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Historical Overview

German Alexander Kapp is given credit for coining the term andragogy in 1833 but there is evidence that the Greek and Romans were utilizing a similar term prior to that (Savicevic, 1999). The idea reemerged in a 1926 article by Eduard Lindeman although he chose to use the nouveau term adult education rather than andragogy. Consequently, the contemporary interpretation and implementation of andragogy began primarily with the work of Malcolm Knowles (Rachal, 2002).

Prior to Knowles' first book on andragogy published in 1970, the primary approach to adult education was pedagogical. Knowles was inspired to pursue the field of adult education because of his own work with young adults, observation of other educators and the rapid change in culture. Cultural revolutions in the form of massive inputs of new knowledge, technology, and subsequent demographic, political and economic changes have occurred rapidly and often in the last century. Alfred North Whitehead (1931) summarized this important point in the following quote:

We are living in the first period of human history for which this assumption [time-span of major cultural change exceeds individual life-span] is false. . . today this time-span is considerably shorter than that of human life, and accordingly our training [education] must prepare individuals to face a novelty of conditions. (p. viii)

The rapid turnover in culture has emphasized the need for appropriate educational tools and techniques in order to adapt to the changes; thus Knowles began to evaluate the efficacy inherent to the "pedagogy of adult education" (Knowles, 1970).

Knowles based the assumptions inherent to andragogy on the differences he perceived between children and adults. For example, an adult learner is often voluntarily seeking education whereas it is a childs "job" to be a learner. Not only do adults differ in regard to the motivation behind seeking an education, they also have acquired substantially more life experience (relative to a child) that greatly influences the learning process. Further, Knowles (1970) observed that "adults tend to resist learning under conditions that are incongruent with their self-concept as autonomous individuals", thus traditional pedagogical approaches to education can be a barrier to adult learners. Hence the teaching style of an adult educator needs to incorporate, rather than suppress, these important adult distinctions (Knowles, 1970).

Andragogy is defined as "the art and science of helping adults learn", however, it has utility for learning at all ages. Knowles contends that as children mature they take on adult characteristics early in life. Since andragogy is based on these characteristics it is therefore applicable in the education of youth as well (Knowles, 1970). In addition, andragogy is applicable to a wide variety of educational activities, programs and instructional settings. The flexibility of andragogys assumptions enable it to be adapted either in its entirety or with modification (Knowles, 1984). In essence, Knowles believes that andragogy is the "unifying theory [later defined as a conceptual framework]. . .to bind the diverse institutions, clienteles, and activities (Cross, 1981).


Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as Learners: Increasing participation and   facilitating learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M.S. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rachal, J.R. (2002). Andragogy's Detectives: A critique of the present and a proposal for the future. Adult Education Quarterly, 52 (3), 210-227.

Whitehead, A.N. (1931). Introduction. In Donham, W.B, Business Adrift, (pp. viii-xix). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.