Applying Andragogy When Developing New E Learning Courses

Applying Andragogy When Developing New E-Learning Courses

Damian Hehire-learning, General

Applying Andragogy When Developing New E-Learning Courses

Andragogy is a term that refers to adult learning concepts, characteristics, principles, and methods. As a result, it has relevance in the modern workplace where staff training is essential for ensuring compliance, maintaining competitiveness, and staying relevant to your customers. How can you apply andragogy when developing new e-learning courses for your team?

There are various theories of andragogy but the most well-known is a theory proposed by the American adult educator Malcolm Knowles. We are going to focus on this theory of andragogy for the purposes of this blog as we believe it is still highly relevant, especially in relation to e-learning.

The Characteristics of Adult Learning

According to the theory presented by Knowles, there are six characteristics of adult learning:

  • Need to know – learners need to know why they are learning, i.e., what’s in it for them.
  • Foundation – unlike children, adult learners are not starting from scratch when they are asked to learn or improve a skill. Instead, they have various levels of prior experience that form the foundation of their learning.
  • Self-concept – adult learners respond better to training when they feel they have responsibility for their own learning, i.e., they have an element of control over the direction of their learning.
  • Readiness – does the content of the e-learning course have immediate relevance to the learner? Adult learners respond better when that immediate relevance exists.
  • Orientation – this characteristic concerns the distinction between problems and content. In other words, is the e-learning course solving a problem, or is it focused only on content? E-learning courses that are problem-centred will be better received by adult learners.
  • Motivation – for adult learners, internal motivators are more powerful than external motivators. In other words, adult learners will learn if they want to learn.

Applying Andragogy to E-Learning Design

We can now go through each of the six characteristics to identify methods, strategies, and techniques you can use to ensure the e-learning courses you design are aligned with andragogy principles.

Need to Know

Learners need to know what is in it for them, so make sure this is explained by talking about the benefits not only for the company but for the learners themselves. This can be done through communication with the learner in advance of the course as well as providing information on the initial screens. That information could be in the form of objectives and the individual and company outcomes the course aims to achieve.


The prior experiences of learners should be considered during the e-learning development process. This includes considering the current abilities and levels of knowledge of learners to ensure the course is pitched at the right level. The prior experiences of learners can also be leveraged to enhance the learning experience by, for example, using real-world scenarios and examples.


Delivering content via e-learning courses in itself enables learners to take some responsibility for their own learning, especially if you let them complete the course on their own devices and at a date and time that suits them.

To further facilitate learners taking responsibility for their own learning, you can develop personalised e-learning courses. Personalised e-learning courses can be produced in a number of different ways, with the aim of giving learners greater control over their own learning and development.

Creating a library of e-learning courses that learners can dip in and out of (without necessarily being mandated to do so) also facilitates learners taking responsibility for their own development.


Ensuring your e-learning course has immediate relevance to learners first involves defining the objectives of the course and then making sure the content aligns with those objectives. Conducting a gap analysis is also often part of the process to ensure the learning objectives are aligned with business needs.

An additional strategy you can use to enhance the relevance of training is just-in-time learning. Similar to a previous point, just-in-time learning involves developing a library of e-learning courses that learners can complete at a time that best suits them. Often, this will be a time when the learner has the most need for the skill or information, i.e., when their motivation levels are at their highest.


There are two crucial considerations to ensure your e-learning courses appeal to this characteristic of e-learning:

  • Ensure the learning objectives are clearly understood and that they are focused on addressing a specific business need.
  • Ensure the content stays focused on the learning objective and doesn’t go off on tangents or include irrelevant information.


The best way to enhance the motivation of learners is to involve them in the process of learning and training development as much as possible. Ideas include:

  • Ask for feedback on your training strategy and the individual courses you offer.
  • Establish a learning culture in the organisation.
  • Establish a culture of continuous improvement in the organisation. Training and development are key parts of any continuous improvement culture.

Focus on Learners

An overriding principle that covers all the andragogy characteristics described above is the importance of focusing on the learner when developing new training content, including e-learning courses. Learners need to know what’s in it for them, for example, and they need to be self-motivated with a sense of control.

By focusing on the learner, you will get better buy-in for the e-learning courses you develop.