How has adult education contributed to Andragogy?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term "Andragogy" was used by German education and philosopher Alexander Kapp in the 1830s to refer to any form of education that benefits adult learners.  The etymology of the word consists of a combination of two powerful root words: "andros" which is Greek for "man", and paidagogia which is Greek for "education or attendance on boys". However, most educators use the term "pedagogy" to represent the whole spectrum of educational theory. Yet, since paideia originally referred to the upbringing, disciplining, and education of "a child", the term "andragogy" was meant to substitute the "child" part and take away the connotation of education at an elementary level. Andragogy is for adults what pedagogy is for children, according to those philosophers that prefer to use the terms separately. 

Now, to address how the theory of adult education has changed within the parameters of what was first proposed to be andragogy, one must look at the work of Malcom Shepard Knowles, who defined andragogy into 5 assumptions that must be taken into consideration when planning an adult learning program. 

According to Knowles (1984), an adult learning system must include opportunities for: 

  • relevant tasks
  • application of prior knowledge
  • orientation and direction
  • applying self-concept to what is being learned
  • self-motivation

It is safe to argue that the current ubiquitousness of college and university programs, on and offline, demonstrates that andragogy has influenced a growing market that serves adults of all ages for educational purposes. Back in 2009 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) had projected that, by 2018

...the number of students over twenty-five will remain stable or increase during the current decade (Hussar and Bailey 2009)

The fact that these growing educational programs are "designed with the adult learner in mind", as most of these online universities vouch, is a sign that the tenets of andragogy are alive and well in that realm.

For example, the idea of a Master's degree taking 3 years of extensive study, and traveling time, is now a thing of the past. Adult Ed has never been more convenient, inexpensive (in some cases), and easy to get. Notice how some adult learning institutions have shortened the length of time for earning a Masters nearly in half. Universities even allow for you to customize your learning program in order to meet specific professional development needs.  

All this being said, Knowles's tenets of andragogy continue to shape adult education. In turn,  Adult Ed continues to reform itself as more professional and educational needs are identified. Fortunately, this is a productive cycle that provides amazing opportunities for learning, assuming (of course) that the programs are audited effectively for proper accreditation.