Andragogy. History, Meaning, Context, Function
The term ‘andragogy’ has been used in
different times and countries with various connotations. Nowadays there exist
mainly three understandings:
1. In many countries there is a growing
conception of ‘andragogy’ as the scholarly approach to the learning of adults.
In this connotation andragogy is the science of understanding (= theory)and
supporting (= practice) lifelong and lifewide education of adults.
2. Especially in the USA, ‘andragogy’ in
the tradition of Malcolm Knowles, labels a specific theoretical and practical
approach, based on a humanistic conception of self-directed and autonomous
learners and teachers as facilitators of learning.
3. Widely, an unclear use of andragogy can
be found, with its meaning changing (even in the same publication) from ‘adult
education practice’ or ‘desirable values’ or ‘specific teaching methods,’ to
‘reflections’ or ‘academic discipline’ and/or ‘opposite to childish pedagogy’,
claiming to be ‘something better’ than just ‘Adult Education’.
Terms make sense in relation to the object
they name. Relating the development of the term to the historical context may
explain the differences.
The History of ‘Andragogy’
The first use of the term ‘andragogy’ - as
far as we know today - was found with the German high school teacher Alexander
Kapp in 1833. In a book entitled ‘Platon’s Erziehungslehre’ (Plato’s
Educational Ideas) he describes the lifelong necessity to learn. Starting with
early childhood he comes on page 241 (of 450) to adulthood with the title ‘Die
Andragogik oder Bildung im maennlichen Alter’ (Andragogy or Education in the
man’s Age - a replica can be found on www.andragogy.net). In about 60 pages he
argues that education, self-reflection, and educating the character is the
first value in human life. He then refers to vocational education of the
healing profession, soldier, educator, orator, ruler, and men as family father.
So already her we find patterns which repeatedly can be found in the ongoing
history of andragogy: Included and combined are the education of inner,
subjective personality (‘character’) and outer, objective competencies (what
later is discussed under “education vs. training”); and learning happens not
only through teachers, but also through self-reflection and life experience, is
more than ‘teaching adults’.
Kapp does not explain the term Andragogik,
and it is not clear, whether he invented it or whether he borrowed it from
somebody else. He does not develop a theory, but justifies ‘andragogy’ as the
practical necessity of the education of adults. This may be the reason why the
term lay fallow: other terms and ideas were available; the idea of adult
learning was not unusual in that time around 1833,
neither in Europe (enlightenment movement, reading-societies, workers
education, educational work of churches, for example the Kolping-movement), nor
in America (Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Lowell Institute in Boston,
Lyceum movement, town libraries, museums, agricultural societies); all these
existing initiatives had important dates between 1820-40 and their terminology,
so a new term was not needed.
The Second and Third Invention
In the 1920’s in Germany adult education
became a field of theorizing. Especially a group of scholars from various
subjects, the so-called ‘Hohenrodter Bund’, developed in theory and practice
the ‘Neue Richtung’ (new direction) in adult education. Here some authors gave
a second birth to the term ‘Andragogik’, now describing sets of explicit
reflections related to the why, what for and how of teaching adults.But
Andragogik was not used as “the Method of Teaching Adults”, as Lindeman (1926) mistakenly suggested in reporting his
experiences at the Academy of Labor, Frankfurt, Germany. It was a sophisticated, theory-oriented concept,
being an antonym to ‘demagogy’ - too difficult to handle, not really shared. So
again it was forgotten. But a new object was shining up: a scholarly, academic
reflection level ‘above’ practical adult education. The scholars came from
various disciplines, working in adult education as individuals, not
representing university institutes or disciplines. The idea of adult education
as a discipline was not yet born.
It is not clear where the third wave of
using andragogy originated. In the 1950’s andragogy suddenly can be found in
publications in Switzerland (Hanselmann), Yugoslavia (Ogrizovic), the
Netherlands (ten Have), Germany (Poeggeler). Still the term was known only to
insiders, and was sometimes more oriented to practice, sometimes more to
theory. Perhaps this mirrors the reality of adult education of that time: There
was no or little formal training for adult educators, some limited theoretical
knowledge, no institutionalized continuity of developing such a knowledge, and
no academic course of study. In this reality ‘Adult Education’ still described
a unclear mixture of practice, commitment, ideologies, reflections, theories,
mostly local institutions, and some academic involvement of individuals. As the
reality was unclear, the term could not be any clearer. But the now increasing
and shared use of the term signaled, that a new differentiation between ‘doing’
and ‘reflecting’ was developing, perhaps needing a separating term.
Andragogy: A banner for identity
The great times of the term ‘andragogy’ for
the English-speaking adult education world came with Malcolm Knowles, a leading
scholar of adult education in the USA. He describes
his encounter with the term:
‘… in 1967 I had an
experience that made it all come together. A Yugoslavian adult educator, Dusan
Savicevic, participated in a summer session I was conducting at Boston
University. At the end of it he came up to me with his eyes sparkling and said,
‘Malcolm, you are preaching and practicing andragogy.’ I replied, ‘Whatagogy?’
because I had never heard the term before. He explained that the term had been
coined by a teacher in a German grammar school, Alexander Kapp, in 1833 … The
term lay fallow until it was once more introduced by a German social scientist,
Eugen Rosenstock, in 1921, but it did not receive general recognition. Then in
1957 a German teacher, Franz Poggeler, published a book, Introduction into Andragogy: Basic issues in Adult Education, and
this term was then picked up by adult educators in Germany, Austria, the
Netherlands, and Yugoslavia …’ (Knowles 1989, p. 79).
Knowles published his first article (1968) about
his understanding of andragogy with the provocative title ‘Andragogy, Not
Pedagogy.’ In a short time the term andragogy, now intimately
connected to Knowles’ concept, received general recognition throughout North
America and other English speaking countries; ‘within North America, no view of
teaching adults is more widely known, or more enthusiastically embraced, than
Knowles’ description of andragogy’ (Pratt & Ass., 1998, p. 13).
Knowles’ concept of andragogy - ‘the art
and science of helping adults learn’ - ‘is built upon two central, defining
attributes: First, a conception of learners as self-directed and autonomous;
and second, a conception of the role of the teacher as facilitator of learning
rather than presenter of content’ (Pratt & Ass., 1998, p. 12), emphasizing
learner choice more than expert control. Both attributes fit into the specific
socio-historic thoughts in and after the 1970’s, for example the deschooling
theory (Illich, Reimer), Rogers person-centered approach, Freire’s
‘conscientizacao’. Perhaps a third attribute added to the attraction of Knowles
concept: Constructing andragogy as opposing pedagogy (“Farewell to Pedagogy”, 1970) (later reduced) provided
opportunity to be on the ‘good side,’ not a
‘pedagogue,’ seen as ‘a teacher, especially a pedantic one’ (Webster’s
Dictionary, 1982, p. 441). This flattered adult educators in a time, where most
adult educators were andragogical amateurs, doing adult education based on
their content expertise, experience, and a mission they felt, not based on
trained or studied educational competence. To be offered now understandable,
humanistic values and beliefs, some specific methods and a good sounding label,
strengthened a group that felt inferior to comparable professions. And this
came coincidentally along with a significant growth of the field of practice
plus an increased scholarly approach, including the emerging possibility to
study adult education at universities. All these elements document a new period
(‘art and science’) in adult education; it made sense to concentrate this new
understanding in a new term.
Providing a unifying idea and identity,
connected with the term andragogy, to the amorphous group of adult educators,
certainly was the main benefit Knowles awarded to the field of adult education
at that time. Another was that he strengthened the already existing scholarly access
to adult education by publishing, theorizing, doing research, by educating
students that themselves through academic research became scholars, and by
explicitly defining andragogy as science (Cooper & Henschke, 2003).
Issues with Andragogy
Over the years
critique developed against Knowles’ understanding of andragogy. A first
critique argues that Knowles claimed to offer a general concept of adult
education, but like all educational theories in history it is but one concept,
born into a specific historic context. For example, one of Knowles’ basic
assumptions is that becoming adult means becoming self-directed. But other
genuine concepts of adult education do not accept this ‘American’ type of
self-directed lonesome fighter as the ultimate
educational goal: In family, church, or civic education, for instance, the ‘we’
is more important than the ‘self’. Similarly an instructor who presents (=teaches)
the name of the stars in a hobby-astronomy class would not work andragogical
because this is not autonomous learning. Consequently the Dutch scholar van
Gent (1996) criticizes, that the
andragogy concept of Knowles is not a general-descriptive, but a ‘specific,
prescriptive approach’ (p. 116). Another
critique is Knowles’ conceiving of pedagogy as pedantic schoolmasters’
practice, not as an academic discipline. This hostility toward pedagogy had two
negative outcomes: On a strategic level, scholars of adult education could make
no alliances with the colleagues from pedagogy; on a content level, knowledge
developed in pedagogy through 400 years could not be made fruitful for
andragogy (more critical remarks see Merriam/Caffarella, 1999, p. 273ff,
Savicevic, 1999, p. 113ff). Thus, attaching ‘andragogy’ exclusively to
Knowles’ specific approach means that the term is lost for including
pedagogical knowledge and those who do not share Knowles’ specific approach.
The European development:
In most countries of Europe the Knowles-discussion played no or at
best a marginal role. The use and development of ‘andragogy’ in the different
countries and languages was more hidden, disperse, and uncoordinated, yet
steady. ‘Andragogy’ nowhere described one specific concept or movement, but
was, from 1970 on, connected with the in existence coming academic and
professional institutions, publications, programs, triggered by a similar
growth of adult education in practice and theory as in the USA. ‘Andragogy’
functioned here as a header for (places of) systematic reflections, parallel to
other academic headers like ‘biology’, ‘medicine’, ‘physics’. Examples of this
use of andragogy are
the Yugoslavian (scholarly) journal for
adult education, named ‘Andragogija’ in 1969; and the ‘Yugoslavian Society for
at Palacky University in Olomouc (Czech
republic) in 1990 the “Katedra sociologie a andragogiky” was established,
managed by Vladimir Jochmann, who advanced the use of the term “andragogy”
(andragogika) against “adult education” (“Vychova a vzdelavani dospelych”),
which was discredited by communistic use. Also Prague University has a ‘Katedra
in 1993, Slovenia’s ‘Andragoski Center
Republike Slovenije’ was founded with the journal ‘Andragoska Spoznanja’;
in 1995, Bamberg University (Germany) named
a ‘Lehrstuhl Andragogik’; the Internet address of the Estonian adult
education society is ‘andra.ee’.
On this formal level ‘above practice’ and
specific approaches, the term andragogy could be used in communistic countries
as well as in capitalistic, relating to all types of theories, for reflection,
analysis, training, in person-oriented programs as well as human resource
A similar professional and academic
expansion developed worldwide, sometimes using more or less demonstratively the
term andragogy: Venezuela has the ‘Instituto Internacional de Andragogia’,
since 1998 the Adult & Continuing Education Society of Korea publishes the
journal ‘Andragogy today’. This documents a reality with new types of
professional institutions, functions, roles, with fulltime employed and
academically trained professionals. Some of the new professional institutions
use the term andragogy - meaning the same as ‘adult education’, but sounding
more demanding, science-based. Yet, throughout Europe still ‘adult education’,
‘further education’ or ‘adult pedagogy’ is used more than ‘andragogy’.
Adult education or education of adults?
Some writers limit andragogy to a teaching
situation (or more in the jargon: helping-adults-learn situation). An early
example is Lindeman (1926), when reporting
from his experiences at the Academy of Labor, Frankfurt, Germany: he connects
Andragogik (using the German term) with teaching by giving his article the
title ‘Andragogik: The Method of Teaching Adults’. Knowles, who brought the
Americanized version “andragogy” into discussion, also uses this limiting
understanding: ‘Andragogy is the art and science of teaching adults’. This
definition is generalized by Krajinc (1989, p. 19) from Slovenia in a British
international handbook: “Andragogy has been defined as…’the art and science of
helping adults learn and the study of adult education theory, processes, and
technology to that end’.’
Other authors include
‘education and learning of adults in all its forms of
expression’ (Savicevic, 1999, p. 97). Reischmann (2003) offers the term
‘lifewide education’ to describe the opening of this new field, thus
encompassing formal and informal,
intentional and ‘en passant’, institution-supplied and autodidactic learning.
These differences in understanding have to
be seen in a historic development of the perception of ‘adult education’: What
was perceived as ‘adult education’ in 1833 or 1926 is different from 1969 or
2001. While until the 1970’s the interest in adult education was focused on the
action-oriented questions “How can teachers/facilitators support the learning
of adults?”, now a new, more analytical-descriptive perspective was added. From
the 1970’s on it was more and more perceived and discussed, that learning of
adults did not only happen in more or less institutionalized or traditional
settings, arranged specifically for the learning of adults. In North America
Allen Tough’s research about adult learning projects provided evidence that
only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of adults learning was ‘adult education’. In
Germany the perception of learning in social movements like self-help groups or
citizen-initiatives (peace-movement, feminist groups) started the discussion
about the ‘Entgrenzung’ (de-bordering) of adult education. Distance- and
E-learning, assessment of prior learning, learning in non-traditional forms,
life-situations as learning opportunity, and other non-school-oriented forms and situations where adults learn widened the
perception that the education of adults happen in more situations than just in
As a consequence today many experts understand “adult education” only as a segment of the wider field of the education of adults.
Andragogy: Academic discipline
this widened perception of adult learning another development challenged the
understanding of ‘adult education’ in the last decades: The field of adult
education worldwide went through a process of growth and differentiation, in
which a scholarly, scientific approach emerged. And a new type of ‘adult
educators’ was born, which was not qualified by their missions and visions, but
by their academic studies. And writing a thesis or dissertation is a quite
different task than educating adults: reflection, critique, analysis,
historical knowledge qualified this new type of academic professionals.
An academic discipline with university
programs, professors, students, focusing on the education of adults, exists
today in many countries. But in the membership-list of the Commission of
Professors of Adult Education of the USA (2003) not one university institute
uses the name ‘andragogy’, in Germany one out of 35, in Eastern Europe six out
of 26. Many actors in the field seem not to need a label ‘andragogy’. However,
other scholars, for example Dusan Savicevic, who provided Knowles with the term
andragogy, explicitly claim ‘andragogy as a discipline, the subject of which is
the study of education and learning of adults in all its forms of expression’
(Savicevic, 1999, p. 97, similarly Henschke 2003, Reischmann 2003). This claim is not a
mere definition, but includes the prospective function to influence the coming
reality: to challenge ‘outside’ (demanding a respected discipline in the
university context), to confront ‘inside’ (challenging the colleagues to clarify
their understanding and consensus of their function and science), overall to
stand up to a self-confident academic identity.
Again here this
claim only makes sense when an object exists worth to get labeled. Not the term
makes a (sub-) discipline, but a reality with sound university programs,
professors, research, disciplinarian knowledge, and students. If, where and when
this exists, a clarifying label like “andragogy” will make sense.The coming
reality will show whether the ongoing differentiation in institutions,
functions, and roles will need a term ‘andragogy’ for conceptual clarification.
References and Further Reading
- Gent, van, Bastian (21996): ‘Andragogy’. In: A. C.
Tuijnman (ed.): International Encyclopedia of Adult Education and Training.
Oxford: Pergamon, p. 114-117.
- Cooper, Mary K. & Henschke, John
A. (2003): An Update on Andragogy: The International Foundation for Its
Research, Theory and Practice (Paper presented at the CPAE Conference, Detroit,
Michigan, November, 2003).
- Henschke, John (2003): Andragogy Website http://www.umsl.edu/~henschke
- Jarvis, Peter (1987): Towards a discipline of adult education?, in
P. Jarvis (ed): Twentieth Century Thinkers in Adult Education. London:
Routledge, p. 301-313.
- Kapp, Alexander (1833): Platon’s Erziehungslehre,
als Paedagogik für die Einzelnen und als Staatspaedagogik. Minden und Leipzig:
- Knowles, Malcolm S. (21978): The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.
- Knowles, Malcolm S. (1989): The Making of an Adult Educator. San
- Krajinc, Anna
(1989): Andragogy. In C. J. Titmus (ed.): Lifelong Education for Adults: An International
Handbook. Oxford: Pergamon, p. 19-21.
- Lindeman, Edward C. (1926). Andragogik: The Method of Teaching
Adults. Workers’ Education, 4: 38.
- Merriam, Sharan H. and Caffarella
Rosemary S. (21999): Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco:
- Pratt, Daniel D., & Associates
(1998): Five perspectives on teaching in adult and higher education. Malabar, FL: Krieger.
- Reischmann, Jost (2003): Why Andragogy?
- Savicevic, Dusan (1991): Modern
Conceptions of Andragogy: A European Framework. In: Studies in the Education of
Adults, Vol. 23, No. 2, p. 179-191.
- Savicevic, Dusan (1999): Understanding Andragogy in Europe and
America: Comparing and Contrasting. In: Reischmann, Jost/ Bron, Michal/ Jelenc,
Zoran (eds): Comparative Adult Education 1998: the Contribution of ISCAE to an
Emerging Field of Study. Ljubljana, Slovenia: Slovenian Institute for Adult
Education, p. 97-119.
- Pöggeler, Franz (1957): Einführung in die
Andragogik. Grundfragen der Erwachsenenbildung. Ratingen: Henn Verlag.
- Tough, Allen (21979): The Adult’s Learning Projects. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
- Webbster’s New World Dictionary of
the American Language (1982). New York: Warner Books.
- Zmeyov, Serguey (1998): Andragogy:
Origins, Developments, Trends. In: International Review of Education. Vol. 44, No. 1, p. 103-108.