Acceptance of Andragogy in Adult Education

The term andragogy has its historical roots in education. Andragogy was coined by a German teacher who used it to describe elements of Plato’s education theory. The term disappeared until around 1921 when Eugen Rosenback posed andragogy as the method for the German people to regenerate themselves and their country (Henschke, 2010). Lindeman, who was from the US, traveled to Germany during this time and was credited for introducing the concept of andragogy back in America. In 1959, Malcolm Knowles further extended Lindeman’s work and helped develop andragogy into a theory of adult learning.

Andragogy grew in popularity from 1960 to 2000 when Malcolm Knowles began to synthesize the concept. Andragogy put a label, so to speak, on how to teach an adult learner differently from teaching a child, therefore becoming a major tool in helping professionals become more aware of how adults learn and grow (Merriam et al., 2007). Second, understanding andragogical principles which are a readiness to learn, being self-directed, a need to know, use of experiences, internal motivation, and orientation to learning, adds depth to giving teachers a framework to build lesson plans and design curriculums for the adult learner. These principles of andragogy, popularized by Knowles, are the foundation for the field of education today.

Important Learning Theories and their Evolution Over Time

Learning theories deal with the ways in which people learn. The ultimate goal for educators in a higher education institution is to enhance learning by guiding students thinking and helping the learner follow a wise course of action as he or she thinks through a problem, makes decisions, or attempts to understand a situation. This empowers the learner to reflect not just on what they learned, but also how and why they learn in this way, thereby helping them to draw the most out of the lesson. Learning theories are excellent to help educators and students alike achieve learning objectives.

Andragogy, the art and science of helping adults learn, has stood the test of time and has become popular among educators and researchers, changing their teaching philosophies in many countries. Andragogical principles are applicable in multiple contexts, even in teaching children. According to Singleton (2015), children are capable of reflection and self-regulation of their learning; however, passive learning is promoted by the current educational system which does not utilize natural learning processes. Allen Tough asserts adults deliberately frame their own learning goals, habits, experiences, and attributes. Self-directed learning is a process learning theory in which learners set a course of action to achieve a particular outcome.

Learning has the potential to enrich and vitalize school experiences and provide clarity, understanding, and satisfaction which leads to transformation of everyday experiences. The theory of transformative learning has evolved over time. Initially, the theory of transformative learning was focused on the individual but expanded to encompass the community and then to a global view (Singleton, 2015). Singleton (2015) explains that changing and expanding worldviews of learners is the goal of transformative learning. Jack Mezirow’s constructive-developmental theory invites those with an interest in learning how to transform old references developed over the years, to make them more open and reflective so that they generate beliefs that prove true to guide our actions. To state this another way, transformative constructivism approaches focus on reflection of experiences, which means the learner is not only actively involved in the learning process but is primarily responsible for ensuring that learning occurs.

The appeal of McCluskey’s theory of margin is that it speaks to everyday life circumstances which adults encounter, rather than being a theory of learning. In other words, McCluskey’s theory of margin is a model of balance between an adult learner’s obligations and life’s responsibilities, demands on time, personal abilities, and the total resources a learner has to help them create opportunities for learning. The more power a learner has in their life the greater their ability to manage their load; thus creating a margin to learn (Merriam et al., 2007). To illustrate the balance between load, power, and margin, I signed up for a Ph.D. program with the insight needed to properly manage my external loads such as family, and work responsibilities, as well as an internal load consisting of aspirations and future expectations. The margins of power were skills, education, income, and a support network which afforded a comfortable margin to complete the Ph.D. program. Comparing my situation to that of a new college student who is overextended, and lacking a proper transition into college-level education experiences, it is easier to understand why such a student would ultimately fail their first semester of college since they had not yet identified and developed a means of managing their learning margin. In this instance, McCluskey’s theory of margin model would serve as an excellent counseling tool.


Henschke, J. A. (2010). Beginnings of the History and Philosophy of Andragogy 1833-2000. In I. V. Wang (Ed.), Integrating Adult Learning and Technologies for Effective Education: Strategic Approaches (pp. 1 – 30). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Singleton, J. (2015). Head, heart and hands model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. Journal of Sustainability Education, 9(1), 1-16.

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