Adult Learning Principles



Andragogy refers to the methods and practices of educating adult learners. It was popularized in the 1980s by Malcolm Knowles who suggested that adult learners have distinct characteristics.

The adult learning theory that Knowles developed details some of the ways in which adults learn differently than children. His adult learning theory also sets forth certain assumptions about how adults learn. Knowles identified six main assumptions regarding adult learning. Knowles principles and assumptions should be incorporated into the design and delivery of adult-oriented training or educational programs.


Knowles six adult learning principles:

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adults need to be respected


Other Adults Learning Principles

Over the years, other have expanded on Knowles adult learning principles. Below are some of those additional principles that should be considered when designing or delivering adult learning programs.

Adults learn only when they are ready to learn

Adults are ready to learn when the need arises

Adults need to know why they should learn something

Adults want to know the benefits of what they are learning

Adults see learning as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself

Adults expect that what they are learning to be immediately useful

Adults want to focus on current issues rather than something that may be useful in the distant future

Adults decide for themselves what is important to be learned

Adults learn best when they actually perform

Adults are problem-oriented and want to apply what they have learned

Adults are task-oriented and have a task-centered approach to learning

Adults respond best to learning that is centered on performing common tasks

Adults are interested in approaching tasks directly related to their occupation

Adults want to focus on real-life problems and tasks rather than academic material

Adults need to take responsibility

Adults are autonomous and self-directed

Adults prefer a self-directed approach that allows for discovery on their own

Adults like to be involved in planning their instruction

Adults bring knowledge and experience to learning

Adults have a fixed viewpoint or perspective

Adults need to validate the information based on their beliefs and experiences

Adults have the ability to serve as a knowledgeable resource to fellow learners

Adults thrive in collaborative relationships with others

Adults learn easiest what is familiar

Adults are motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors

Adults have a strong need to maintain their self-esteem

Adults are pressed for time

Adults have preoccupations outside of work

Adults have different learning styles

Adults prefer a variety of teaching methods

Adults like to speak, participate, and contribute in the learning process

Adults learn better in an informal environment

Adults learn from their mistakes


Related Links

Teaching Strategies for Adult Learners

Strategies for Teaching Adult Learners

Adult Learning

How Children and Adults Learn




References for Adult Learning Principles

  • Knowles, M S, 1980. “The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy”, Follett Publishing Company
  • Knowles, M S, 1984, “Andragogy in Action: Applying Modern Principles of Adult Learning”, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The Adult Learner. The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development (8th ed.). Oxon: Routlege.



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