Characteristics of Adult Learners: Andragogy vs Pedagogy


Andragogy vs Pedagogy, what does it mean?

In assessing the learning characteristics of adults, defining the differences between a child compared to an adult can be an effective starting point. Andragogy is theory and practice of education in adults, whereas pedagogy is the theory and practice of education in children.Malcolm Knowles is the attributed with coining the phrase andragogy. Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

As an adult educator it is important to have understanding of both.  Often having learners coming directly from high school, I find it fascinating how often their learning skills fall somewhere in between andragogy and pedagogy. In Tom Whitby’s blog on pedagogy vs.andragogy  he argued for using these same principles of adults learning in kids learning.

Perhaps there is not not much difference after all? Are we limiting our students in the secondary system and hindering them so that are not fully prepared for post secondary education but treating them like children? I would agree that many of the principles that Knowles proposed could also be effective in a high school setting.


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