ELearning in adults training: six principles of Andragogy

In the instructional design of corporate training programs, both face-to-face and eLearning, it is crucial to always take into account special needs related to adult learning described by Andragogy. In this article we will illustrate these theories, trying to explain what they mean for instructional design. 



The term “andragogy” was coined in analogy with “pedagogy”, traditionally born with reference to children training.
Andragogy focuses specifically on adults training and education, defined by UNESCO Nairobi Declaration of 1976 as «the entire body of organized educational processes, whatever the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby persons regarded as adult by the society to which they belong develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge improve their technical or professional qualifications or turn them in a new direction and bring about changes in their attitudes or behaviour in twofold perspective of full personal development and participation in balanced and independent social, economic and cultural development».

Apart from the target of reference, a difference between Andragogy and Pedagogy is the focus of the educational process: in the second one, the attention is on training itself, while in the first is on motivation, connecting training to a practical application of acquired content. 



Andragogy found its leading spokesperson in Malcolm Knowles, who develops its principles with progressive modifications between the Seventies and the Nineties, ending up with the six ones we know today. 

1. Need to Know

To adults, it is crucial to know why it is necessary for him to learn something. Be aware of the advantages of learning, in fact, seems to be a highly motivating factor, both when those reasons are related to an improvement in the quality of life and when they lead to better work performances. 

2. Experience

Compared to younger learners, adults have more experience and, in most cases, they gather their own identity from this background. This implies, on one side that adults training can reach better results if lies on previous knowledge and competences, with programs customised in terms of strategies and modalities. On the other hand, experience can lead to mental rigidity: therefore, adapting programs to real needs of learners becomes even more important. 

3. Self-concept

Growing up, learners acquired more self awareness and move from being dependent – typical of children – to more and more autonomy. In training settings, then, it is crucial for the adult to perceive this independence, being able to make choices in relation to the learning process. 

4. Readiness

As we said, adult learning need to be related to contingent needs: motivation thrives from being aware that acquired information are useful to solve daily problems, both in the personal and work life. 

5. Problem Orientation

Adults training should not be focused on content itself, but rather on its practical uses. About this, it is fundamental to present competences, knowledge and abilities in this perspective, so that an adult is more willing to learn

6. Intrinsic Motivation 

The last but not least of Andragogy’s principles is about motivation to learn. Specifically talking about adults, in fact, it is proved that intrinsic motivations are in any case stronger than external ones, such as prizes and incentives. This is related to self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 1985): according to this theory, people are led to change and grow by innate needs, competence autonomy and relatedness. Exploiting these mechanisms, the instructor can therefore act as a facilitator and let the student motivate himself



What does this mean for instructional design targeting adults and using digital training

Without any doubt, Andragogy and its principles offer interesting starting points to organize eLearning programs, in particular in relation to motivation and engagement. Having content available on demand, in fact, allows to have training when needed, when the adult is ready to learn to solve practical problems. At the same time, being able to access a Corporate Academy autonomously exploits intrinsic motivation to growth and allow the adult to self manage its learning progress. 


Do you want to know more about Corporate Academies, how they work and which benefits they can bring to organisations? Follow our next articles! 



UNESCO XIX Conference (1976), Recommendation on the development of adult education
Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M. (1985a). The General Causality Orientation Scale: Self determination in personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 19, 109- 134.
Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985b). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenurn Press, New York.



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