Balancing Pedagogy and Andragogy

by Randy Fairfield, 12/11/17

Nobody wants to be told what to do. I don’t, you don’t, and—guess what—your students don’t either. Yet if you were to spend a day in the life of the average student, you would likely find that most of your school day was spent being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Perhaps this is because we as educators know a lot about pedagogy and perhaps not enough about andragogy.

The word pedagogy literally means “leading children” and came before the lesser known term andragogy, which means “leading adults.” An adult educator named Malcolm Knowles theorized nearly forty years ago that, as learners, adults have different characteristics than children do. As such, Knowles believed adult educators should take these differences into account when designing learning activities:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
  • Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. (Kearsley, 2010)
  • Yet as I look at that list, I can’t help but see a number of lesson design principles that I wish were more evident at the elementary level and especially at the secondary level. Why shouldn’t students be involved in the planning of their instruction to increase their level of buy-in? Why shouldn’t students’ experiences (including mistakes) provide the basis for learning activities? Why shouldn’t students be learning about subjects that have immediate relevance to their personal lives? Why shouldn’t students be learning content in the context of real-world problems? Do you see what I mean?

    Particularly as students emerge into adulthood, their learning needs demand that educators adopt lesson design principles that strike a balance between pedagogy and andragogy. It is true that students often don’t have the necessary experience to draw from to form the basis of some learning activities. Sometimes they need to hear the message that what they are learning about today might not now be immediately applicable to their lives. And, yes, there are times where students need to be explicitly led—but we also need to teach them to lead as well. What I’m advocating for here is for educators to strike a developmentally appropriate balance.

    Given the name of this website, at this point you might be wondering what this kind of reflection has to do with educational technology. Frankly, I am too as this blog post went a much different direction than I originally intended! I guess all that to say that to me the Chromebook represents an opportunity for educators to shift up as they find balance between pedagogy and andragogy. Though Chromebooks are not required, there are countless ways in which they can be leveraged to help educators plan learning activities that give students a bit more ownership over what, when, and how they learn and demonstrate their learning. Two of my favorite books from educators that embrace what I’m talking about are Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie (@trev_mackenzie) and The HyperDoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill (@lhighfill). And in case you were wondering, no, I don’t make any money if you click on their links and buy their books—I just think they’re worth taking a look at if you haven’t yet already! 🙂

    Source: Kearsley, G. (2010). Andragogy (M.Knowles). The theory into practice database. Retrieved from

    Randy Fairfield, MEd and MBA, is a teacher and consultant in the Richland School District in Eastern Washington. He is also a Google for Education Certified Trainer, Edmodo Certified Trainer and Hapara Champion Trainer and Consultant.

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