Andragogy: Definitions and Criticisms

The world of education has never been without change.  Inevitably, change often produces criticism as people challenge the changes against their own frame of reference.  Andragogy is yet another educational term that has a variety of viewpoints, but first, one has to understand what andragogy is.

Andragogy was a term developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1992.  The term focused specifically on adult learning, and covered six key concepts: the adult’s “need to know, self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learn” (Stravredes, 2011, pg. 13-14).  Essentially, adult educators could use information gathered about the adult learner to frame the course in a manner that would provide most benefit to the adult learner (Stravredes, 2011).

Given that my undergraduate degree is in K-12 education, I was very familiar with the term pedagogy.  Therefore, my frame of reference includes a “pedagogical lens”.  I am able to reframe the information about andragogy and connect the key points to what I already know about pedagogy.  One of the strategies often suggested in pedagogy is a learning inventory.  This learning inventory or survey can provide the educator with an idea of the child’s educational background, attitude, and interests.  Andragogy’s concepts are very similar to the questions many teachers familiar with pedagogy already ask students, such as: “What do you love to learn about?”, “Why do you enjoy learning?”, “What subjects do you like? Why?”, for example.

As a future adult educator, it is evident that many adults may not be interested in doing an inventory that is so basic.  Therefore, I will need to adapt my questions, and perhaps include them as questions related to introducing one’s self to the class.  I can already see that my professors do this very thing when asking me what my professional background is, and then commenting on how my professional background can help the course.  In online learning, I have seen questionnaires used to gather information related to the andragogical concepts, and, although I do not see what the educator does behind the scenes, I am certain that the information gathered is used to benefit the learners

Now that a basic understanding of andragogy has been established, one can begin to review criticisms related to the term.  Many critics has expressed concerned  that andragogy cannot be considered scientific as it is not measurable (Taylor & Kroth, 2009).  While educators do tend to lean more toward scientific principles that are easily measured, I view andragogy as more of an idea.  Ideas are not easily measured, and therefore, andragogy and pedagogy both could fit into the realm of “non-measurable”.  What an educator chooses as the best educational theory to employ while considering andragogy or pedagogy is likely to be the key element that is measurable.  For example, a survey could be performed to evaluate learner satisfaction related to the educator’s use of objectives and standards to explain content relevance.  The actions an educator uses within the scope of andragogy are what should be measured, not the term.

Another criticism is whether andragogy only applies to adult learners (Taylor & Kroth, 2009).  I actually think andragogy could definitely relate to childhood education.  One of the most frequent questions I heard while teaching sixth grade is “Why do I need to know this?”.  It is evident from that question that adults are not the only age group that desire a clear “need to know”.  I think it important to remember that every learner is original, and it is impossible to meet the needs of every learner by using only certain andragogical and pedagogical theories.  This is why a learning inventory is important; educators need to know the learners in order to meet the needs of the entire class as a whole.

In summary, andragogy is another frame of reference to look at a learner, and it is hard to research the effectiveness of simply defining andragogy.  The methods and theories employed by the educator should be the measurable components, not the definition of the term.


Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Taylor, B. & Kroth, M. (2009). Andragogy’s transition into the future: Meta-analysis of andragogy and its search for a measurable instrument. Journal of Adult Education, 38(1). Retrieved from http://edtech.mrooms.org/pluginfile.php/121222/mod_page /content/14/Taylor_Kroth_2009.pdf