Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Adult Learning
Take your pick:
Adult Learning

Adult Learning


In this lesson, students explore the history and importance of adult learning and adult learning theories.

See More

Like what you're learning?

Adult Learning Theory

Take the whole course from Capella University FOR FREE


Source: Globe, Clker,; Thinking Person, Clker,; Baseball Cap, Pixabay,; Map, Pixabay,; Parent and Child, Pixabay,; Hall, Pixabay,; College Pixabay,

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello there, and welcome to this lesson all about adult learning, specifically the history and importance of the theories associated with adult learning. Let's begin.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was a below average student in high school. I did as little work as possible, showed no initiative, and wasn't motivated to learn. Despite my lack of effort and mediocre grades, I was fortunate enough to get into a pretty good college. Thinking back, as I'm sure is the case for most people my age, it was a pivotal time in life for me. High school was fine. But what would college be like, and how would I adjust. I'd been in education for over 20 years, so you know the story ends.

But what made that possible was that I became a much better adult learner. I was motivated by choosing my classes, studying when and how I wanted to, and knowing that what I was learning was going to serve a purpose. And it has, and it still does.

Teachers are unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are receivers and facilitators of learning every day. When we have our teaching head on, it's important to know and understand the pedagogy of students. And when we have our learning hats on, it's good to know one's own learning as well as how other adults learn, which is andragogy.

Because teachers are constantly learning and working on their craft with others, understanding the differences between pedagogy and andragogy will help teachers be more responsive in meeting the needs of adults in learning situations. Self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to accomplish a goal. One can acquire that belief when they grow, learn, and develop in their chosen field.

In site-based management, self-efficacy is critical to building capacity, implementing change, impacting improvements, and sustaining continuous improvement. Some systems are quite skilled in making sure this happens. It's not just about the professional days they provide. It's the quality of them. You really know it when you see it.

The notion of adult learners was introduced in the 1830s. There have been numerous models since then that have contributed to what we have today for a knowledge base on the topic. The actual term adult learning is attributed to German teacher Alexander Kapp. He coined it in an effort to distinguish how adults learn from children. It wasn't really until the late 1960s and early 1970s when American Malcolm Knowles begin to develop theories and principles that instruction geared towards adults begin to reflect those differences.

When discussing adult education, we are challenged by the fact that there are no clear boundaries. There isn't a set age group. It doesn't have a clear grade level and does not have a defined end goal like higher education or a career. According to researcher Sharon Merriam, it's more important to understand how an adult's life situation is vastly different from that of a child and what effects that has for learning.

Adults, of course, have life experiences that are far more varied and greater than that of children. Therefore, learning needs and interests vary from those of children. The differences don't end there, however. Obviously, adults are developmentally at different life stages. Children, of course, are dependent on others for care and daily learning. And they're primarily focused on preparation for assuming adult responsibilities.

Adults may have other roles and responsibilities as well like family, friends, career, military, and community, just to name a few. From the early days of adult education, the key difference from children's learning is the adult life experiences. There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to a model of learning for adult learners. However, there are three overarching theories that should be considered.

By gaining an understanding of the three theories, adults can make better, more effective choices when learning in a professional development setting. And they are-- andragogy, which is defined as the art and science of helping adults learn based on six key assumptions about adult learning. Self-directed learning-- that's a process in which individuals take the initiative in planning, carrying out, and evaluating their own learning. And transformational learning-- that's learning that changes the way individuals think about themselves fundamentally in their world and that involves a shift of consciousness.

These theories provide insight into andragogy, how adults learn, rather than pedagogy, the focus on students and their learning needs. As I mentioned earlier, teachers are both facilitators and receivers of learning. Therefore, when a teacher is familiar with adult learning theories, it will support their practice. And they will become more responsive to the needs of others, including the adult learners that they serve and work with in their PLC.

In doing so, the work of grade level and content teams like RTI teams become much more effective. Teachers are working with other adults in learning situations constantly. Some examples where adults maybe learners include district or school professional development, professional learning communities, peer coaching, critical friends groups, and many other models of adult learning. Teachers are both receivers and facilitators of lifelong learning.

So now it's time to summarize. We begin by looking at the teacher as an adult learner. We discussed the background of adult education and went on to introduce the three adult learning theories-- andragogy, self-directed, and transformational . And finally, we explain the impact that knowing these theories has on teachers and teaching.

Here's today's food for thought. Conduct a self-assessment of the type of adult learner you are. Are you doing everything you can to improve your practice and become a better educator? For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, take a look at the additional resources section that accompanied this presentation. The additional resources section includes links useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Thanks so much for joining me. Have a great day. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Adult Learning"

(00:00-00:10) Intro

(00:11-00:56) Adult Learning

(00:57-02:02) Teachers as Adult Learners

(02:03-02:33) Background

(02:34-03:35) Adult Education

(03:36-05:19) Theories

(05:20-06:13) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

The Adult Learning Theory - Andragogy - of Malcolm Knowles

This article by Christopher Pappas provides a comprehensive overview of Malcolm Knowles' Adult Learning Theory. It also provides the most recent thinking about working with adult learners in training situations.