The Pedagogy of Andragogy: The Art and Science of Teaching Adults (Part 1)

Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM

Is there a difference between teaching adults and teaching children? Absolutely!

Understanding how to teach adults is critical to becoming an excellent instructor. Don’t worry: we will investigate just how to do this over the next few blogs.

The Pedagogy of Andragogy

What a mouthful! Pedagogy is the art, science, and craft of teaching while andragogy is the teaching of adult learners, both of which are important to EMS educators.

The term andragogy was first coined by the German teacher Alexander Kapp in the 19th century, then brought into common use by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970s. In his book, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, Professor Knowles compares the pedagogy of andragogy with the pedagogy of teaching children.

This book should be on every EMS educator’s bookshelf: some argue that rather than a learning theory,  Professor Knowles has actually created a teaching theory (Smith, 2010), one that truly helps us become better instructors. His book outlines 5 assumptions on adult learning that give instructors important insight into their students.

Assumptions of Adult Learners

To be an effective adult instructor, the teacher must take all 5 assumptions into account:

  1. Adult learners are self-directed They must be in charge of their own education. Most, if not all, adult learners learn because they want to, not because they have to.
  2. Adult learners draw upon past experiences. Adult learners bring a huge amount of experience to the classroom. They expect information to be relevant to their world.
  3. Adult learners learn based on need. Adult learners will ignore “fluff” and learn only what they feel they need to know—a very pragmatic approach to education.
  4. Adult learners are task oriented. They need tasks that apply to the world that they face.
  5. Adult learners are intrinsically motivated. While extrinsic factors such as a promotion or financial incentives may have some bearing on the motivation of adult learners, the stronger motivating factors are internal, such as self-esteem and a sense of achievement (Parvensky, 1995).

It Starts with Respect

So how do we teach students who are self-directed, experienced, need-based, task-oriented, and self-motivated learners? It all starts with respect. As Emerson put it, “to teach adults, you must have respect for them as students.”

Respecting and understanding these attributes within each of your adult students is the first step to becoming a truly excellent instructor. Need more insight? Keep an eye out for part 2 where we’ll discuss more strategies of the pedagogy of andragogy.


Parvensky, C. A. (1995). Teaching EMS: an educator’s guide to improved EMS instruction. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Lifeline.

Smith, M. K. (1996; 1999, 2010) ‘Andragogy’, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved: March 21, 2017


Douglas began his career in public safety as a paid-on-call firefighter with the Havana City Fire Department in Illinois. He attended EMT-Basic training in 1992 at Spoon River College where he is now an adjunct professor of prehospital medicine. He has had his paramedic license since 1994 and has been a lead instructor since 1999. During his career with the fire service, Douglas was an instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute specializing in rescue disciplines. He retired as a captain after serving for 20 years. While with the fire department, Douglas also worked full-time for Mason County EMS, an ALS ambulance service in downstate Illinois, as the EMS educator. Douglas received his bachelor’s degree in public safety management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and is working on his master’s in public safety administration through Lewis University.