Knowles' theory of andragogy provides guidelines for educators to develop common-sense strategies to better engage adult learners in the classroom. Andragogy is a teaching methodology that is based on the idea that adults have a unique learning style around which teachers should center instruction. This type of instruction can result in more effective teaching. Knowles' theory espouses simple principles that are easily applied in the adult education classroom.

Encourage students to become involved in their own instruction. Classes can meet with the instructor and discuss the direction they'd like the course to take. Students may decide they would like to devote more time to a particular topic or cover additional material. Discuss different evaluative possibilities with the class as well. When learners become involved in their own instruction, they become more invested in the class.

Present learners with problems to solve and work backwards toward an explanation of what can provide the desired result. This enables adults to take charge of their learning, rather than being passive recipients of a lecture. Encourage students to work in groups to brainstorm possible solutions and explanations. Engage the class in discussions about the problem.

Use real-life problems whenever possible, rather than providing abstract information that requires memorization. For example, to teach students the mathematical concept of area, ask students to figure out how much paint they would need to paint a room when given a set of dimensions. Engaging students with a problem that they may face in the "real world" is more effective than providing the formula for finding area and asking students to memorize it. Keep in mind that you will still need to teach the information -- simply embed it in a relevant context.

Find out what is relevant to your students and relate your instruction to their goals. Use real-life problems and examples that students are likely to encounter in their everyday lives. At the beginning of your course, conduct an informal survey to find out what your students' backgrounds are. This information can help you to make your curriculum more meaningful to your adult students. For example, if you are teaching English to second language learners and discover that the majority of your class works in the hospitality field, you can teach students words they need to know to be successful in that field.


Apply Knowles' theory to middle and high school learning environments when appropriate. Relevancy, motivation and other aspects of his theory can help younger students learn more effectively as well.


While Knowles' theory encourages instructors to solicit input from students and individualize instruction, educators should have a solid course framework in place around which instruction can be centered. Beware of steering away from the original objectives of the course.

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