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What is Adult Learning Theory?

Developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1968, Adult Learning Theory or andragogy is the concept or study of how adults learn and how it differs from children. It aims to show how adult learning is distinct and identify the learning styles which suit them best.

Over the years, the theory has been added to and adapted. At its core, it contains five key assumptions about adult learners and four principles of andragogy. It’s a theory that is applicable for businesses in particular as it works well for common training courses, like soft-skills.

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5 Key Assumptions of Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory

A central part of Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory refers to five (sometimes six) assumptions. Each one outlines the general ways in which adults perceive learning and how they prefer to train.

1. Self-Concept

As we grow older, we shift from being dependent to being more independent. Therefore, how we prefer to learn changes from being instructor-led to a more self-directed approach.

2. Adult Learner Experience

Adults have lots of experience from which they draw knowledge and references. We can take from these experiences and learn from them.

3. Readiness to Learn

Adults want or are ready to learn when there is a reason, such as when it’s directed towards growth and development related to their work.

4. Orientation of Learning

As adults, we want what we are learning to be actually applicable to our everyday lives, instead of being general learning about a subject. We want to learn practical skills that help us solve problems and work better.

5. Motivation to Learn

As children, we learn because of external factors, like parents and teachers. However, as adults we want to learn for our own reasons, for example, to progress in work or to boost self-esteem.


4 Principles Of Andragogy

Considering that adults have their own, unique way of learning, there are 4 central principles that explain how to best develop training for them.

  1. When it comes to learning, adults want or need to be involved in how their training is planned, delivered, and executed. They want to control what, when, and how they learn. This is where using online platform is best as you can deal directly with your online tutor on when and where the service will be delivered. Use to find the best learning experience for yourself.
  2. Adults gain more when they can pull past experiences into the learning process. They can draw on what they previously know to add greater context to their learning.  Visualizing past mistakes and how you should handle them, or try applying solutions to current problems in work or handling affairs is good to increase knowledge.
  3. Memorizing facts and information isn’t the right way for adults to learn. They need to solve problems and use reasoning to best take in the information they are being presented with. Applying what you are learning to your real life situation is how you can utilize your education efficiently!
  4. Adults want to know “How can I use this information now?”. What they are learning needs to be applicable to their lives and be implemented immediately. This is one of the key reasons on how you should choose your courses in