About Adult Learning


Andragogy is the term for teaching adults, but in reality, most adults aren’t taught; they are enabled to learn. In most cases, adults have learned to learn on their own. This doesn’t mean learning alone – in fact adults learn better in a community of learners.

Learning is enhanced by social interaction. Good adult learning makes connections on three levels.

  • At a concept level we work to connect new, unfamiliar phenomena to our existing schema of the world.
  • At a cellular level, learning is defined as making new or stronger connections between existing neurons.
  • At a social level we connect to others as we listen to and ponder their communication, as well as share our ideas and consider their response. You can learn more about adult education here.

Adult Learning PrinciplesMalcolm Knowles

Adults want to know why they should learn.
Adults are motivated to put time and energy into learning if they know the benefits of learning and the costs of not learning. 

Adults need to take responsibility. 
By definition, adult learners have a self- concept of being in charge of their own lives and being responsible for their own decisions, and a need to be seen and treated as being capable of taking responsibility. 

Adults bring experience to learning. 
That experience is a resource for themselves and for other learners, and gives richer meaning to new ideas and skills. Experience is a source of an adult’s self-identify. 

Adults are ready to learn when the need arises. 
Adults learn when they to choose to learn and commit to learn. That desire to learn usually coincides with the transition from one developmental stage to another and is related to developmental tasks, such as career planning, acquiring job competencies, improving job performance, etc. Often, however, adults perceive employer- provided training as employer-required training. 

Adults are task-oriented. 
Education is subject-centered, but adult training should be task-centered. For example, a child in a school composition class learns grammar, and then sentence and paragraph construction. An adult in a composition training program learns how to write a business letter, a marketing plan, etc.

More About Adult Learning

How People Learn
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Learning that Lasts by Roland Walker
Learning that LASTS website