Corporate Training Programs | Andragogy Assumptions


Andragogy Assumptions


In adult education, an important theory with which to be familiar is Malcolm Knowles’ Andragogy. Andragogy is the art and science of teaching adults (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998). There are six assumptions in Andragogy. First, adults need to know why they need to learn something. Second, adults are responsible for their own decisions. Third, adults have a great deal of experience to bring to education. Fourth, adults are ready to learn what they need to know. Fifth, adults consider learning to be life centered. Finally, adults are mostly motivated by internal pressures (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998).

Of these six assumptions, two will be discussed in this post as being mostly right. First, Knowles is mostly right that adults need to know why they need to learn something. Second, Knowles is also mostly right that adults have a great deal of experience to bring to an educational setting. The next two sections of this post will describe why these two assumptions are mostly right.

Need to Know

In order for an adult to be a successful learner in Corporate Training Programs, he or she must know the importance of learning what is being taught. This is mostly true. Certainly, there are situations in which adults choose to learn something just for enjoyment; however, it is more common for adults to learn something because they need to know it. There are two reasons for this need-to-know attitude. First, adults have more responsibilities than their youth counterparts. Second, adults often enter an educational environment because of a specific event in their lives. Each of these reasons will be described next.

The life of an adult is filled with many responsibilities. Most adults try to balance their work life with their family life. They must keep a job to pay their bills while not neglecting the families for which they care. When it comes time for an adult to enter an educational environment, that education needs to find its place in the balancing act. Because of this, adults want to know exactly why they must learn something to ensure that it will be worth their time (Fidishun, n.d.). Without knowing why they need to learn something, adults will struggle to find value in the process that is taking them away from their other responsibilities. Instructors need to be very clear about the need that is being met by the learning.

Sometimes, it is not the instructor’s job to define the need. On the contrary, the adult learner already knows the need. This is often the case when adults go back to school to learn something to meet a specific life event. For example, if an adult is required to travel to a location where English is not the preferred language, he or she needs to learn another language to be effective (Schleppegrell, 1987). The need to know is still present, yet it is the adult who knows this need, not necessarily the instructor. The instructor would still do well to consider the needs of those adult learners to ensure that their needs are met.

When Knowles described an adult’s need to know why they are learning something, he was absolutely right. This is mostly true. While there are rare exceptions, adults typically need to know why something is important for them to learn it. Instructors should take action on this need while also considering the adult’s prior experience, which is discussed next.

An Adult’s Experience

Once again, in order for an adult to be a successful learner, the adult’s prior experience must be considered in Corporate Training Programs. This is mostly true. While there are times when adult learners will not have any prerequisite knowledge of a topic, it is still vital to consider what other life experiences they bring to the classroom. There are two reasons to consider an adult’s prior experience. First, adults have already spent a lot of time learning throughout their lives, so now they want to share some of that learning. Second, adults possess a wealth of information that even the most seasoned instructors cannot match. Each of these reasons will be described next.

Unlike children, adults have already been learning for a long time. They have accumulated experience. When considering adult learners, that experience must be included in the learning (Atherton, 2005). Adults have a desire to share what they have learned with others. Instructors need to find ways to allow for that sharing to occur. Without the opportunity to share, the adult learner might not find as much value in the learning because they are unable to demonstrate how it relates to their own lives. Moreover, they can provide examples that will benefit everyone in the class.

Even the best instructors cannot always provide an endless supply of examples in the classroom. This is where the prior experience of adult learners can play a very important role. When given the opportunity to share information with the classroom, adult learners are not only helping themselves, but they are also helping the instructor (Smith, 2002). From this shared instruction, everyone in the classroom benefits.

When Knowles described the value of an adult learner’s prior experience, he was absolutely right. This is mostly true. Adults have a lot of life experience that they want to share. That sharing also allows the instructor to benefit by providing real-life examples that he or she might not have otherwise been able to provide. An adult’s prior experience is a great asset to have in Corporate Training Programs for both the instructor and for the other students.


There is little doubt that Malcolm Knowles’ theory of Andragogy is a great benefit to adult educators and adult learners (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). The six assumptions that Knowles makes are all quite beneficial. Specifically, two of those assumptions are mostly true. First, adults almost always need to know why they are learning a particular topic. Second, adults have a tremendous amount of experience that they bring with them to the educational process.


Atherton, J. S. (2005). Learning and teaching: Knowles’ Andragogy: An angle on adult learning. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from

Fidishun, D. (n.d.). Andragogy and technology: Integrating adult learning theory as we teach with technology. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. G., & Swanson, R. A. (1998). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resources development. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

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

Schleppegrell, M. (1987, September). The older language learner. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED287313)

Smith, M. K. (2002). Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and Andragogy. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from


About Author

Scott Fabel is a senior corporate training consultant with Computer Aid, Inc. He has over 18 years of experience working with various Fortune 1000 companies on Help Desk Implementations, Microsoft Technologies, Business Analysis, and Project Management. This includes both consultative services and customized training programs. He is HDI certified, PMP certified, CBAP certified, and a MCT. Scott has been teaching others business skills, professional skills, and technical skills for more than 13 years. He is a faculty fellow at the University of Delaware and is currently pursuing his doctorate in education for which his dissertation will focus on the benefits of corporate training and mobile learning. He speaks three languages and was recently inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame. His communication skills, combined with his martial art skills, provide him with a unique combination for keeping his sessions informative, lively, and interactive.

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