Outside the Classroom

Educators and the Principles of Adult Learning

Educators, by their very nature, are curious and driven to explore, investigate, and actively pursue lifelong learning. Professional learning is a part of the job requirements of teaching, and when done well, it’s also a time for the teacher to become the learner again, and sit where their students normally do. Doing so enhances an educator’s experience as a learner, while at the same time amplifying their expertise. Malcolm Shepherd Knowles, the originator of adult learning theory (also known as andragogy), identified five principles of adult learning that are helpful to keep in mind when designing a professional learning program:

  • Self-concept
  • Past learning experience
  • Readiness to learn
  • Practical reasons to learn
  • Driven by internal motivation

Keeping in mind both the needs of educators and the principles of adult learning enables leaders to build a professional learning program that is set up to be successful and supportive right from the start. While there’s normally no shortage of informal learning opportunities for educators in most schools, distance learning makes it harder to take advantage of them, so building a solid foundation for professional learning will go a long way in supporting your staff this year.

Educators and the Principles of Adult Learning


Adult learners are independent and can direct their own learning, which means they benefit from self-paced learning that can be done asynchronously. Providing educators with a library of on-demand professional learning courses, videos, and webinars enables them to select the trainings that are of interest and relevant to them. Giving educators the keys to their learning means that they can access and work through the content as their schedules allow, and return to it at any time for a refresher. And as instruction delivery methods may change without much notice over the next few months, giving educators more control here can make the difference between an educator who succeeds and one who struggles.

Past Learning Experience

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum for your students, so it shouldn’t for educators either! Adults have a vast array of life experiences to draw from and make connections to. This lived experience, especially in the classrooms and schools educators have worked in, provides a fount of knowledge for them to refer back to and apply as they learn new strategies and techniques.

Readiness to Learn

Educators know the value of lifelong learning—they have dedicated their professional lives to it, after all—and often find great joy in learning. While students may need to be coaxed into working through a lesson, we are excited to get right to the point! And right now, as many educators are having to transform both their roles and teaching practice, they may be more ready than ever to learn good ways to do that.

Practical Reasons to Learn

Teaching is an art, and as such, teachers are constantly revising and refining their lessons and strategies. Technology is ever-evolving, your students have diverse needs, or maybe you are teaching virtually for the first time. Whatever the reason you’re pursuing professional learning, make sure to take advantage of opportunities that are engaging, focused, and make good use of your time so you can immediately apply what you’ve learned with your students.

Driven by Internal Motivation

Adults learners are usually more internally motivated to learn than children are. Whether your goals are to gain confidence in implementing a new program, learn new strategies to try in your classroom, or become a building leader in a specific area, your professional learning opportunities should be tools that support you in achieving these goals.

A new school year that’s sure to be challenging in many ways has just begun, so to equip educators with the additional support they need, Edgenuity® has developed KnowlEdge Academy. Built on a foundation of the needs of today’s educators and the principles of adult learning, KnowlEdge Academy is our online, on-demand, asynchronous professional learning platform.

Within KnowlEdge Academy, you’ll find a growing library of courses, some of which are program-specific while others focus on more generalized teaching topics. Throughout a course, you will be prompted to reflect on your own teaching and learning journey and to make connections with the new ideas and your previous experiences.

We know that you are the best judge of what you need and when you need it, so we have designed our professional development offerings to empower you to make the decisions about your learning journey. Learning never stops for educators, so offering a wide variety of professional learning opportunities that are engaging, focused, and supportive is important. Because why should students have all the fun learning?


Smith, M. K. (2002). Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy. The Encyclopedia of Pedagogy and Informal Education. www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm

Esthermsmth. (2017, September 30). Andragogy – Adult learning theory (Knowles). Learning Theories. https://www.learning-theories.com/andragogy-adult-learning-theory-knowles.html

About the Author


Amanda Jones

Amanda grew up in the Pacific Northwest, attended high school in Virginia, and then returned to the west coast where she graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in English. She earned a Masters of Education from Pacific University before moving to San Francisco where she taught high school and eighth grade. She is passionate about equity in education and loves being in a role that helps support teachers.