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Understanding Andragogy: How Adults Learn

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.565.1 - 4.565.5

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Paper Authors

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Ron Goodnight

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Thomas Zickel

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Dennis O. Owen

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1649


Ron Goodnight, Dennis Owen, Tom Zickel Purdue University


The typical students at the Purdue University – Anderson site would be classified as ‘non- traditional’ as evidenced by their average age of thirty-one and almost ninety-five percent are employed. These students are ‘adult learners’ and, as such, they have special needs which must be met to maximize learning. In the United States, Malcolm Knowles introduced the andragogy method, “the art and science of helping adults learn,”1 having the primary premise that virtually all adult learning is self-directed through one’s life-based roles, experiences and interactions.

The andragogy method is infinitely more superior when a more modern definition of college or adult education is used, especially in this electronic age. The learner must be the focus of the definition, which is “ the preparation for and the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding to become an adaptable human being.”2 As adults mature their readiness to attain additional knowledge and skills increases primarily if the subject matter content (1) relates to their job/social role, (2) is task or problem centered, and (3) has a time perspective of immediate application.

This paper presents the basis of andragogy and alternative approaches those in educational institutions may use relative to andragogy to maximize learning by the non-traditional adult learners.


A comparison between the two educational approaches of the more traditional Pedagogy method and the adult-learning Andragogy method is critical to fully understand the importance of utilizing the better procedure to maximize learning. Pedagogy is defined as “the art and science of teaching children” while andragogy means “the art and science of helping adults learn.”2 The key here is teaching, what the teacher does, versus learning, what the student attains.

The pedagogy method incorporates the following assumptions The learner is dependent where the teacher makes virtually all the decisions The learner brings little value to the learning experience so lecturing is the most common technique to transmit knowledge The learner is ready to learn when told he/she is ready The subject matter or content is presented and subject centered Motivation to learn is extrinsic

Goodnight, R., & Zickel, T., & Owen, D. O. (1999, June), Understanding Andragogy: How Adults Learn Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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