How Employees Learn

Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: Where Many Get it Wrong In Their Learning Strategy

When we’re talking about eLearning, the words “pedagogy” vs “andragogy” are often thrown around.

These words are both of Greek origin; pedagogy literally translates to paidi (child) and ago (guide). Andragogy, on the other hand, means andras (man) and ago (guide). Both words refer to learning strategies – but they each have their own distinct philosophies. 

By understanding the difference between pedagogy vs andragogy, you’ll have a clearer idea of how and why your subjects learn best.

Andragogy refers to the methods and approaches used in adult education and is directed towards self-actualization, gaining experience, and problem-solving.

Pedagogy is an education method in which the learner depends on the teacher for guidance, evaluation, and knowledge acquisition.

The problem? Someone applying pedagogical theory to a classroom full of professionals might find their efforts read as child’s play.

For example, during the learning experience, the andragogy approach would allow learners to take control, be more independent, and set their own goals. Pedagogy relies on a more hands-on approach from instructors.

In general, andragogy is learner-centered, while pedagogy is teacher-centered.

It’s not all doom and gloom for pedagogy, though! In fact, both theories have advantages and disadvantages that eLearning professionals should be aware of.

What are the differences between Pedagogy and Andragogy? 

PedagogicalAndragogical
The learner depends on the teacher. Their teacher evaluates progress and assumes full responsibility for the teaching materials and their efficiency.Learner depends on themselves. This method requires self-evaluation and direction, and the learner takes responsibility for the learning process.
The learner comes to the table with little life experience. Child-like learning comes with a blank slate, and the educator is one of the most influential figures, as peers likely have the same lack of experience.The learner uses life experience as a foundation. Instructors build on existing knowledge and require an understanding of diverse backgrounds. Adults learn from the instructor, but also from one another.
Students advance once they have completed the necessary steps. Child learners are told what they need to do to master a topic in order to move onto the next one.Learning is triggered by any number of life experiences and not necessarily led by a designated instructor. Learners don’t advance to another topic, but rather fill knowledge gaps as where needed.
Learning is prescribed by an instructor and sequenced in a way that makes logical sense. Topics are broken down into content units.Learning is prescribed by oneself. Learners see a problem or knowledge gap and organize topics around life/work solutions.
Learners are motivated by external sources, such as parents and teachers. The topic is marked with a pass or fail grade.Learners are motivated by intrinsic means: self-esteem, quality of life, problem-solving, and the quest for recognition. Topics are completed by mastery.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Pedagogy: 

More structure and guidance for learners  

Easier to assess progress

Can be more efficient in terms of time and resources
Advantages of Andragogy:

Allows learners to take control and be more independent

Focuses on learner’s experiences and prior knowledge

Encourages problem-solving
Disadvantages of Pedagogy: 

Less opportunity for learner autonomy

May not be as relevant to some learners’ experiences
Disadvantages of Andragogy:

May be too open-ended for some learners

Can be difficult to assess progress

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which learning approach is best for your students. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each before making a decision.

Knowles’ Theory

Before 1950, pretty much everything we knew about learning methods was centered around the way kids operated. After all, traditional schooling was pretty much how and where adult education took place. 

Adult educator and researcher Malcolm Knowles adopted the term “andragogy” to refer to the unique motivators adult learners used. While children required more extrinsic motivation and relied on instructor-led methods, Knowles noticed that adults were self-directed and relied heavily on their past life experiences when they approached learning opportunities. 

Knowles defined a theory about adult learners that helped educators receive better insight into how and why adult learners learn, including: 

  • Adults are self-directed; they are less dependent on teacher instruction.
  • Adults use their past experiences as learning resources.
  • Adults are motivated to learn in relation to their social roles.
  • Adults prefer to learn solutions that apply to realistic situations.
  • Adults rely on intrinsic motivations.

Moreover, Knowles’ theory helped give birth to the andragogy model which is widely used in adult education today. It provided a framework for how instructors could apply andragogy-based methods in their classrooms.

Adult Learning 

It may seem like semantics, but understanding the differences between pedagogy and andragogy could make a big difference between lackluster learning and ready, engaged adults. This doesn’t mean that children and adults always learn differently (both, for example, have a positive response to animation and gamification).

The fact is, adults come to the table with different motivators. They know what has worked in the past or have habits that affect the way they learn and receive new information. Because of this, approaching new topics with a traditional pedagogical strategy could leave them disengaged and uninterested. 

Andragogy inspires instructors to do a better job connecting learning experiences to what adult learners already know. Allowing for personal opinion, better pacing, and knowledge checks and re-checks helps adults leverage what they already know against the new topics they are presented with.

Think of it as one of the fringe benefits of teaching adults: Andragogy leaves room for a lifetime of learning. 

While andragogy has been widely accepted in adult learning circles, some researchers are critical of the theory. The main issue with andragogy is that it relies on the assumption that all adults are self-directed learners, which is not always the case. In fact, many adults need more structure when learning new information.

A good example of this is when an employee is learning a new software program. While it may be true that some employees are able to sit down and figure out the program on their own, others may need more guidance in order to learn successfully. 

This is where pedagogy comes in. Pedagogy, or the pedagogic approach, focuses on providing learners with more structure and guidance. In the case of our example, the employee would benefit from sitting down with a trainer and being shown how to use the software step-by-step. 

While andragogy is a more learner-centered approach, pedagogy is more teacher-centered. This doesn’t mean that pedagogy is bad; it just means that it may not be the best fit for every learner or every learning situation.

Wrap Up

So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to pedagogy vs andragogy? It depends on the learner, the learning situation, and the goals of the instruction. 

In some cases, a pedagogical approach may be more appropriate; in others, an andragogy-driven approach may be better suited. The key is to understand the unique needs of your learners and then select the instructional methods that will best help them achieve their learning goals.