3 Theories in Adult Learning

Adult education

Children and adults learn differently. They benefit from specialized teaching methods. Andragogy is the most common approach to knowledge, but the transformative and experiential learning theories are also influential.


Andragogy is credited for being developed by the educator Malcolm Knowles in the 1950s, but the theory has its roots in 1833 when a German teacher named Alexander Knapp organized the theory. Andragogy relies on five main assumptions that educators can use to build curricula and lesson plans for adult learners:

1. Adult learners have a firm view of the self

2. Adult learners have a readiness to learn

3. Adult learning is purpose-driven

4. Adult learners are intrinsically motivated to learn

Transformative Learning

Jack Mezirow developed this theory of adult learning. This approach is based on the assumptions of andragogy. Specifically, transformative learning assumes that adult learners view educational material in light of their experiences. When a lesson plan is viewed through the lens of experiences, this viewpoint influences the interpretation of the lesson plan. In turn, this leads to a paradigm shift that affects future behaviors, mindsets and beliefs.

Experiential Learning

David Kolb developed this theory of adult learning in the 1980s. It emphasizes the role of experiences in the learning process and states that individual learners can derive meaning from their own experiences. For learning to take place, an experience must also involve reflection and analytical reasoning. This theory also emphasizes the need for adult learners to apply what they have learned, so decision-making and problem-solving skills are necessary.

If you want to inspire and empower adult learners to achieve greater heights, then you should consider enrolling in Grand Canyon University’s Doctor of Education in Teaching With an Emphasis in Adult Learning degree program. At GCU, the College of Doctoral Studies provides learners with the resources and guidance to thrive in a variety of prestigious programs. Learn more about our programs by visiting our website or clicking on the Request More Information button on this page.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.