions.” Creative Education 5, no. 10 (2014): 813–21. doi:10.4236/ce.2014.510095.

Kim, Bohyun. “Keeping Up With... Gamification,” 2013.

Leaman, Lori Hostetler, and Toni Michele Flanagan. "Authentic Role-playing as Situated Learning: Reframing teacher education methodology for higher-order thinking." Studying Teacher Education: Journal Of Self-Study Of Teacher Education Practices 9, no. 1 (April 2013): 45-61.

Munro, Karen. “Modified Problem-Based Library Instruction: A Simple, Reusable Instruction Design.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 13, no. 3 (October 19, 2006): 53–61. doi:10.1300/J106v13n03_04.

Samaroo, Selwyn, Eleanor Cooper, and Tim Green. “Pedandragogy: A Way Forward to Self-Engaged Learning.” New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development 25, no. 3 (Summer 2013): 76–90. doi:10.1002/nha3.20032.