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Andragogy vs Pedagogy - Makes me want to scream!

Cross-posted from my Inquiring Mind blog.

There is nothing more likely to get me to screaming point than an article about the supposed differences between androgogy and pedagogy. Why, 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This Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart(The original link is no longer valid so I've linked to Richard Byrne's copy of it) and the fore-mentioned article on Andragogyreally sum up the issue for me: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." (Canadian Literacy & Learning Network)

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.

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Comment by Jan-Marie Kellow on December 14, 2015 at 16:15

I take your point Hazel but I lean heavily towards the "know your learner" and UDL schools of thought on this one. I have known very young learners with a wealth of background knowledge and experiences in areas I know little or nothing about and have worked with adults with very limited prior knowledge around the areas I am working on with them.

While we could make some generalisations about prior knowledge and experience as they relate to adults and young children this varies greatly within groups of learners and with different areas of learning. 

If we start with finding out all we can about the learner and what they bring to the situation then we can develop learning experiences that will be relevant, empowering and purposeful for all.

Comment by Hazel Owen on December 14, 2015 at 15:50
It is a really interesting area (and I am so with you re: the temptation to scream!!
Recently I was having an online discussion with Charles Newton about the article Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy?, who asked the question "when is a learner old enough to benefit from so called adult learning constructs?".
The same as you Jan-Marie, I feel it's necessary to move away from a notion of age as a measure of 'adult' as it's pretty random - especially that magic point of supposed transition from child to adult. I also appreciate the way you've substituted 'adult' for 'learner'; absolutely there are characteristics that are relevant to and effective for all learners regardless of age, shoe size, height or equally random measures :)
I wonder though (and 'yes' this is a bit of a gross generalisation)...if an adult is seen as someone who has a wide range of life experiences and roles, as well as a variety of interpersonal (sometimes professional / work) contexts, then the notion of 'adult' may start to become more useful and relevant. As such, it's not a case of learning as purely cognitive or how a person learns / behaves, but it's also about the stage of development of social practices.
So, while a young-learner may get a lot out of say, a MOOC on coding, they might find some of the scenarios and case studies tricky to unpack, and collaboration with peers may also have its challenges. In this situation, the young learner, while cognitively capable, may just need 'more turns around the block' before the learning experience is optimum for them. On the other hand (and boy I've come across a lot of this!) the assumptions made in the design of courses for 'adults' are enough to make you weep! The need to offer scaffolding, choice, multiple pathways, and all those good Universal Design for Learning principles for some reason, fall off the radar as soon as a learner moves into tertiary education. (Another gross generalisation, but...).
Would be good to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for sharing (and thoroughly enjoyed your post :D)

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