Monday, 27 February 2017

Andragogy vs Pedagogy

This posted is adapted from one on my Inquiring Mind blog. The original post was aimed at primary teachers but I feel it applies to all education contexts where there are adult learners as well as younger learners.

There is nothing more likely to get me to screaming point than an article  with accompanying video, about the supposed differences between androgogy and pedagogy. 

Why does it make me scream, you may ask? It may be helpful to start with a definition of both terms:

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching (Oxford
Andragogy: the method and practice of teaching adult learners (Oxford

This is interesting because the pedagogy definition makes no mention of the age of the learner, although it has become more common to use this in reference to teaching children and young people, possibly because of its roots in the word paidagōgia meaning 'lead the child'.

The term andragogy appears to have come to the fore because people looked at descriptions of pedagogical practice and said "Hey! that's not how adults learn best". Well I have some news, its not how children learn best either.

This excellent article by Tom Whitby sums up many of my concerns. In particular this list of the characteristics of adult learners from Malcolm Knowles:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Adults are goal oriented 
  • Adults are relevancy oriented 
  • Adults are practical 
  • Adult learners like to be respected 
I look at that list and think, so if I made a one word substitution would it still be correct?
  • Learners are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Learners bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Learners are goal oriented 
  • Learners are relevancy oriented 
  • Learners are practical 
  • All learners like to be respected 
Does it still hold true? I think it does. Sure there are degrees of each for all learners but that is true of adults and children alike. Surely we must look at the individual learner and not put them automatically into a category based on some magic age. I have seen incredibly self-directed and goal-oriented children and adults who are neither.

This Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart (The original link is no longer valid so I've linked to Richard Byrne's copy of it) and this article on Andragogy (just the first section on the 5

Differences Of Pedagogy Vs Andragogy In eLearning) really sum up the issue for me. It makes me wonder what the magic age is when people suddenly become adults. Is is 16? 18? 21? 30? Do we wait till the day of their birthday before we suddenly shift to using a different teaching strategy with them?
It makes me want to scream when I read things like "Children have to follow a curriculum. Often, adults learn only what they feel they need to know." , "Children learn skills sequentially. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution." and "Children learn by doing, but active participation is more important among adults." (Full list here)

It makes me wonder about a schooling system that thinks the things in the Pedagogy list are okay. Where is the learner agency in this? Why can't young people do the things in the Andragogy column? Answer: because we haven't given them the opportunity.

As Tom Whitby puts it:
"If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. "

Thankfully the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand curriculum looks more like the andragogy section of the Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart. Those who are advocating the type of thinking espoused in the chart should read this section of the curriculum. Let's look closely at the individual learner and let their needs be the basis rather than some set of rules based on an arbitrary age.


  1. Great post, Jan-Marie! Heutagogy is another in the series of descriptors - self determined learning, and I think there is another which I have forgotten but it is not important. It's all about learning.

  2. Really interresting Jan Marie... I like the idea of getting away from an age-levelled definition of learners to say ALL learners can be... If we could share these ideas with our teachers out there who are frustrated/exhausted/out of ideas, perhaps this could help spark the story again. Although my other concern is how do we do this? How do we find the resources to share with teachers to begin this journey?