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Six Principles of Andragogy – Malcolm Knowles

The American educator, Malcolm Knowles was best known for the use of the term andragogy. Knowles described andragogy as the art and science of adult learning. He went on to define the differences between adult (andragogy) and child learning (pedagogy). These differences are now referred to as the Six Principles of Andragogy.

What Are the Six Principles of Andragogy?

Malcolm Knowles six assumptions for designing adult learning are: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to build on their experience, (3) Adults have a need to feel responsible for their learning, (4) Adults are ready to learn if training solves an immediate problem (5) Adults want their training to be problem focused, (6) Adults learn best when motivation comes intrinsically.

Let’s look at each of these assumptions. 

The Six Principles of Andragogy

1. Need to Know

Adults need to know the reason they are being asked to learn. They need to understand “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” When adults understand the WIIFM they are much more likely to sit up and pay attention.  

One way you can do this is to share the purpose of an activity or its objectives. Let them know in advance why they should pay attention and how it will personally benefit them.

Now, let’s take a look at number two of the principles of andragogy, experience.   

2. Experience

Adult learners come with experience. This experience should provide the basis for much of the learning activities. Your job is to tie their experience to the new material.

Additionally, your learner’s experience can add to the classes’ knowledge base. Leveraging this experience can be a motivator for your learners. Just make sure that the information your learners are sharing is up-to-date and unbiased.

Next, let’s examine self-concept, the third principle of andragogy.

3. Self-Concept

Adults have a need to be responsible for their learning decisions. They thrive on self-direction.

You can help their need to learn autonomously by giving them some control over their learning. Online training is an excellent tool for providing this control.  Of course, this works best when you have the fourth of the principles of andragogy in place, readiness.

4. Readiness

Adults learn best when the training can help them solve an immediate, real-life problem.

Think about it this way, how motivated were you to take your driving test? If you needed to drive to go to work or school your motivation was very high. It was probably high even if only your perception of driving was important.

The same goes for work. How motivated are you when you need to learn a new process or computer program to be able to complete your work? Again, you are probably very motivated, that is if you want to keep your job.    

Motivation increases in adults when there is an immediate reason to learn. That leads us to the fifth principle of andragogy, problem orientation.

5. Problem Orientation

Adults learn best when content is problem oriented.  They want to learn specific knowledge, skills and/or abilities that solve a problem rather than some generic content.

Adults are much more likely to learn when they feel the training can help them right now. To motivate them, help them identify the problem they’ll solve with the training. This will help them focus on learning as much as they can.

Now it’s time to look at the sixth of the principles of andragogy, finding the learner’s internal motivator.

6. Intrinsic Motivation 

Adults learn best when the motivation comes internally rather externally.

Now this doesn’t mean adults can’t be motivated externally, they can. For example, my boss wants me to know this and if I don’t learn it, I will be fired. For most people this is definitely a motivator. But we would probably agree this isn’t the best way to motivate an employee.

A better way to motivate learners is to find their internal motivator. These intrinsic motivators are things like knowing something makes them feel better about themselves or will give them more opportunities to grow professionally. These types of motivators have more long-term motivational power.

Using the Six Principles of Andragogy

Imagine a class of adult learners who are excited and focused on what you are teaching. How does that feel? I’m sure you’re thinking, “Great!”

While I can’t guarantee that every person in every class you teach will be on the edge of their seat, keeping the six principles of andragogy in mind will help you develop the type of training programs that draw in your audience. This will help you do what all learning and development professionals want to do, change behavior. All you have to do is keep these six principles in mind the next time you’re developing a course.