The term andragogy literally means “man” (andr) and “–agogy” (leading), and is synonymous with adult education. According to American educator Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913-1997), andragogy is the art and science of adult learning. Andragogy refers to any form of adult learning, and is different from pedagogy, which means the leading of, or educating of, children.
The idea of andragogy has been around for nearly 200 years. A German grammar school teacher named Alexander Kapp used the word to describe the process by which adults learn. Kapp didn’t explain the term or develop the theory, but used it to describe adult education.
The term andragogy fell into disuse until the early 20th century when several educators pursued theories of andragogy, most notably the pragmatist and philosopher John Dewey. These theories were mostly ignored in the U.S. However, in European countries some universities were offering andragogy degrees as a specialization by the 1970s.
A third wave of andragogy originated in the 1950s, found in publications from Switzerland, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, and Germany. There was not formal training for adult educators and no academic course of study. At that time, the term andragogy described an unclear combination of practice, ideologies, reflections, and theories.