ISTE Standards for Coaching

How can the integration of adult learning theories enhance the design of educational technology professional development sessions?

When I think back to my elementary school years, I remember ample spelling, math, and reading comprehension tests. Learning was largely content/subject-centered, extrinsically motivated, and determined by the teacher. In contrast, I have experienced adult learning as more problem-based, intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and linked to life experiences. What is being juxtaposed here are simplified differences between two instructional practices: pedagogy and andragogy.

Pedagogy is defined as “the teaching of children or dependent personalities,” whereas andragogy is defined as “the facilitation of learning for adults, who are self-directed learners (  The Venn diagram shown below summarizes the similarities and differences between these two instructional practices.


When developing professional development content for adult learners, it is essential to integrate the principles of andragogy into the facilitated learning experiences. The term andragogy was coined in the 1800s by Alexander Kapp, a German teacher. However, Malcolm Knowles, a 20th century American educator, is well-known for broadening the understanding and implementation of andragogy (

My question for this blog post is as follows: How can the integration of adult learning theories enhance the design of educational technology professional development sessions?

My question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education Standard 4.5: Professional Learning Facilitator, and Performance Indicator 4.5a: “Design professional learning based on needs assessments and frameworks for working with adults to support their cultural, social-emotional, and learning needs” (

Beyond andragogy, there are a variety of additional adult learning theories found in the literature. This article provides additional adult learning theories in a succinct manner. Additionally, I discovered an intriguing study that integrated principles from various adult learning theories into a teacher professional development (PD) design.  

This study investigated the effectiveness of designing a professional development course using the tenants of adult learning theories. The researchers incorporated the following principles of adult learning theory into the PD sessions. Feedback from study participants aligning with these 6 principles is outlined below:

  • Create a climate of respect:
    • Participation in PD sessions was voluntary, not mandatory. An emphasis on sharing of experiences and collaboration amongst teachers was valued and appreciated.
  • Encourage active participation:  
    • Limited modeling and direct teaching were offered, followed by immediate experimentation in classrooms. Written and conversational reflections were used to debrief new teaching experiences with colleagues and instructors.
  • Build on experience:
    • The PD empowered teachers to build on their prior learning and experiences.
  • Employ collaborative inquiry:
    • Group problem solving, support, sharing of resources, and exchange of ideas were encouraged.  
  • Learning for immediate application: 
    • The PD offered relevant, meaningful information that could be applied right away to instructional practices.
  • Empower through reflection and action:
    • Teachers were encouraged through reflection and action to improve their teaching practices.

In summary, “the findings of this study suggest that when principles of adult learning inform and shape professional development experiences for teachers, teachers are able to reflect on their practice, construct professional knowledge with their peers, and develop more collaborative relationships with their fellow teachers” (Gregson & Sturko, 2007).

Understanding the principles of adult learning theories is critical to design and offer professional development that is relevant, meaningful, and useful to educators. Building in ample time for sharing experiences, engaging in group work, and encouraging participants to build on their prior knowledge and skills is a great starting place in the design of adult learning curriculum.


Author unknown. (2022). Pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. University of Illinois Springfield.

Gregson, J., Sturko, P. (2007). Teachers as adult learners: Re-conceptualizing professional development. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education, 36(1), 1-18.

International Society for Technology in Education.

Kurt, S. (2020). Andragogy theory – Malcolm Knowles. Educational Technology.