Andragogy is the theory of adult learning, the study of how adults learn, and the principles and practices that assist this learning process. Pedagogy, on the other hand, is associated with the teaching of children and has traditionally been a more teacher-centered methodology. Andragogy is more student-centered, encouraging learners to take responsibility for their own learning. The principles of Andragogy were outlined by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970’s and have since become widely accepted and utilized in adult education. This article will look at how these principles can be leveraged in the design of effective self-paced language learning and blended learning programs.

I will outline the main principles of Andragogy and discuss each one individually.


Adults are responsible for their own decisions and have greater awareness of themselves and their learning capabilities. This requires the course designer to give more control to the learners, and to allow them to be self-empowered in the learning process.

This requires self-directed learning. This can be aided in the digital learning environment by:

  • giving students the freedom to choose assignments.
  • allowing the learner to set their own pace.
  • tailoring lessons to learners interests, skill level, and goals.
  • encouraging dialogue with other students.
  • setting reachable goals and providing instant feedback.
  • creating a supportive environment with additional reference material.
  • tracking the learner’s progress


Adults bring a lot of previous experience to the learning process, which can be leveraged to help them understand and process new information more quickly. Learners need to be given the opportunity to relate existing knowledge to new course material. This experiential learning can be implemented in an digital learning environment by:

  • utilizing interactive exercises such as case studies, role-play and simulations that allow learners to practice speaking in real-life situations.
  • focusing on the real-world application of knowledge.
  • providing activities which encourage learners to share their opinions and experiences.
  • organizing the material into clearly defined topics and functions.
  • focusing on problem solving and critical thinking.
  • developing a sense of community among learners.
  • offering personalized feedback.


Adults are much more motivated to learn when they can see a direct connection between what they are learning and their own personal or professional goals. This is one of the central ideas of corporate language training. Teach the learners today what they need to use tomorrow. This can be achieved by personalizing the content to match the learner’s intrinsic needs and interests. The motivation to learn must come from within, and this objective must be supported by the course designers and trainers. In a digital learning environment, this can be achieved by:

  • providing focused content relevant to the learner’s context and community of practice.
  • encouraging learners to reflect on their own learning process.
  • using real-life scenarios which can be quickly utilized in the business world. For example, by focusing on functions like small talk, ordering in a restaurant, or asking for directions in a foreign country.
  • providing opportunities to practice the four skills of listening and speaking, reading and writing.
  • using speech recognition to provide instant feedback on speaking skills so that learners can develop good pronunciation and fluency.
  • using AI to provide immediate analysis and feedback on writing tasks.


Adults are very focused on learning objectives and expectations, so these should be properly articulated at the beginning and end of each learning stage. An example of a higher-level learning objective could be competencies like:

  • negotiating a work contract
  • giving a short presentation

It is very important to approach syllabus design from the perspective of functional ‘can do’ statements rather than taking a grammatical approach. This means that the learning program will be much more related to authentic, real-world contexts and functional needs. A grammatical syllabus design runs the risk of becoming artificial and removed from real-world application.


It is important to keep learners engaged and motivated. Learners have to feel that learning never stops, that they have something to strive for, and that the challenge level is just high enough for them to reach. This can have a lot to do with whether the materials are operating successfully in the learner’s zone of proximal development (ZPD). Higher levels of motivation can be facilitated in online training by:

  • providing appropriate rewards and recognition for reaching learner goals and passing tests.
  • incorporating new technologies such as AI, VR, AR, and gamification into the learning experience.
  • creating a sense of community and collaboration among learners by using social platforms, peer feedback and utilizing learner data to compare polls and quiz answers.
  • utilizing personalized feedback, for example, voice recognition for pronunciation, and AI feedback for speaking and writing tasks.
  • proper grading of materials so it has a sufficient challenge level to be within the learner’s zone of proximal development, but not too difficult so as to become demotivating.

Readiness to learn

Adults are often more motivated to learn than children, who may need additional motivation to do so. It is important to increase learners’ intrinsic motivation, so that they are able to acknowledge the relevance of language training to their daily life, to be able link the training contents to their unique experiences, and to develop a strong sense of self-awareness. It is often the case that recipients of corporate language training have only ‘extrinsic motivation,’ as their company and management are the main driving force behind the need to learn, and not the learners themselves. This often leads to a situation where learners fail to take part in digital learning, as they do not see the relevance to their own personal situation. They are simply being asked, or ordered to do something, which is not a huge motivation for them.

Problem solving

Ultimately adults are better equipped to understand and work if they learn through problem solving tasks which allow them to develop creativity and independent thinking. This can be achieved in a digital learning platform by:

  • using a task-based methodology to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • encouraging self-expression, dialogue, and collaboration between learners.
  • encouraging learners to identify practical strategies to use in real-life situations.
  • offering personalized feedback and support.

Self-paced language learning tools will always be limited in what they can do, but blended learning can offer the best of both worlds, digital instruction and teacher-led training. Andragogy theory comes into it own in the teacher-led components of blended learning. This is achieved by:

  • providing a supportive, interactive, and engaging classroom environment.
  • facilitating more personalized, learner-centered form of teaching.
  • using open questions to elicit student opinions and experience.
  • teaching as facilitator, rather than teacher.
  • providing a real-world focus.
  • creating lessons that focus on the learner’s context and community of practice.
  • focusing on problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • utilizing real-life case studies, simulations, discussions, and role plays.
  • creating a sense of learner community, facilitating peer feedback.
  • making sure learning objectives are clear, realistic, and achievable.
  • encouraging self-reflection and feedback.

In summary, andragogy is a set of principles that can be used to create effective training materials for both digital asynchronous use, and teacher-led synchronous lesson material. The main principles are self-concept, experience, relevance, expectations, motivation, readiness to learn, and problem solving. If you employ these strategies and new technologies, you can will be able to increase engagement and student retention in your self-paced learning tools and blended programs.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 


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