Adult Learning and Development Theories


Andragogy, experiential, and transformational learning models have increasingly permeated and gained widespread application in adult education. Many educators recognize the effectiveness of these approaches in addressing the unique needs of grownup learners, which differ significantly from those of children. Notably, the three learning theories acknowledge that adults assume responsibility for their decisions and are self-directed in the pursuit of additional skills and competencies. This implies that andragogy, transformational, and experiential approaches emphasize interactive, immersive, problem-solving, and the immediate value of the imparted knowledge. Although these theories help adult educators to develop effective learning experiences and devise appropriate instructional strategies, they differ significantly in the approach they adopt, the degree of emphasis on learners’ prior knowledge, and hands-on activities.

Comparison of Andragogy, Experiential, and Transformational Learning Theories

The andragogical, transformational, and experiential adult learning theories share various similarities, which enhance the creation of a learner-centered approach and the realization of the desired results. Additionally, they recognize the presence of previous knowledge, experiences, and ideas. For instance, Decelle (2016) contends that the andragogical approach is student-oriented, facilitates the leverage of what the learners already know against the incoming knowledge, and acknowledges the indispensability of practical learning activities. Similarly, Sisselman-Borgia and Torino (2017) posit that the experiential learning model appreciates the superiority and prominence of previous experiences in the process of acquiring new skills and competencies in adults. In concurrence, Sahin et al. (2016) and Rahman and Hoque (2017) assert that the transformational theory is focused on imparting new knowledge to earlier beliefs. In this regard, andragogical, transformational, and experiential share the similarity of utilizing the learners’ past experiences, knowledge, and beliefs as the foundation on which new skills and competencies are built.

Additionally, the three models are designed to address a given problem as opposed to the subject or content delivery. This implies that these theories are anchored on the adults’ intrinsic understanding of why they should learn. For instance, Loeng and Omwami (2018) and Joshi (2017) posit that the desire for education in grownups is primarily influenced by the immediate value of the newly acquired information, particularly in solving a specific challenge. In this regard, the andragogical, transformational, and experiential learning theories focus on equipping the learners with skills that help them overcome or solve a problem.

The Contrast between Andragogical, Experiential, and Transformational Learning Models

Despite their similarities, the andragogical, transformational, and experiential models have various distinctive and differentiating attributes. For instance, the andragogy theory is typically task-oriented and emphasizes interactivity and engagement as the ideal means through which adults acquire knowledge. Conversely, the transformational approach optimizes the learners’ evaluation and review of the imparted information as the basis for triggering radical changes in attitudes, perspectives, thoughts, and behavioral patterns (Tsimane & Downing, 2019). Moreover, the experiential model recognizes that the absorption of knowledge and skills in grownups is sharpened by helping them make sense of experiences through physical actions. Therefore, the andragogical, experiential, and transformational theories are distinct in the emphasis on practical engagements and utilization of previous experiences.

Application of Andragogical principles in Adult Classes

An observation of adult classes demonstrated the extensive application of andragogical principles to enhance the effectiveness of knowledge acquisition. For instance, the educators illustrated why it was necessary for the learners to acquire a new set of skills and competencies. Additionally, there was a distinct emphasis on the relevance and immediate value of the imparted knowledge. The instructors also leveraged the learners’ previous experiences to help create connections with the incoming information. Another prominent observation is the task-oriented nature of the sessions as the educators sought to demonstrate the applicability of the skills and competencies in problem-solving.


Transformational, andragogical, and experiential models of adult learning are increasingly gaining traction in the field of adult education. Many instructors acknowledge the efficacy of these strategies and are integrating their principles in designing coaching programs for grownups. The models recognize the distinctive difference between adults and children in their knowledge acquisition processes. Although these theories share various similarities, they differ significantly regarding their approach, the prominence accorded to the learners’ prior knowledge, and emphasis on practical activities.


Decelle, G. (2017). Andragogy: A fundamental principle of online education for nursing. Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity 9(2), 1263−1273.

Joshi, R. V. S. (2017). The significance of andragogy in present day higher education “creating and implementing with a learning experience in an atmosphere of competency, commitment, & credibility.” International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology, 2(5), 7−11.

Loeng, S., & Omwami, E. (2018). Various ways of understanding the concept of andragogy. Cogent Education, 5(1), 1−15. Web.

Şahin, M., Erisen, Y., & Çelikoz, N. (2016). The transformational learning of three adult academicians. Mediterranean Journal of Humanities, 6(1), 299−307. Web.

Sisselman-Borgia, A. G., & Torino, G. C. (2017). Innovations in experiential learning for adult learners. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 7, 3−13.

Tsimane, T. A., & Downing, C. (2019). Transformative learning in nursing education: A concept analysis. International Journal of Nursing Sciences, 7(1), 91–98. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. 2023. "Adult Learning and Development Theories." April 15, 2023.

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ChalkyPapers. "Adult Learning and Development Theories." April 15, 2023.