Andragogy: Learning In Advanced Ages

People of mature age have distinctive learning styles with great potential.

Although learning has traditionally been associated with childhood, adolescence and youth, the truth is that the capacity of the human being to learn exists throughout his life trajectory.

In this article we will see what Andragogy consists of , the discipline that is responsible for investigating how learning occurs at advanced ages.

The change of conception about aging

The term aging has been during the beginning of history linked to a connotation of deterioration and inability to effectively perform the different roles that are usually assigned to earlier stages of the life cycle. Thus, from ancient times to the last century, aging individuals have been isolated, neglected, or belittled. This very traditional trend was derived from the short life expectancy that has accompanied the human species throughout the centuries. 

In recent decades, with the beginning and development of the industrial revolution and capitalism as an economic and social system, this nature has been substantially modified, establishing a life expectancy that is close to 80-85 years on average in Spain. 

A change of mind

Advances in medicine, technology, and greater global knowledge derived from scientific research, as well as the development of the welfare state by political systems, have contributed to providing a higher quality of life in relation to the type of work performed (less physical), the decrease in the hours corresponding to the working day, the knowledge and application of healthy lifestyle habits, etc. 

At present, therefore, from the beginning of the vital stage called old age (around 60 years of age) the individual has a long life course ahead of him, which begins to move away from the old conception as a period of loss of faculties and inability to replace it with another more optimistic denomination where the subject can carry out new learning, can play new roles and can live new personal and social experiences that are equally satisfactory. 

Related to this, a recent classification on the definition of the life stage of old age is distinguished in this new conception. Thus, currently it is necessary to take into account not only the chronological age, but also the following must be taken into account: social age (assumption of roles), functional age (adaptation to historical and cultural changes), psychological age (adaptation to different personal circumstances ) and biological (capacity of the biological organism of the individual).

What is Andragogy?

Andragogy is defined as the discipline that studies the field of education in the adult individual, that is, the particularities of how learning occurs in adulthood, maturity and senescence.  

The establishment of this branch of pedagogy as its own area of ​​study is based on a series of characteristics that differentiate it from other similar sciences. Specifically, the central assumptions are aimed at highlighting the distinction between the recipient of a certain discipline. Thus, the adult student or learner presents an autonomy, a capacity for reflection, a level of previous experiences much greater than those that occur in the infant-adolescent stage.

Among the premises on which Andragogy focuses, the main differences are: the fact of presenting a personal and self-directed conception of learning, the influence of previous experience for the assumption of new learning and vice versa, an emphasis on learning applied to concrete everyday situations, as well as defined with a real purpose and the provision of a very significant and determining level of intrinsic motivation.

Andragogy Applications

Among the most relevant applications of this discipline, the following can be highlighted:

  • The stimulation of the interest of the learners in that the contents are linked to the resolution of real problems; the objective is not centered on the memorization of abstract and theoretical concepts.
  • The invitation to reflection through a methodology based on open questions that facilitates the effective performance of the self-assessment process of said learning.
  • The promotion of a more collective, cooperative and participatory form of work.

Theoretical bases of the andragogic model of education

The main components in the mndragogic model of adult education focus on the following themes:

  1. It is defined as a non-face-to-face and inclusive teaching system in which it is taken into account that each apprentice has specific vital characteristics, objectives that can be very disparate, both related to personal development and professional development.
  2. It is adapted to the social needs of the adult, where the level of ability, experience and previously acquired learning is respected, so a methodology that considers the existence of different learning styles is required.
  3. The fulfillment of the needs related to social advances in terms of innovation, knowledge and imagination;
  4. It is a phenomenon that can extend throughout the entire life period, encompassing different stages and periods of the individual’s life.
  5. The figure of the educator is understood as a guide and advisor, who offers his support and facilitates the learning process in a more collaborative way and not so much instructional or behavioral.

Determining factors in adult learning

The factors that determine the way in which adult learning occurs can be derived from external or environmental aspects and from internal or personal aspects. Among the first group, the type of vital circumstances that surround the individual learner can be highlighted, such as what kind of objectives is raised when receiving said instruction (if they refer to a personal or professional purpose), what means are available at the logistics level, time / schedules, etc., to invest in the process or other factors related to the social context in which it is registered. 

Among the personal factors, the level of capacity, competence and ability for learning, motivation and interest in the content, the level of tolerance to failure, the emotional stability to combat concerns and uncertainties about the results obtained, the cognitive aptitudes stand out. such as attention, memory, language, concentration, etc., or the existence of adaptive behavioral habits, among others.

Learning in the elderly

As mentioned above, the adult student has intrinsic characteristics that differentiate it from younger people. For this reason, it is essential not to lose sight of the need to adopt learning styles and methods adapted to the characteristics or peculiarities of each of the different profiles of adult learners. 

Thus, they can be given a differentiations in terms of cognitive, physiological and / or emotional traits s to determine as to reccionan worked during the learning process contents. Based on this last phenomenon, three dimensions are distinguished on types of learning attributed to adult education: active-reflective, the visual-verbal theoretical and the pragmatic-global.

Regarding the defining characteristics of adult learning methodologies, it is worth highlighting the high participation in the classroom, a greater relationship with the interaction context and its problems or particular situations, learning is more oriented to the task and the practical application of the internalized contents, the work carried out therefore presents an interdisciplinary aspect and there is a greater possibility of generalization of the learned lessons. 

On the other hand, an essential aspect is the autonomy with which each student works in relation to the learning carried out. Each individual regulates and organizes himself in terms of tasks, time invested, arrangement of study time, etc., as well as in his own evaluation of the way in which he is carrying out said learning. Therefore, we speak of self-planning, self-regulation and self-evaluation of learning.


As has been seen, Andragogy  undergoes a paradigm shift in the way of conceiving learning as a phenomenon intrinsically linked to childhood and youth. It is necessary to analyze and establish the differences between one type of student and another in order to adapt the methodology and type of content to ensure that this learning can occur from the early years to the last stages of life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dorfman, LT, et al. (2002). Incorporating intergenerational service-learning into an introductory gerontology course. In Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 39 (1/2), pp. 219-240. New York: Published by The Haworth Press.
  • Fernández-Ballesteros, R. and others. (1999). What is the psychology of old age? Spain: New Library.
  • García Mínguez, J. and Sánchez García, A. (1998). A model of education in the elderly: interactivity, Madrid: Dykinson.
  • Orosa Fraíz, T. (2001). The Third Age and the Family. A view from the elderly, Havana: Editorial Félix Varela.

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