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Adult Education Theories and Approaches Essay


The whole history of the formation and development of human learning as a separate area of activity indicates that the training must be continuous and adaptive. However, adults learning and training should take into account their age, socio-psychological, national, and other features. For this aim, a modern pedagogical science – andragogy reflects the theoretical and practical learning problems, upbringing and education of the adult person throughout his life. According to the principles of andragogy, adult learners have a leading role in the learning process. Their formed personality sets the specific goals of learning and strives for independence, self-realization, and self-government. Andragogy implements the ancient formula of learning: non scholae, sed vitae discimus means “we do not learn for school, but for life”.

Evaluation of the holistic learning models

Within the andragogical approach to adult education, there are various models of learning:

  • exposition model, when training content is organized and presented (exposed) to the student by means of an external source (teacher, lecturer, textbook, film, etc.);
  • management model, when the leaders (discussions or games leader, curriculum authors) organize and direct the learning process so that students achieve predetermined purposes;
  • search techniques, when training content is not determined wholly and completely in advance as the learning process includes the formulation of the problems and finding their solutions (Wolfe, Yoder, & DeMarco, 2014).

In this case, students select and organize information, learning content, and required experience to examine the problem and find its solution. As a result, new search issues and problems appear. The main objective of this learning model is to involve students in thinking process. In this case, the perception of learning content or information comes along with the following way: “consideration – study of the issue – solution to the problem.”

Thus, the educational process as a continuous awareness of adult’s activity reflects the dynamics of consciousness: natural, state of awareness, and activity, each of which can be represented as a systemic integrity of the components of consciousness: the needs, internal rules, and the ability to acquire knowledge.

Approach of the andragogy

The main approach of andragogy is opposed to the traditional pedagogy and reveals the situation when the leading role in the learning process is played by trained. The function of training in this case is to help the learner to identify, organize, and form the personal experience adjusting and replenishing his or her knowledge. In this case, there is a change of priority of teaching methods.

Rather than lectures, andragogics involves mainly practical exercises; frequently those of experimental nature like discussions, role-plays, case studies that address specific challenges. In addition, the approach to theoretical knowledge changes as well (Edwards, Sieminski, & Zeldin, 2012). Disciplines having an integrated material in several related fields of knowledge (interdisciplinary disciplines) such as project management, for example, take the first place.

As a negative phenomenon, it should be noted that the processes of perception, memorization, and thinking of an adult occur not as productive as those of a child or a teenager. Therefore, some teaching methods such as using mnemonic memorization techniques become of paramount importance. In addition, the adult has established mental models, an individual experience of social behavior, professional activities, etc. However, these experience become obsolete and individual mental models confront with the corporate goals, skills, and requirements resulting in difficulties in adult education, where it is necessary not only to “inculcate” the new but also to “remove” the old.

How higher education needs to evolve to accommodate adult learners

No doubt, that plenty of adults would like to improve their qualification having the higher education or even the second one. However, sometimes it seems rather difficult. Among the problematic factors, there might be a family, small children, or job. Nevertheless, although with age, many functions of the body are gradually weakening (reduced vision and hearing, memory deterioration, and difficulties with the perception of new information), adults’ ability to education (from 20 to 60 years) is not significantly changes.

A modern science has identified the following main principles of accommodation:

  1. The principle of the priority of self-study. In order to make practical use of this principle, it requires a significant preparation of learning programs, selection of educational material, and the acquisition and creation of educational computer programs. This principle provides adults with the possibility of the deliberate acquaintance with educational materials, memorization of terms, concepts, and understanding the processes and technologies of their implementation. A current distance education considerably assists to this principle.
  2. The principle of joint activity between student, teacher, and classmates in the learning process. The starting point of the learning process is to identify the needs of students. Interviews as well as group discussions allow implementation of these requirements.
  3. The principle of using the existing positive life experiences (especially, social and professional), practical knowledge, and skills of the student as the basis of learning and formation of new knowledge. This principle is based on active learning methods stimulating the creative work of students (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2015). On the other hand, attention also should be paid to the individual work – writing papers such as essays and case studies.
  4. The principle of the individual approach based on personal peculiarities that take into account the socio-psychological characteristics of the individual and the constraints imposed by its activities, the availability of free time, financial resources, etc. The approach is based on an individual assessment of the individual student, the analysis of his professional activity, and social status. Preliminary interviews, questionnaires, and tests allow constructing the social and psychological portrait of the student. First of all, it is the tutoring of acquired knowledge and skills. Therefore, before formulating the goals and learning objectives, it is important to make a research and analysis of student’s activities.
  5. The principle of the electivity learning. It means giving the learner the freedom of choice of objectives, content, forms, methods, sources, time, place of learning, and assessment of learning outcomes.
  6. The principle of reflexivity. This principle is focused on a consciousness of a student, which in turn is a major part of the student’s stimuli.
  7. The principle of the actualization of learning outcomes (their early use in practice). The accomplishment of this principle is provided by the previous principles.

To maximize the achievement of the purposes of andragogy, it is necessary to divide adults of different age groups (generations). Social science identifies three age categories: under 25, 25 to 45 years, and more than 45 years.

Distance education

In the nowadays world of globalization and technological progress, online education becomes an indispensable tool for adults’ learning, namely distance education. Distance education is a term that is used in relation to a wide range of educational programs and courses beginning from refresher courses without accreditation ending to the accredited higher education programs that implement the possibility of close contact of students with their teachers in a full-time manner. In order to ensure effective interaction in distance learning, a variety of instruments are used including interactive computer programs, the Internet, e-mail, phone, fax, and even regular mail.

Distance education is becoming an extremely popular form of education because of its convenience and flexibility. It removes the main barrier that keeps many professionals and business people from continuing their education eliminating the need to attend classes on a set schedule. Students could remotely choose a comfortable time for learning according to their timetable. Thus, I consider that distance education could be the future of higher education as now it is gaining more and more popularity, and it is convenient and productive in many respects. Despite the fact that for the most part it is a self-learning, the student receives the same state diploma but have more freedom in the choice of subjects and learning time.


In conclusion, it should be stressed that successful adults’ education should be directed to the improvement of the individual, the creation of self-learning ability, and comprehension of the new knowledge. In order to achieve the desired learning, it seems necessary to apply several holistic learning models and accommodation principles. Today, the majority of time is scheduled by the minute. Nevertheless, there is a great chance to acquire knowledge by means of distance education that becomes popular and convenient for the most of adults.


Edwards, R., Sieminski, S., & Zeldin, D. (2012). Adult learners, education and training. New York: Routledge.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The adult learner the definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. London ;New York: Routledge.

Wolfe, K., Yoder, J., & DeMarco, A. (2014). Adult and continuing education: Concepts, methodologies, tools, and applications. New York: IGI Global.

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