Traditionally, education is presented as young children, eager and attentive, relying on the teacher to bestow their wisdom and years of knowledge. This classic image is called “pedagogy,” or the practice of teaching children, and is derived from the Greek word for “child” (paidi) and “guide” (ago).
But where do adult learners fall in this scenario? “Andragogy,” or the practice of teaching adults, is derived from the Greek word for “man” (andras) and differs greatly from pedagogy in its practice. Learn more about the key differences between andragogy and pedagogy:
Adults are self-driven and can rely on past experience to solve complex problems, which means that a central focus of “leading the elders” must be the question of how to best support them in retaining new ideas, learning new ways of problem solving, and strengthening independent thinking.
The methods used to teach adults are different from those traditionally used to educate children. For instance, using a behavior chart with colorful stickers to motivate children to remain quiet during reading time is ineffective in adult learning. Most adult learners are already actively working in a career or field of interest, from medicine to engineering to business, and they require specialized instruction to guide and develop necessary skills. The field of adult education is constantly evolving with new practices and theories.
- Why and How: For adult learners, it’s crucial that they know the “why” of what they are learning. Being able to answer, “Why is this principle important to my life?” is essential for the student to understand “how” they can apply new knowledge. For example, if an individual wants to increase their income and advance to a leadership position at work but can’t do so without a specialized degree, then the degree becomes a vehicle for their professional goal.
- Experience: Adults enter a new learning environment with experience that informs their identity and abilities. It’s important to consider this life or career experience as a key part of the learning process when teaching adults. For example, a CNA has hours of experience in patient care. Their ability to understand and solve a problem in healthcare is significantly greater than that of a first-time nursing student.
- Self-concept: Most adults have moved from dependent to independent learning, a state that greatly impacts self-awareness and autonomy. Educators must consider this independence when building course deadlines and modules.
- Readiness: Since most adult learners are already in the workforce, their education needs to be approachable, flexible, and readily applicable. For example, a working mom who is going to school online needs accessible education outside of the normal 9–5 schedule.
- Problem Orientation: A focus on practical problems and solutions is imperative to engaging and effective adult learning environments. Many adult learners aren’t looking for hypotheticals but actual skills that can help them in their current careers.
- Intrinsic Motivation: For andragogy to be most effective, it’s important to give adults intrinsic, or internal, motivation by recognizing their success and promoting increased self-esteem and confidence. With a more nuanced and advanced hierarchy of needs than children, adult learners place more value on self-actualization.
Pedagogy, or “leading the young,” refers mainly to developing habits of thinking and acting. Within pedagogy, a teacher's main role is to provide opportunities for students to learn through experiences. For example, the coveted positions of “line leader” or “door holder” in school demonstrate the importance of leadership and service to children. Or, when a teacher changes the volume of their voice from the playground to the classroom when speaking to students, they are exemplifying the need for behavioral awareness.
Educators use many types of pedagogy to assist their classroom management and instruction. The four main forms of pedagogy are:
- Behaviorism: The belief that a student’s behavior is affected and reinforced by external forces rather than internal forces. Positive reinforcement is the most well-known form of behaviorism and is used often in teaching children through reinforcing desired behavior with a reward.
- Constructivism: The idea that students create their own learning based on previous knowledge and experience. Teachers act more as a guide to help students understand and “construct” their processes and applications to further their learning.
- Social Constructivism: A blend of two methods, social constructivism incorporates teacher-guided and student-centered instruction. This concept believes that “the group is greater than the individual” and allows the students to influence and form outcomes.
- Liberationism: The practice of placing the students’ opinions at the center of developing the learning environment, wherein the classroom is often managed democratically.
Though there are many differences in methods and motivations between andragogy and pedagogy, the audience (adults vs. children) is most important.
- Andragogy: Adults are independent and desire to be self-directed and empowered in their learning.
- Pedagogy: Children are dependent on the teacher to facilitate and structure their learning.
- Andragogy: Teaching adults centers learning on the necessary skills or knowledge to further personal and professional development.
- Pedagogy: Teaching children centers learning on the essential stages that a child must accomplish before being able to move on to the next stage.
- Andragogy: Adults use their own experiences and the experiences of others to gain a better understanding of the curriculum at hand.
- Pedagogy: Children are dependent on the teacher for all learning resources. The teacher’s role is to create and incorporate engaging methods for knowledge retention.
- Andragogy: Adult learning is often problem-centered, making the impact more focused on current events or real life.
- Pedagogy: Child learning is a subject-focused model with prescriptive curriculum.
- Andragogy: Adults gain motivation from internal, self-motivated sources (self-esteem, confidence, recognition, etc.)
- Pedagogy: Children gain motivation from external sources (parents, teachers, tangible rewards, etc.)
- Andragogy: The teacher acts more as a facilitator, encouraging collaboration, mutual respect, and openness with learners.
- Pedagogy: The teacher acts more as an expert, bestowing knowledge, skill, and structure to learners.
Children and adults have different needs, different motivations, and different desired outcomes when it comes to education. Understanding these key differences is important to the success of learners of all ages. More specifically, andragogy demands that educators innovate and connect with adult learners in meaningful and applicable ways, and value the input and experience that adults bring to the learning environment.
Do you want to impact the next generation of learners? Then check out WGU’s online teaching degree programs. Whether you’re looking to begin a career in education or further your expertise, WGU’s teaching degrees provide the knowledge to step confidently into the classroom in any of the 50 states.
Have you considered going back to school to gain the skills needed for a new career? Are you finally at a place to focus on your education? There are many reasons to become an adult learner. WGU offers the support and flexibility needed to earn a degree at your own pace and comfort level.
Pedagogy is focused on teacher-led instruction, while andragogy is focused on student-led instruction with the teacher as a facilitator.
“Andragogy” is the practice of teaching adults.
“Pedagogy” is the practice of teaching children.