Exploring the Adult Learner

Exploring the Adult Learner

Thesis Statement:

Part of being an effective instructor involves understanding how adults learn best, recognizing the psychology of the adult learner is an essential part of achieving the best outcomes for the learner.


When you think of the personification of a student, one often thinks of the young learner, a child or a vision of youth that is sitting in front of a teacher whom has vastly more knowledge than the learners sitting in front of them. But, with the growing number of adult learners who need to continue education in order to remain competitive in the current work environment this vision is slowly becoming flawed. Within this research paper I will explore Andragogy, the theory that explains how the adult learns. Also, this paper will examine how to use the principals of andragogy to actually teach and motivate this ever expanding student base.

What is an adult learner? Malcolm Knowles spent many years and a great deal of energy answering this question. According to Wlodkowski, Knowles identified adults by two criteria: an individual who performs roles associated by our culture with adults (worker, spouse, parent, soldier, responsible citizen) and an individual who perceives himself or herself to be responsible for his/her own life (1993, p. 5).

Andragogy and pedagogy refer to the study of teaching, “andra” meaning “man, adult,” while “peda” meaning “child.” Although pedagogy originated with early monks who recorded common characteristics among children who were learning basic facts, it was not until the middle of the 20th century that instructors realized their assumptions about how children learn did not apply to the adults they were teaching. Andragogy, the term first used in 1833 by a teacher in Germany, was reintroduced by a German social scientist in the 1920s, next adapted by adult educators in Europe in 1957, and finally brought to the United States (O’Connor, Bronner, and Delaney, 2002,...