Andragogy Research and the Unexpected Connection


As you may know, I am a big fan of considering “the contrast.” So, when reviewing Pedagogy for a paper that I am writing, I decided to research Andragogy a little more. What started off as a simple search for peer-reviewed journals to expand my understanding of the approach turned into a deviation that reinforced the importance of knowledge acquisition and the acceptance of constructive criticism. Sometimes learning happens in the most curious of ways. What follows is an excellent example of what I mean.

In an entry titled “We knew it all along! Using cognitive science to explain how andragogy works,” Marcia Hagen and Sunyoung Park share findings in cognitive neuroscience to help explain how “andragogically informed instructional practices impact cognition and learning” (2016). Specifically, they explain that the core assumptions of andragogy (the methods and principles used in adult education) have a connection to the neural networks related to memory and cognition. Basically, they found validity in andragogy by examining neuroscience and posit that by using an integrative approach, teachers can reduce issues regarding learning and that cognitive neuroscience research could help improve teaching and instructional techniques (Hagen & Park, 2016).

Almost ironically, this makes sense from an andragogical point of view because seemingly unrelated experience and understanding can sometimes aid in the expansion of understanding of the new ideas being learned. This was particularly interesting to me because while I was reviewing this entry, I found a strong connection to another extremely important yet somewhat unrelated idea.

In this study, the core principles of andragogy were explained in detail. These included (1) adults have a self-directed self-concept; (2) adults bring a wealth of experience to the learning process; (3) adults enter the learning process ready to learn relevant information, and (4) adults are oriented toward immediate application of learning. However, Hagen and Park further explained that these principles were eventually regarded as assumptions and that the addition of (5) adults need to know the reason for learning something; and (6) adults are driven by intrinsic motivation to learn, were later added to the list to help address critiques (Hagen & Park, 2016).

Knowing that Knowles refined in the face of criticism sparked something inside me because I appreciate the continued work and refinement in the face of opposition and challenge. And it’s not that Knowles is wrong or that the assumptions of andragogy are somehow flawed. Hagen and Park mention that while andragogy appears to be an effective set of principles that help develop training and instruction methods, actually testing such principles could prove to be challenging (2016). They suggest that this is because “each of Knowles’ assumptions require so very many neurobiological processes, it would be difficult to either attempt to create a measurement that would measure the application of principles on learning outcome, or create a learning environment in which one could reduce the noise involved in such a measurement process, as to establish how much impact applying Knowles’ principles actually has on learning outcomes” (Hagen & Park, 2016).

Personally, I found it interesting that the study provided focus to the critiques regarding the science and practical application of andragogy. I am thankful for it. To me, this helped balance the reality of the approach in that while it is seemingly effective, it’s not proven. Of course, this also sheds some light on the fact that just because something isn’t scientifically or definitively “proven” doesn’t mean it is not legitimate or effective.

I believe this study echoed several important ideas found in the book “Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide” such as how testing various approaches would be difficult, that these principles are merely assumptions instead of an organized theory, and that it doesn’t matter anyway because there is no single theory that explains adult learning or learning in general (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2012). Instead, there are numerous theories, models, and frameworks that attempt to capture various aspects of education, and we have yet to find simple answers to many of the numerous questions surrounding education and learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2012).

But that is where I found the unexpected connection. At the beginning of this, I mentioned that learning happens in curious ways. Well, indirectly and somewhat off-topic, I particularly enjoyed the idea that theories and assumptions are essentially a work in progress. Like much of my work, I’m attempting to capture the truth of the world around us. However, some of my ideas would be exceptionally difficult to definitively prove.

At the same time, and if we are doing it right, the quest for knowledge and understanding is ongoing, and our understanding of a particular topic may be relative to that of someone else. It sort of reminds me of Nikola Tesla in that many of his ideas were vastly misunderstood and ridiculed but have since been proven to be correct. Of course, this understanding might challenge assumption number five (that adults need to know the reason for learning something) because I had no idea that I was going to stumble upon this lesson, I was not entirely sure what I would find when I set out to research andragogy, and I was not entirely sure of the point of the research in the first place – other than simply finding some necessary contrast. I still learned a great deal, though. Perhaps this echoes the words of Albert Einstein when he said: “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

So here is the big connection that I pulled from this. Our understanding expands as we acquire more information – regardless of where it comes from. Of course, a solid understanding of our world requires the relentless pursuit of knowledge and information. However, sometimes that information comes in the form of a challenge to an idea or position that we hold. Other times, it’s going to come from unrelated ideas or experiences as we connect the dots to new information. The good news is that as we expand our understanding, we can add to our theories and assumptions over time – if we are willing to examine the critiques being provided. In other words, we should remain open to perspectives that challenge what we believe to be true or valid because it will give us the fuel we need to refine.

At the same time, we must all remember that just because a theory or assumption has not been proven or is difficult to test, it does not mean that it is invalid or unworthy of being shared or practiced. If anything, this expresses the importance of experimentation and sharing the information in the first place. A better understanding is the point, and constructive criticisms only help in the improvement of such ideas and explanations.

You might also like my article titled: A Case Against Andragogy?


Hagen, M., & Park, S. (2016). We Knew It All Along! Using Cognitive Science to Explain How Andragogy Works. European Journal of Training and Development, 40(3), 171–190. Retrieved from

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2012). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco [Calif.: Jossey-Bass.