Andragogy vs Pedagogy: Which Do You Use?

6 Min Read  •  Instructional Materials

I was recently having a discussion with a group of fellow educators around learning styles and theories. Since we had teachers of all levels present, our discussion turned to the differences between teaching students and teaching adults. Listening to the various viewpoints, I had one question that kept bubbling up: Why do we teach adults and students differently? I asked it out loud and everyone looked at me like I had eight heads. But think about it: Why don’t we use the principles of adult learning theory with our students too? I often hear the argument that adults don’t want to be treated like kids when they are learning…but stop and think.  If you were a kid, would you want to learn the way we often ask kids to learn? Would you want the content simply delivered to you and lectured to you? Does that make you motivated to learn more? I’m not so sure it does. This is where the arts and creative thinking come in. Using arts integration strategies, in combination with the main principles of adult learning theory, will make school an even more exciting place for our students.

Malcom Knowles was an educator who coined the term andragogy for adult learning (which means man-learning rather than pedagogy which means child-learning), feeling adults needed to take responsibility for their actions and choices as well as being more self-directed. Isn’t this what we work to have our students do? Our kids can do this. Believe this and they will. Hold the bar high for them. Creative, critical thinking is the key.

That said, let’s take a closer look at Knowles’ four main principles of adult learning through the eyes of teaching students and arts integration.

Principle #1: Self-Concept

Knowles stated “adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction” (Knowles, 1984). Think of how many times kids ask “why”. Do you push this line of thinking? Knowles believed adults needed to know why they were learning something. Don’t you think if we told kids this why, they too would be more motivated to learn? Having a true understanding about why you are doing what you are doing (not just because the teacher says so) will help to invest them instantly and understand themselves better. Too many classrooms tend to have that top-down philosophy. Give your students direction, but choice. How will they show their understanding? How will they gather their resources? Giving them choices doesn’t mean you are giving up control of your classroom. In fact, it will take a huge weight off your shoulders.

Principle #2: Experience

“Experience, including mistakes, provides the basis for learning activities” (Knowles, 1984). Doesn’t this feel like a no-brainer for the classroom? But how often do we as teachers feel compressed for time and resort to easy to grade tasks and rote memorization. Think about even something as simple as spelling tests. All too often, our kids memorize the words for Friday’s test, get 100% and are spelling them wrong again on Monday. We remember when we learn in context. Create experiences that will enable the application of skills in which students can revise and enhance their knowledge. Creative experiences in which critical thinking is key couldn’t be more perfect for this. The magic happens in the artistic process when we revise and expand our work and thinking.

Principle #3 Readiness to Learn

“As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.” (Knowles, 1984) Isn’t this what differentiated learning is? We know that differentiated learning is the key, but I think we can all agree that too often, we end up teaching “to the middle” of our class, hoping the struggling students can keep up and that the higher students don’t get bored. Again, another reason for open-ended, creative tasks. Students know what they are capable of and they will naturally push limits to their learning when they are ready. But when they are already starting at a level that isn’t appropriate for them, haven’t we gotten them frustrated before they even begin?

Principle #4 Orientation to Learning

This principle essentially tells us that learning should be problem-centered rather than content centered. Give students a problem to solve. Challenge their brains and their ways of thinking. When we do this, our students will be on the path to discovery, and making discoveries on their own. We are their as teachers to help guide them through this process and provide redirection when mistakes are made, which simply allow us to learn even more. Isn’t this what we as teachers want? To see the light bulbs go off in our students as they discover a process or a connection? I think we all can remember lessons where we were far more excited about the content than our students were. This is because we had already made the connections for ourselves. That’s what the art of lesson planning does. But that excitement isn’t felt by our students when we simply tell them rather than have them figure it out. So give them a problem to solve. Find the content standard that naturally aligns with an artistic process. Watch your students soar with it, and probably discover connections you hadn’t realized yourself.

It will take time

This shift in our thinking isn’t going to happen overnight. Our students have become masters at “doing school”. They are used to just being told answers to memorize and have learned all the techniques to proving their answers with text evidence. They know how to restate the question and spit back answers their teachers want to hear. What they aren’t always be asked to do is to think for themselves. Why are we so afraid of that as teachers? We say standardized tests aren’t always appropriate for our kids, but really step back and ask if our methods of teaching are.

Many students aren’t going to know what to do when we simply tell them to “figure it out”. Ironically, you will find it is your higher students that struggle the most with it. They are the ones that can research for the answers and spit it back. They are your rule followers. This will be the chance for your struggling and average students (who always have to figure out how to do things) to be the stars and teach the process of thinking. Start slow and try it in just one class, subject or area. Or, take a look at some of our pre-made lessons and dip your toes in slowly. The learning curve may be painful, but remember, magic happens when you are outside of your comfort zone. Step back and let the process happen. Become a guide for your students. Watch their excitement grow. And most of all, really remember why we all wanted to become teachers in the first place.