Andragogy, as an approach to the study of adult learning, originated in Europe in the 1950’s, and was championed as the model of adult learning from the early 1970s by Malcolm Knowles.
Knowles was an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn.” Andragogy in Greek means man‑leading, in comparison to pedagogy, meaning child‑leading.
Knowles’ theory states six characteristics related to the motivation of learning as adults:1,2
1. The need to know
Adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it. In other words, how a learning situation can be applied toward real world experiences, which in turn makes learning more meaningful.
With maturity, self‑concept moves from one of being a dependent, towards one of being self-directed. Adults believe they are responsible for their lives, and need to be seen – and treated – as capable. Adults tend to resent and resist situations in which they feel others are imposing their wills on them.
As we age, we accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. These experiences lead to a diverse audience in any adult group setting. Background, learning styles, motivation, needs, interests, and goals vary to a large degree, requiring the emphasis on individualisation in adult education.
4. Readiness to learn
Adults become ready to learn the things they need to know – and be able to do – in order to cope effectively with their real-life situations. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives, making training focused on the future – or something not related to their current situation – less effective.
5. Orientation to learning
Adults are life-centered (task-centered, problem-centered) in their orientation to learning. They want to learn what will help them perform tasks or deal with problems they confront in everyday situations, and those presented in the context of application to real-life.
6. Motivation to learn
Adults are responsive to some external motivators (better job, higher salaries etc.) but the most potent motivators are internal (desire for increased job satisfaction, self-esteem etc.). Motivation can be blocked by training and education that ignores adult learning principles.