The Root of Adult Education

There are two different Latin roots of the English word “education.” They are “educare,” which means to train or to mold, and “educere,” meaning to lead out. Educare is more associated with children, whereas educere can be more associated with the adult learning process.

The word pedagogy has its roots in Ancient Greece. The Greek word for child (usually a boy) is pais (the stem of this is ‘paid’), and leader is agogus – so a paid- agogus or pedagogue was literally a leader of children. Later, the word pedagogue became synonymous with the teaching of our young. 

In the 1960s Malcolm S. Knowles coined the word andragogy to identify the art and science of helping adults learn. He argued that much of pedagogy was about filling children with knowledge and that this approach to teaching/learning was not appropriate for adults.

Pedagogy and Andragogy visualization (Image source:

Core principles of Andragogy 

Andragogy is a participatory, learner-centred approach where learners are: 

  1. self-directed, 
  2. aware of their learning needs, 
  3. need to apply learning to their immediate circumstances and, 
  4. whose own experiences are a learning resource. 
Comparing the assumptions of Pedagogy and Andragogy, based on Malcolm S. Knowles’ work (Image source: Andragogy – Stian’s PhD wiki)

The Five Pillars of Andragogy 


As a person matures from a child to an adult, their self-concept also matures. They move from being dependent on others to being self-driven and independent. In other words, maturity leads to growing independence and autonomy. Whereas children are fully dependent on others for learning and understanding, adults learn and understand independently. 

Knowles described the maturation this way: …in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. 


In addition to a maturing self-confidence, adults build an increasing reservoir of experience. This increasing experience becomes a deepening resource for their learning. Children, on the other hand, have very little experience and must rely on the experience of others to learn. 

In other words, as children mature into adults and gain more experience, certain things become intuitive. Their experience allows them to intuit things that they never would have understood previously. 


As an adult moves into various social roles (employee, parent, spouse, citizen, etc.), their readiness to learn becomes oriented toward those roles. Consider how this plays out in life. As an adult moves into the workforce, they must orient their learning toward the skills necessary for their job. As they become a parent, they suddenly must learn all that’s involved in taking care of children. New roles require new knowledge. 

5 Assumptions regarding Adult Learners (Image Source:


When a person is young, their application of a subject is postponed and their orientation is subject-centered. For example, when someone takes algebra in school, they don’t normally apply it immediately to real life problems. They must wait until they’re older and encounter a need for algebra. 

As a person matures, their application of learning becomes immediate and more problem-centered. Adults encounter problems, learn how to solve those problems, and then immediately apply their knowledge to those problems. 


A child’s motivation to learn is typically external. They are required to go to school and will encounter externally enforced consequences if they don’t. This changes as they mature into adults. Adults are motivated to learn internally. They want to grow in self-development. They desire to move up the career ladder and need to acquire new skills. They find themselves facing an unfamiliar problem and need to find a solution. Instead of having education forced on them, adults actually pursue education.

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