The History of Andragogy

Andragogy is a term referring to the theory and practice of adult education. Although adults interested in learning who pursued it in one form or another have existed throughout history, andragogy has only existed as a formal concept since the 19th century, and did not gain worldwide recognition until the 20th century. Following is a brief history of andragogy, from its origins in Germany in 1833, to its place in modern education.

  1. The Origins of Andragogy

    • A German high school teacher named Alexander Kapp originated the term andragogy in 1833. He used it in a book he wrote about Plato's educational theories to describe the lifelong need to keep learning. Kapp argued that adults needed to continue to learn throughout their lifetime, and differentiated andragogy from pedagogy -- the practice of teaching students -- in several ways. While he saw a place for formal education for adults, he also believed that andragogy should include learning from reflecting upon one's own life experiences, and vocational training received while on the job. However, Kapp's view of andragogy did not become popular because other theories about adult education were already in widespread use.

    Andragogy in the Early 20th Century

    • Another German writer, Eugene Rosenstock, revived the term andragogy in 1926 to make the point that adult education required special teachers, methods and philosophies. This raised further interest in the topic in Europe. A Yugoslavian educator, Dusan Savecevic, eventually introduced the concept in the United States, and adult education experts John Dewey and Eduard C. Lindeman spread the theory further.

    Andragogy Takes Hold as a Formal Philosophy

    • Malcolm Knowles, a Boston University professor, who served as the executive director of the Adult Education Association for many years, came upon Dewey and Lindeman's writings and expounded upon their theories in his book "The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species" in 1973. Knowles asserted that adults needed different methods for learning than children did in order to avoid becoming bored and to circumvent their inhibitions and negative beliefs that they may have picked up during previous attempts at education. He stressed the need for tying in knowledge with practical applications in everyday life. He also promoted the idea that adults, already self-sufficient in general, should be taught how to access information themselves.

    Andragogy Today

    • Knowles became known as the father of andragogy and eventually identified six principles that defined andragogy. He successfully promoted these principles leading to widespread adoption in the U.S. and elsewhere. Today, any educational theory or program that subscribes to Knowles' principles classifies as a form of andragogy. These principles are the ideas that adults are internally motivated and self-directed, bring life experience and knowledge to new learning experiences, are goal and relevancy oriented, practical and need respect. Modern educators rely on these principles to foster success in their adult students.

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