Characteristics of Adult Learners

One of the key resource items in PIDP 3100 is the course text Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice by By Sharan B. Merriam, Laura L. Bierema.  This text covers a broad range of fundamental concepts specific to adult learners.  The term Andragogy is introduced in the text and provides a model that differentiates the teaching of adult from that of children, which is referred to as Pedagogy.  Merriam and Bierema note that “andragogy is studied in all academic programs preparing people to work in adult education and human resource development, that research continues to be conducted, and that practitioners continue to find ways to apply it to their fields of practice speaks to its durability and utility in planning and implementing programs with adult learners.” 

The authors identify a variety of learning theorists however Malcom Knowles is known as the “father of androgogy”.  A detailed article outlining the key elements of Androgogy can be found at this site.   In the article, Chad Bates, University of Tennessee-Knoxville notes “Knowles states that the term andragogy “is based on the Greek word aner (with the stem andr-) meaning, ‘man not boy’ (as cited in Baumgartner, 2003, p.6).”  S. Merriam summarized characteristics of adult learners in Adult Learning: Linking Theory and practice as:

  • having an independent self-concept,
  • posessing a resevoir of experience
  • fulfilling adult social roles,
  • having a need to immediately apply their learning,
  • intrinsic motivation, and
  • having the “need to know”.

Another useful resource is the website and the article on andragogy.  ” The two dimensions of andragogy as elaborated by Knowles are its assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners and the process elements of adult education that stem from these characteristics. He initially related four basic assumptions and added a fifth and sixth in later publications.

Of course adult learning is not dedicated to formal school settings and has application across the spectrum of human resource development in business and industry.  The following video provides a brief snapshot of Knowles Adult Learning Theory and Characteristics of Adult Learners from Top 10 HRD Ideas:


References: Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice,  Sharan B. Merriam, Laura L. Bierema, Publisher John Wiley & Sons, San Francisco, Sep 3, 2013


You tube: