Knowles' Six Principles of Adult Learning

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Androgogy is a term coined by Malcolm Knowles and associated with adult learning. This lesson will distinguish andragogy from pedagogy, and describe the six principles of adult learning as identified by Knowles.

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John is a mid-career law enforcement officer who is interested in advancement. Although he has applied for several positions within his agency, he always seems to lose the position to a candidate with higher educational qualifications. During an agency career fair, John comes across a local university that is promoting accelerated degree programs for adult learners. John wonders how education for adult learners might differ from education delivered in traditional university settings?

Pedagogy and Andragogy

There are two primary approaches to learning. One of them is child-centered, while the other is focused on the adult learner. Let's take a look at both!


When many of us think of traditional learning in a classroom environment, we look back at our experiences in elementary and high school. The teacher would be in front of the class as both instructor and disciplinarian, and the students at their desks with the expectation of being passive absorbers of information. This traditional way of teaching and learning is known as pedagogy, or how children learn.

In the pedagogical approach, the teacher is seen as the expert. The student in turn relies upon this expert to help them further their knowledge and learning. Students have no input on what and how they learn, and are completely dependent upon their teacher. In addition, students don't have a choice on whether or not they want to be in the learning environment, but instead are expected to be in that environment by adults around them.

Malcolm Knowles and Andragogy

Malcolm Knowles is often referred to as the proverbial patriarch of adult learning. Knowles first became involved in adult learning after graduating from Harvard University and gradually increased his involvement in the field as he went on to earn his Masters degree, and eventually his Doctorate. The principals of adult learning that guided Knowles' work are referred to as andragogy. Andragogy contrasts to pedagogy in that it focuses on how adults learn, and the needs they have in learning situations.

The Six Principles of Andragogy

There are six fundamental principals, outlined by Knowles, that build the foundation of andragogy and adult learning. These include the following:

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