The approach taken to adult learning reflects the concept of andragogy as developed by Malcom Knowles and the cycle of experiential learning as advocated by David Kolb. Andragogy influences the ways in which individuals are treated in the program. Experiential learning influences the development of training plans and learning activities.


Malcolm Knowles developed the concept of andragogy.  The premise of andragogy is that adult learners are different from child learners (referred to by the term pedagogy) in at least four areas.

  1. Self-concept: As a person matures, his or her self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Experience: As a person matures, she or he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures, his or her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of her or his social roles.
  4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures, her or his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and, accordingly, the orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness.

Consequently, adult learners

  • Expect to be treated with respect and recognition.
  • Want practical solutions to real-life problems.
  • Can reflect upon and analyze individual experiences.
  • Have different learning styles.
  • Are motivated by the possibility of fulfilling personal needs and aspirations.
  • Are capable of making their own decisions and taking charge of their own learning.

Experiential Learning

According to David Kolb’s theory of “experiential learning,” people learn in a cycle consisting of four stages (Experiential Learning, 1984): concrete experience, observation and reflection, forming abstract concepts, and testing in new situations.

For purposes of educational planning, Kolb’s stages may be illustrated by the following questions and action verbs. These are built into course design and facilitator training.

  • Concrete Experience:

Questions: Describe your experience – what did you do? What actions did you take?

Action Verbs: worked, created, prepared, implemented, conducted, produced

  • Reflective Observation

Questions: What did you notice and observe about the experience?

Action Verbs: observed, watched, noticed, saw, thought, discovered

  • Abstract Concepts

Questions: What rules, theories, and concepts apply to this situation?

Action Verbs: concluded, theorized, found, realized, deduced, learned

  • Active Experimentation

Questions: What happened as a result of your experience, reflection, and learning? How did you apply your learning to future situations?

Action Verbs: used, updated, applied, tried, implemented, changed