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Adult Learning Methodology Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2020


Andragogy is an adult teaching methodology which developed from pedagology (the teaching methodology for children) (Rachal, 2002, p. 210). Before the introduction of the concept (andragogy), pedagogy was the only known teaching methodology. Andragogy was basically developed by a group of researchers to focus more on unique adult needs as opposed to the conventional child needs.

In andragogy, there is a strong emphasis on process design as opposed to pedagology, which focuses more on the content plan (Rachal, 2002, p. 210). With focus on process design, andragogy is basically aimed at designing and managing processes that are aimed at facilitating the acquisition of content by adult learners; but in the same manner, it also serves as a content resource for peers, supervisors and specialists.

Andragogy was specifically started by a German educationist in 1833, but it is Malcolm Knowles, an American educational researcher, who essentially turned the learning methodology into a popular adult theory (Rachal, 2002, p. 210).

However, in later years, Malcolm changed his stand on the adult theory and gave conflicting statements one whether the teaching paradigm was essentially meant for adults or could be applicable to children as well. This conflict of opinion essentially defines the controversy surrounding the use of andragogy as a unique adult teaching methodology.

Considering andragogy basically defines the transition from a teacher-centered to a student-centered learning style, critics note that the shift could equally be beneficial to children, as much as it is for adults. This fact characterizes the conflict surrounding andragogy.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that such concerns have been dispelled by the fact that proponents of the adult educational methodology were essentially adult teachers and they devised the theory to specifically apply to their unique student group (adults) (Rachal, 2002, p. 210). This makes the teaching methodology uniquely applicable to adult learners.

The controversy surrounding andragogy is however not the essence of this study (but contributes to its understanding) because this study focuses more on the basis of the teaching paradigm in imparting knowledge to adult learners. In other words, this study will evaluate the teaching criteria behind its use.

The criteria to be evaluated essentially define the platform through which andragogy is implemented and the guidelines to which it is practiced. Comprehensively, this study will analyze the proffered criteria for its applicability and possible areas that may cause its failures (based on existing literature surrounding its use).

Voluntary Participation

Andragogy has been traditionally known to be based on the ability of teachers to identify the right internal motivating factor among adult learners.

However, Lindeman (1926) notes that instructors should not identify the internal motivation among adult learners if it is in form of professional advancement; however, this view has been disputed by other researchers such as Knowles (1980) who accepts professional career motivation as a form of personal motivational factor (only if it is not coercive).

In other words, it is identified that voluntary participation among learners should not be based on material reward but rather on immaterial reward.

From a comprehensive point of view, restricting voluntary participation in the context that only legitimate benefit of andragogy would be learning for its own sake (or for self-actualization) is deemed a rather extreme limitation and it also goes contrary to what Knowles said when defining andragogy. Specifically Knowles (1980) asserted that:

“Although it acknowledges that adults will respond to some external motivators-a better job, a salary increase, and the like-the andragogical model predicates that the more potent motivators are internal-self-esteem, recognition, better quality of life, greater self-confidence, self-actualization, and the like” (p. 281).

In a study done by Rachal (2002) to evaluate the motives of adult students to enroll in an adult educational program, it was established that their motives were not exactly internal. Interestingly, it was also affirmed that some of the subjects in the study were paid to join the educational program.

This means that adult learners are sometimes not driven by internal and personal factors but also by external and material factors. Current research studies have proposed more research to be done on non-credit continuing education programs where there is a good environment to learn, and the students are not coerced in any manner or motivated by unfamiliar factors to take part in educational programs (Rachal, 2002, p. 212).

It is also predicted that in this type of situation, adult learners are bound to view the learning activity as essentially valuable to themselves as opposed to perceiving the experience (or enrolment to the educational program) as a mere means to an end (Rachal, 2002, p. 212).

Adult Status

In implementing the andragogy approach, it is recommended that an adult learning environment be provided to facilitate the learning process (Rachal, 2002, p. 212). More importantly, it is recommended that college environments, where many young college-goers frequent should be avoided if andragogy is to be effectively undertaken.

This is in line with Knowles’s view that andragogy is essential for adults and the students should not be subjected to an environment that seeks to compare them with another student group (young learners). To affirm his sentiments, Knowles (1980) explains that:

“If a college setting is used, and traditional students are part of the study, it is very desirable to have four groups, including an adult andragogy and an adult pedagogy group.

It is not desirable to have two groups where a combined group of adults and traditional students receives an andragogical treatment and a second combined group of adults and traditional students receive a pedagogical treatment, even when the adults are separated in the analysis” (p. 284).

However, there is enough evidence to suggest that higher learning environments are quite beneficial to andragogical teaching, but it is more recommended that future studies should be done in scenarios where the environment is exclusively adult-centered (Rachal, 2002, p. 210).

Considering there is a high emphasis on adult environments (when referring to andragogy), there has consequently been an increased need to define adult environments and who an adult is in the first place.

Rachal (2002) claims that an adult is a person who perceives himself or herself as an adult and has assumed the social and cultural responsibilities that are characteristic of adults.

In the same manner, she also provides another criterion (where the above definitions lack) and defines an adult as a person who has attained a given age ceiling, says, 25 years (whichever is considered adult, considering the social definitions of an adult in a given community setting).

Knowles’s (1980) definition of an adult is also congruent with the above definition because he defines adult education as “activities intentionally engaged in for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults” (p. 215). This definition of an adult is important because andragogy is known to work best in environments that are exclusively adult-centered.

Collaboratively Determined Objectives

Environments that are critical to the adult learner and which the adult learner plays a vital role in the learning experience should be utilized when implementing andragogy (Rachal, 2002, p. 215).

Contracts are one of the tools through which instructors and researchers have been advised to use to achieve the required learning purpose; however, there is no guarantee that such a strategy will work in all situations.

Specifically drawn contracts which have a predetermined set of objectives for the adult learners are said to be bound to fail if an adult learner does not know the predetermined objectives in the first place (or if the objectives were not the learner’s main objectives of engaging in the learning experience in the first place).

For instance, a course focusing on how to improve one’s saving plan would be congruent with a learner’s personal objectives, as well as the course’s objectives, and this could probably be the reason why a learner would enroll in the given course in the first place.

Nonetheless, in situations where this scenario is not the case, it would mean that the instructor would have to collaborate with the learners and negotiate on their learning objectives (as regards what would exhibit a high level of competence for the instructor in the course of using the andragogy learning methodology).

Langston (1990) seems to have met the criterion defining this standard when undertaking related research studies on his focus groups where the goal of the instructor or the competence expected of the instructor was second to the learner’s objectives.

From this analysis, we can deduce the fact that andragogy works best in environments that are specifically determined by the learner’s objectives and not the instructors’ because it is affirmed that the learner should have more say in the planning of the learning process. The ideal situation should however be when the learner’s and instructor’s objectives are similar (such as that defined in the savings plan example).

Performance-Based Achievement

Considering andragogy and many other learning theories are specifically based on competence and proficiency (in a given area of study); the will to measure the achievement level of the learners is inevitable. However, it should be understood that under andragogy, the assessment criterion should not resemble those of conventional learning styles because they should seem to be as low-threat as possible (Rachal, 2002, p. 216).

In this regard, Knowles (1980) previously went ahead to establish a contract with a portfolio of evidence that specifically exposed the level of learner’s achievement (with regards to well-determined learning objectives), but the criterion for carrying out such assessments needs to be mutually negotiated with the learners and the instructors.

The assessment criteria is normally based on the learner’s ability to particularly perform all the learned content in a rather direct manner, which can be demonstrated by his or her ability to take and print a photograph, as opposed to a learner’s ability to take a paper-pencil test that evaluates how to take and print a photograph (the latter is indirect while the former is a direct assessment method).

Studies undertaken by Clark (1991), with reference to assessment criteria (when using the andragogy approach), made use of a performance-based activity as a benchmark for performance where it was easily determined whether a person passed a given assessment test or not.

Clark (1991) recommends that the appropriate performance criterion is to be designed in situations where the learner’s learning objective demonstrates a desired learning outcome. For instance, if an adult learner wants to acquire basic computer skills that would enable him or her send and receive emails without any assistance; the assessment criteria will be based on whether he or she is able to send and open emails without assistance.

This kind of assessment is also what determines the “book test” approach from the practical knowledge expected of adult learners when the andragogy methodology is applied.

With regards to standardized tests to assess adult learners, Knowles (1980, p. 12) cautions that “tests often smack of childhood schooling to adult learners, and so should be used with caution and preferably with the participants’ full participation in the decision, administration and analysis”.

Since standardized tests are not essentially recommended by Knowles (1980), he proposes the use of tailor-made tests, but he also expresses caution about this assessment criterion, noting that if instructors use it to compare two adult learners, it would not be in the spirit of andragogy.

Unfortunately, most instructors have used this assessment criterion in this manner. On the contrary, Knowles, recommends that tailor-made assessment criteria should be used for purposes of the students’ own edification (with regards to the relative gains made in the entire learning process), and if it is possible, adult learners should be allowed to come up with their own assessment criteria in group or individual contexts.

Measuring Satisfaction

Many adult education activities have been faulted by many researchers as lacking the primary goal of attaining skills and expertise, but rather having the feeling to attain personal satisfaction. In this regard, there is enough evidence to suggest that many adult learners are increasingly participating in various learning activities, merely for the pleasure they derive from it.

Since this trend is real, Rachal (2002) affirms that there is a strong need for instructors, using the andragogy approach, to measure the learner’s level of satisfaction in this light.

Though this assessment criterion is not basically recommended (if achievement is not the essential goal), satisfaction in the learning experience should be measured in virtually all spheres of the administration of andragogy because this is basically the primary reason most adult learners are likely to be influenced by when enrolling for learning.

Andragogy instructors should, therefore, measure the variables related to the educational activity, but it is also recommended that they couple the same with the learner’s interests (Rachal, 2002).


This study identifies the need for adult education to be andragological because the methodology specifically appeals to the needs of adult learners. The above criteria, focused on the effective implementation of andragogy also specifically appeals to situational aspects which are unique to adult learning because the application of andragogy is in itself situational.

More importantly, this study points out that andragogy appeals to the learner’s ability, learner’s motivation, and the facilitative elements of the instructor in the entire learning process.

These elements are the successive factors in adult learning and from the above analysis, they are also the basis through which andragogy is based on.

The above criteria also seem to succinctly follow the precepts and ideals of Knowles, even though his recommendations and perception about andragogy and adult learning were criticized as idealistic. Nonetheless, it is an undeniable fact that adult learning, just like children learning, should be tailored towards the needs of the learner groups and this is what andragogy seeks to appeal to.

Conversely, the issue of the appropriateness of andragogy in adult learning can be contrasted with its effectiveness. Pratt (1988) is also sympathetic to this view and affirms that the appropriateness of andragogy in adult education should be the primary focus of study for future researchers because efforts to understand the appropriateness of a given learning methodology would be fruitless if its effectiveness is not established.

However, apart from acknowledging the importance of this analysis in this study; this issue would be a separate topic altogether. Comprehensively, we can see that andragogy is essentially based on unique adult needs and the above-mentioned criteria act as the blueprint for its implementation.


Clark, J. A. (1991). Self-directed learning skills and clinical performance: A comparison of traditionally taught and learning contract-taught nursing students (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, 1990). Dissertation Abstracts International, 51(07), 2236A.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge.

Langston, L. C. (1990). Self-directed learning, achievement, and satisfaction (Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1989). Dissertation Abstracts International, 50(12), 3824A.

Lindeman, E. C. (1926). The Meaning of Adult Education. Norman, OK: Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education.

Pratt, D. D. (1988). Andragogy as a relational construct. Adult Education Quarterly, 38, 160-172.

Rachal, J. (2002). Andragogy’s Detectives: A Critique of the Present and a Proposal for the Future. Adult Education Quarterly, 52(3), 210-227.

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