Buy Theresa a coffee


Andragogy means leading adults. (As opposed to pedagogy, which means leading children.) Andragogy is the type of learning promoted by most Human Resources trainers. Andragogy is actually an offshoot of Cognitivism. Malcolm Knowles, the father of Andragogy, put his learning theory into practice as Director of Adult Education at the YMCA. Here I paraphrase Knowles' six assumptions that underpin Andragogy: 
  1. Self concept: An adult matures from a tabula rasa (blank slate) of a child into an independent, self-directed creature. An adult expects to choose what to learn, when to learn it, and how to learn it. A facilitator provides choices for adult participants. Allow adults to evaluate their own work, to hold discussions, and to collaborate. The facilitator and participants must show mutual respect.
  2. Experience: An adult participant brings many life experiences into the classroom or MOOC. Shared experience means the adult can contribute to discussions and become a resource for classmates and the facilitator. The adult participant may need to unlearn some experiences if they create bias or promote misinformation. 
  3. Readiness to learn depends on need: An adult participant is primed to learn by changed life circumstances (external motivators). For example, a laid-off adult may suddenly need to learn a new trade, or change her diet to prevent osteoporosis, or care for an elderly relative with a stroke. 
  4. Problem-centred focus: Learning must have immediate applications for adult participants. Give adults case studies and allow them to solve problems to make their learning "sticky".
  5. Internal motivation: Adult participants may initially come for training to deal with changed life circumstances, but they also have powerful internal motivators, such as artistic self-expression, or bolstering self-esteem, or seeking a better quality of life. 
  6. Adults need to know why they need to learn something: "What's in it for me?" The facilitator should be able to explain to adult participants why they will be able to solve a problem after training, or how they can apply their training right away.

Exemplar Using Andragogy:

Scenario: Liliana S. is a 30-year-old divorced mother of an infant. She is an immigrant who has lived in the country for only two years. English is Liliana's second language. Liliana had a complicated childbirth and now urgently needs a hysterectomy. The child's father does not want to be involved in future care. Liliana does not have any relatives or close friends in the country to assist with her baby during her surgery and while she convalesces. 
Lesson Plan: Assign participants the roles of Liliana's social worker, visiting nurse, and family physician. They must produce a care plan for Liliana and her infant in one hour. Focus the lesson on confidentiality. Each member of the health team knows one item the others do not know:

  • The social worker alone knows Liliana's mother died at age 40 of a hereditary form of breast cancer, and now Liliana is very concerned the same may happen to her. 
  • The visiting nurse alone suspects the infant has a genetic disorder. 
  • The family physician alone knows the absent father is HIV positive, and is in poor health.

When the health team discusses Liliana's case, they must consider: The Privacy Act; professional ethics; data storage and transmission; and duty and standard of care.

This infographic summarizes andragogy, if you need a memory aid. Click Ctrl++ to enlarge it.



  1. Malcolm S. Knowles. (1950). Informal adult education: a guide for administrators, leaders, and teachers. New York: Association Press.
  2. Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.