Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy

Never Stop Learning

Knowles developed five universal assumptions about adult learners to help instructors design appropriate instruction.  Those five assumptions* are:

  1. Adult learners are self-directed and can learn more independently than children.
  2. Adult learners bring vast prior knowledge and experiences upon which they can build new learning.
  3. With maturity comes readiness to learn; adult learners are more “ready” to learn skills and information that directly relate to their current roles in life/career.
  4. Adult learners are more ready to learn things that are immediately useful in their roles (as opposed to younger learners, who are willing to learn a wide array of topics with the understanding that “this will be useful later”).  Thus, adults flourish more in problem-based learning situations than subject-specific learning experiences.
  5. With maturity comes internal motivation; adult learners are more intrinsically motivated and do not require as many external rewards (including grades, awards, etc).  Adults are intrinsically motivated to learn, because they see the benefit in knowing more, are interesting in being able to solve problems, and understand how skills are applicable to their lives/careers.  

(*Pappas, C. (2017, July 20). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved August 04, 2017, from

30 Things we know for sure about Adult Learners and implications for instructional design.