Andragogy: Formal vs. Informal Learning as an adult

Our course materials define learning environments as:
Formal: some institution or instructor sets the learning objectives
Informal: the learner sets the learning objectives
Non-formal: someone besides the learner and instructor (e.g. manager or mentor) sets the learning objectives
Our assignment was to describe and analyse one formal and one informal recent learning experience in light of Knowles’ theories of Andragogy.
Formal learning example
Recently I signed up for a day-long course in Vietnamese cooking at the local community school. I was feeling drained from work and felt like getting out of the house to learn something new. My family loves Vietnamese food and I always found it too intimidating to do what I usually do– google recipes for what I like to eat and try to make it myself.
The instructor started the day asking us to introduce ourselves and explain why we signed up for the course. Then she delivered a short PowerPoint presentation about Vietnam’s regions, how the cuisine varies regionally, and common ingredients. She explained the three dishes we would prepare that day and handed out recipes, and we put ourselves into groups. (I worked with two retired gentlemen and they were amazing!)
The instructor took us out to the kitchens and explained what all of the ingredients were. Then she told us to start with the pho broth and get started. That was pretty much the formal part of the instruction.
What ensued put me slightly in a panic, but with the brave help of my teammates, we “learned by doing.” The instructor floated along the teams to answer questions and make corrections. Somehow after several hours of following recipes and asking questions, we managed to produce a delicious lunch of pho, spring rolls, and Vietnamese pancakes. See the photo of our beautiful pho above. (By the way I finally heard a real Vietnamese person say it and it is pronounced sort of like, “feouh.”
This experience analysed in light of Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy:
Motivation: The instructor asked us to share why we had signed up for the course. Everyone’s reasons were really interesting, including a vegetarian couple who wanted to learn more exciting recipes.
Experience: The course catalogue did not state you needed significant experience and confidence in the kitchen to participate. However this was certainly the case.
Readiness and orientation: Only a few minutes were devoted to theory and the class was very hands-on. Although the students had basic cooking skills we essentially learned in real time with support from the instructor.
Informal learning example:
In 2015 I set a development goal with my manager (so I would be externally accountable) to prepare a study of theories and trends in performance management. The reason was there was more and more discussion about changing practices among HR professionals, particularly after Deloitte collaborated with Marcus Buckingham and published the results of their revamped process in the Harvard Business Review. In my role I was trying to present myself in a more strategic, business-advisory light, so having some deeper knowledge was important for me.
I started by asking one of my colleagues who headed up our thought leadership practice, whether she had any good scholarly articles I could start with. She sent me a few things to get me started. From there I decided which concepts were key to cover and developed an outline of my paper for future research.
In the european HR world, leaders seem to be shy of being a first-mover. Theories and new practices need testing and proving. My clients typically want case studies of other companies who have tried something. So I finished my paper off with several summarised case studies of companies who had transformed their processes and what were their results.
I submitted the paper to my manager and during our weekly catch-up call I reflected with her on the experience and takeaways. She challenged me to think about what I was going to do with it now that I had prepared it.
I used this paper as a springboard for presentations with my clients, client user groups, and internal training days. It was an enjoyable and valuable use of my time and helped position me as a thought leader in my organisation.
How this experience was in line with Knowles’ theories of Andragogy:
Need to Know and Motivation: I defined why I needed to know this material and why it was important to me professionally.
Self-concept: I had the self-esteem to believe I could structure my material completely independently and learn something relevant for my job.
Readiness to learn:  My manager did not support the authoring process at all except reading the finished product, asking me for reflections, and challenging me to use the work in other contexts.
Experience: The research resonated with me due to my own experience with performance reviews, both as the reviewee and the manager. I read the research with that lens in mind. Later in presentations I tried to bring the “outdatedness” of current practices to life emotionally.
Selected Principle of Andragogy from Pappas article:
Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
This principle resonates with me as a person who is a passionate learner in her free time as well as at work. I would incorporate this principle in learning design as a part of the “before, during, after” method one of my clients uses. (See Gutierrez article for a great summary and infographic.) Specifically I would ask the learner to spend time reflecting with their manager or coach on what they expect to take away from the learning and use it in their work later. After the training the learner should have a follow up session with the same person as an after-action review and plan for how the learner will practically integrate the new information into his or her work. Additionally I would provide (if appropriate) social learning communities for graduates of the course to interact with the instructor and with each other over time. Perhaps they would like to ask questions as they deepen their understanding and apply their learnings in their work. In my experience, asynchronous social support can be a powerful tool to help people in real-time.
Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2015). Reinventing Performance Management. Harvard Business Review,(April). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from
Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved from
Cites Knowles 1984 but there are two sources in the list from 1984, not sure which one.
Gutierrez, K. (2016, July 12). Before, During, and After Training: Improving Knowledge Transfer in Your Organization in 3 Stages. Retrieved from