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H809 – Andragogy (A7.2)

March 25, 2011

I have to admit that the recommendation from a course advisor to start the MAODE  (Master of Online and Distance Education) with H800 proved oneself good. First hand the course seemed patchy with all the different aspects and issue and it really took a while to see the bigger picture, but as mentioned before, besides accessibility issues was every other theme that I came around in my other courses so far covered, though not always in the depth. H800 was and is an excellent foundation for all my subsequent courses.

We are asked to build a wiki of key concepts in learning theories and I thought I will go for communities in practice, although activity theory was also on my short list. I get to know both theories not only in H800, but also doing H810 (Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students).

Here are the links to both approaches for those who want to read about them in more detail.

However, having a look at the ‘Theory into Practice Database from Greg Kearsley, I think I will go for something different. In our course material we came around Knowles Andragogy, which I never heard about, and which I rather linked with Science fiction having more an android in mind 😉

However, closer exploration told me that we are talking about a specific theory for adult learning. Next to it I came around a well know figure as well – Jay Cross, as well with adult learning, and his bus and bike metaphor, although I just figured out that the Cross on in Greg’s database is  a she and I am talking about Jay Cross. About 50 other major theories of learning and instruction are listed here, among others the Information Pickup theory, which turned out as Gibson’s affordances. However, I somehow missed the activity theory and as well Wenger’s community of practice.

The next resource James Atherton: ‘Learning and Teaching’ website is also an interesting page to browse through and learn more about theories or misconceptions or e.g. motivation. However, I did not find anything about andragogy. But there is almost nothing that Wikipedia has not to offer.


Andragogy consists of learning strategies focused on adults. Originally used by Alexander Kapp (a German educator) in 1833, andragogy was developed into a theory of adult education by the American educator Malcolm Knowles.

Knowles’ theory of andragogy is an attempt to develop a theory specifically for adult learning. Knowles emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions. Knowles claim that adult learning programs must accommodate this fundamental aspect and that instruction for adults needs to focus more on the process and less on the content being taught. Instructors adopt a role of facilitator or resource rather than lecturer or grader.

Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: “man-leading”) should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: “child-leading”).

The following assumptions related to motivation are made:

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know)
  2. Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities / Adults need to learn experientially (Foundation).
  3. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept).
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value and having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives (Readiness) / .
  5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented / Adults approach learning as problem-solving (Orientation).
  6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation).


Case studies, role playing, simulations, and self-evaluation.


Knowles himself changed his position and questioned if andragogy only applies for adult, considering that the assumptions made definitely apply for young learners as well.

Knowles Andragogy reminds me on Jay Cross.

Here is an extract from the Online Educa in Berlin (2010). 

Nothing is more important to business success than continuously improving the know-how of workers. In the industrial era, management’s role was training workers what to do: formal learning. In the knowledge era, workers want to learn but hate to be trained; telling them how to do something insults their intelligence; they want to learn for themselves: informal learning.

Cross (2006) compares formal and informal learning with taking the bus respectively the bike . ‘The bus driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride, whereas the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route and can even take a detour.

However, I agree with Knowles self-criticism that andragogy does not only apply for adult but also for younger learners, giving them greater learner ownership and encouraging them to apply a deeper learning approach.


Cross, J. (2006) ‘Bus Routes and Bike Paths – Jay Cross and Informal Learning‘, (accessed 13 May 2010).

From → H809

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