Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Andragogy for Adult Learners in Higher Education

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Andragogy for Adult Learners in Higher Education

Article excerpt


There is much information available to the public through published course curricula, syllabi, and online course descriptions at university websites from which we could speculate what is taught to undergraduate business students in the United States. What we do not have as much information about is how the courses are taught. What teaching methodologies are used? And, to what levels do instructors of business classes understand and practice andragogical principles? As competition for adult students in higher education becomes more intense, not only what we teach, but how we teach it becomes more important.

This paper will review and summarize the literature that suggests a significant theoretical difference between andragogy and pedagogy. The premise is that the assumptions behind pedagogy, which in the original Greek means "child conductor," do not always fit the needs of the adult learner. Andragogy, derived from the Greek word for "adult or man," provides a better model for the growing number of nontraditional students enrolled in many universities.

This paper will present a theoretical foundation for curriculum development based on andragogical principles. The paper will also present a model with an example of innovative learning which meets the demands of these student populations. Finally, the authors make suggestions for how to plan a course based on the principles of andragogy.


The student population of colleges and universities in the U.S. has changed dramatically in the past thirty years. Although there have been numerous demographic changes, it is questionable how many university professors consider their impact. Educators often speak about pedagogical models, but in our research we found few who mention andragogical models and how to apply them. We believe that new models of learning in higher education must be developed based on the theory of andragogy.

Prior to World War II, higher education was designed primarily for students who could attend school on a full-time basis. A vast change resulted from the passing of the GI Bill in 1944, which gave many older students the opportunity to attend college. In the late 1960's, college enrollments skyrocketed as the "baby boomers" reached college age. Subsequent economic changes in the U.S. economy in recent years have made it attractive for "baby boomers" to return to school. Social changes that occurred in the 1960's and 1970's brought many more females and older adult students into higher education, and these trends continue today.

The term "nontraditional" is multi-faceted. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2002) defines "nontraditional" as a student having one or more of these characteristics: delays enrollment, attends part-time some of the academic year, works at least 35 hours per week, is financially independent, has dependents, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma. So, nontraditional can be measured on a continuum; a student can be classified from "minimally" to "highly" nontraditional based on how many of these characteristics he or she possesses (Horn 1996). From 1970 to 1999, the proportion of students over 25 years old attending college increased from 28% to 39% and females attending college jumped from 42% to 56% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). In 1999-2000, 73% (almost three-quarters) of undergraduates were nontraditional, or they possessed at least one nontraditional attribute. The report concludes that there are at least as many students who would be classified as traditional (possessing none of the nontraditional characteristics) as those who are highly nontraditional (possessing four or more nontraditional variables), at 27% and 25% respectively. At institutions of higher learning where there is a mix of traditional and nontraditional students, there will always be a dynamic tension between the pedagogical and andragogical approaches. …

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