It’s not all Greek to us: When we’re talking about eLearning, the words “pedagogy” and “andragogy” are often thrown around. Both of Greek origin, pedagogy literally translates to paidi (child) and ago (guide). Andragogy, on the other hand, means andras (man) and ago (guide). While both words refer to learning strategies, 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.

At a glance, andragogy refers to the methods and approaches used in adult education and is directed towards self-actualization, gaining experience, and problem-solving. In contrast, pedagogy is an education method in which the learner is dependent on the teacher for guidance, evaluation, and acquisition of knowledge. The problem? Someone applying pedagogical theory to a classroom full of professionals might find that their efforts read as child’s play.

What are the differences between Pedagogy and Andragogy? 

Pedagogical Andragogical
Learner is dependent on the teacher. Teacher is the one who evaluates progress and assumes full responsibility for what is taught and its efficacy. Learner is depending on self. The method requires self-evaluation and direction and self takes responsibility for the process.
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. 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 self. 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 completed by 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.

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 education took place. Finally, 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/why adult learners learn, including: 

  • Adults are self-directed
  • 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 can be applied in realistic situations
  • Adults rely on intrinsic motivations

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). 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, help 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.