Applying Andragogy In Instructional Design For eLearning

Applying Andragogy In Instructional Design For eLearning
Summary: Adults have a different learning experience compared to children. This article explains andragogy and the six key adult learning principles.

What Drives Adults To Learn, And How To Use It

Stephen Covey once said, "The key to success is dedication to lifelong learning." Absolutely! But what can help adult learners commit to lifelong learning and upskilling? The key lies in leveraging the principles of adult learning to design engaging and effective trainings.

Adults differ from children in their approach to learning and the way they learn. This is because adults bring with them a wide range of experiences, skillsets, motivations, knowledge, well-formed opinions, and preferences. This led to the introduction of the term "andragogy" that describes methods and practices applied for adult education. Malcolm Knowles elaborated the concept of andragogy and suggested six assumptions to consider while designing adult learning experiences.

Knowing how adults learn helps drive more value to businesses and has a greater impact on learners. Let’s look at the six principles of adult learning and apply them to the concept of Instructional Design.

The Six Key Adult Learning Principles

1. Need To Know

Adult learners need to know why they are learning to understand the value it offers them. Once it is clear that the content they are learning offers sufficient value, they will be more engaged with the content and motivated to learn.

Application in Instructional Design
Consider listing the learning objectives at the beginning of the course whenever learners are introduced to a new course. This helps learners know right away if the course is for them or not. You can employ formal, informal, and/or creative ways to do this, depending on the target audience and the industry they are in.

In a language course, the learning designer would typically indicate the prerequisite level of language skill, topics that are covered in the course, and the time and effort estimated to complete the course. In addition to these, address the benefits of the course, such as fluent conversation, impeccable language skills for a presentation, clearing some exam or attaining some certificate, etc.

2. Experience

Unlike children, adult learners come with a wide variety of experiences that shape who they are and what they know. It is important to consider learners’ prior knowledge as a basis for course design and then build upon it.

Application in Instructional Design
Before you start designing your course, consider who your learning audience is and what they already know. This will help you make informed decisions on what to include in your course and what needs to be left out or made optional.

The courses you design for onboarding staff will be different from the courses you design for upskilling your staff, because the onboarding learners will have very little experience with the company, whereas the upskilling learners will already have some experience with the company.

3. Self-Direction

Adult learners learn best when they can make their own decisions autonomously and direct their own learning. This is why the most engaging course materials generally include decision-making activities that require the learners to think through and make a decision before proceeding.

Application in Instructional Design
Include pathways for learners to choose from, based on their expertise, to encourage them to self-direct their learning. It helps learners feel they are in control and responsible for their own learning.

Having optional "click and reveals" that provide further information to the learner, if necessary, for extra support.

4. Readiness

Adult learners feel motivated to learn when they know there’s an immediate application of their learning, through real-world challenges. The fact that the time and effort invested in learning something has a direct payoff is a significant factor in this motivation.

Application in Instructional Design
Conduct a thorough needs analysis before developing the course, to determine what learners need to learn and why, and use that information to laser focus your content.

During the COVID-19 crisis, workplaces had to move online at short notice, so employees had to quickly learn how to effectively work remotely. These employees had a sense of readiness to learn new tools and processes.

5. Problem Orientation

Adults learn best when the learning material is focused on a specific and immediate problem they need to solve, as opposed to generic and irrelevant material.

Application in Instructional Design
Determine learners’ pain points and immediate problems during your needs analysis phase and identify what the learners must know to address them. Address the "what’s in it for me?" question at the onset of a course.

In a course on digital marketing, have the learners learn through a real-world project, such as building and promoting a website. The project being live, realistic, and related with immediate feedback mechanisms will be a great motivator compared to learning concepts in the abstract.

6. Intrinsic Motivation

Adult learners learn best when they are intrinsically motivated (i.e., feeling the urge to learn from within). The intrinsic motivators could be in the form of knowing what will give them more opportunities to grow personally or professionally.

Application in Instructional Design
Ask questions about what is intrinsically motivating for the learners during the needs analysis. It could be as generic as being able to convert prospects into leads, or as specific as being able to manage their time better for an effective work-life balance.

In a company, employees may be required to take a course on management if they want to move into a supervisory role. If employees are intrinsically motivated to advance their career and know how a supervisory role can bring them more success, they will be more motivated to take up the course.


Implementing these principles of adult learning in Instructional Design promotes better decision-making when designing effective and engaging learning experiences. A lot of resources go into building learning materials. Some foresight, planning, and a deep understanding of how adults learn can go a long way in making these learning materials impactful.

eBook Release: Artha Learning Inc
Artha Learning Inc
Artha is a full-service learning design firm. We partner with organizations to design their digital learning initiatives from instructional, engagement and technical point of view.

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