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Pedagogy and Andragogy Featured

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How are Classes for Adults Different from Classes for Children and Adolescents?


Pedagogy is from two words, paid and agogus (Ozuah, 2005). Paid means “child” while agogus means “leader of”. From these two words, pedagogy is the art and science of teaching children. The term emerged during the seventh century Europe when monastic schools introduced organized education. Andragogy was coined by a German teacher Alexander Kapp, as an approach to adult education. The American adult education theorist Malcolm Knowles defined andragogy as the art and science of aiding adults to learn (Gibson, 2014). The assumptions and principles of pedagogy are different from those of andragogy and are the bases for differentiation of the classes for specific groups of learners.

Assumptions of Pedagogy and Andragogy

The differences in the classes for adults and those of children and adolescents vary based on the assumptions and principles of pedagogy and andragogy. The assumptions of the two learning approaches are contradictory. The implication is that the design and curriculum applied in classes for children are different from those used in classes for adult education.

Pedagogy is on four foundational assumptions. First, the personality of the learner is dependent. The implication of this assumption is that learners do not know and cannot know their learning needs or requirements. Second, learning should be subject-centered. This assumption requires that the instructional curriculum ought to be around the subject, i.e. the learner. Third, extrinsic motivation is the most significant driving factor for learning. This principle entails that learners require punishment and prizes, in order to gain motivation for learning. Fourth and last, the learner’s prior experience is irrelevant. The fourth principle applies the principle or concept of tabula rasa or blank state. In assuming that the prior experience of the learner does not matter, the assumption implies that the teacher does not need to consider prior experience of the learner as consequential to learning. These assumptions are the basis of the organization of classes for teaching children. The modern models of learning apply the pedagogical approach. Pedagogy is principally a teacher-centered model of learning. The educator determines the content, time, and how learning will occur, and if the objectives have been achieved.

Andragogy emerged in the 19th century when Alexander Kapp, a German grammar school educator, coined a word to describe the educational paradigm applied by Plato, the Greek philosopher. Many theorists including Edward Lindeman and Malcolm Knowles expanded on the concept initially defined by Alexander Kapp, in 1833. For example, Knowles described andragogy as the approach to guiding adults to learn. The work of these theorists contributed to the assumptions of adult education applied in modern educational settings. The principles or assumptions of adult learning revolve around five concepts, i.e. the need to know, the learners self-concept, the role of experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation (Merriam, 2001).

In relation to the need to know, the assumption is that adults must know the value and utility of the material that they are to learn before they begin to learn (Merriam, 2001). Prior to making the decision to learn, adults conduct research to identify the potential benefits and negative consequences of learning the material or not learning the material, respectively. In congruence with this assumption, the first task that an adult educator does is to help the learner appreciate the need for the learning.

The second assumption of adult learning is that the learner’s self-concept is independent and self-directing (Gibson, 2014). The psychological state of adults is such that they want to portray the capability to self-direct. They resent or are opposed to situations in which they feel that others impose their will on them. Therefore, a system of education that does not foster the independence of the learner is likely to produce learners who are passive and dependent. The assumption of dependency causes a conflict within learners between the psychological need to be self-directed and the expectation to be as children.

The role of experience is another important assumption of andragogy (Merriam, 2001). Educators of adult learners believe that the prior experiences are significantly vital sources available to the learners. Adult learners often come to classroom with a higher magnitude of experience than children. For this reason, adult educators employ techniques that foster experience-based learning. For example, adult educators employ case studies, group discussions, simulation, projects, and problem-solving activities.

The third assumption relates to the readiness to learn (Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative, 2012). For adults, the readiness to learn depends on the leaner’s appreciation of the need or relevance of the material, topic, or course. Adults become to learn when their evaluation tells them that they need to engage in the particular learning so that they can cope effectively with real-life problems and situations.

Assumption four of andragogy is that the adults’ orientation to learning is problem-centered, life-centered, or task-centered. The approach is different from pedagogy when the orientation to learning is on the subject. In line with the assumption, the extent to which adults are ready to participate in learning depends on their perception of how the knowledge to be will help them solve problems or perform tasks. Hence, adult educators seek to present learning material in the context of real-life situations.

Application of the Principles of Pedagogy and Andragogy

The principles of andragogy and pedagogy require that the settings for adult education are organized differently from those for teaching children. Adults learn optimally when they perceive the need to learning something. In addition, they learn best when learning occurs in an environment that is non-threatening. Also, they learn optimally when learning programs reflect their needs of their learning styles. Also, their learning outcome is optimal if they the learning programs acknowledge their previous experiences. Adults also learn effectively when the curriculum provides allows their feedback on the progress toward achievement of their goals. In addition, their learning is effective when the focus is on relevant problems and application of concepts in practice, and when they perceive an opportunity to apply what they have learned. These are some of the several conditions that emanate from the principles of adult learning.

In my experiences, I have observed the application of the assumptions and principles of pedagogy and andragogy. Many programs of adult education are developed such that the larger part of the program involves engaging students in practical lessons. Normally, adult education programs begin with lectures, which introduce the learner to the expectations for the course. Educators use lectures to provide topic or course outline, after which the lesson is transformed to be practice-oriented. A typical example of how this occurs is the participation of students in labs. Educators or teachers use lectures to introduce the concepts and provide instructions or procedures for the lab. After providing instructions, the role of the teacher becomes that of a facilitator. Students are left to conduct lab activities while the teacher provides supervision and clarifications based on student inquiries.

The principles of adult learning also require that students get opportunities to link learning to practical issues in the community. For example, I have experienced arrangements where students make field visits to project areas, companies, or communities. Field visits allow learners to observe real-life situations. In the field, the learners observe how the concepts they are learning applies to practical situations. In higher learning, students usually can implement projects in real-life settings. Student projects enable students to participate in solving community problems. In this way, the learner perceives the relevance of the participation in course or topic.

The use of brainstorming is one example that reflects the application of the principles of adult education. Adult educators usually utilize brainstorming to provide the overview of the lesson and to gauge knowledge of the students. Through brainstorming, the teacher asks students their expectations of learning and identifies the appropriate methods based on the responses obtained from students. Unlike the pedagogical approach, adult learning is student driven. The educator structures lessons based on an assessment of knowledge and experiences of the students.

I have also experienced the application of the principles of adult learning through the use of case studies. Normally, learners are classified in groups and given a research topic or question. The individual groups take charge of all the group learning activities, beginning with allocating roles to group members. For example, they can choose a facilitator, recorder, and other roles as may be necessary, depending on the tasks. The individual groups discuss questions provided for the case studies and record outcome to be presented or reported to the entire class. In addition, the group is required to reflect on their learning and provide feedback for the purpose of improving the learning process.

Another observed application of the assumptions of adult learning is where students are asked to make observations of how certain aspects learned in class occur in practice and make a certain number of entries in the journal. The students are required to make entries of their observations in a journal. This method allows students to relate the aspects learned in class with how the aspects occur in real practice. Making observations and keeping entries in a journal provides opportunities for learners to observe the relevance of the topics or lessons to real-life contexts.

Teaching Methodology for Adults and Adolescents

Like adults, adolescents are goal-oriented, relevancy-oriented, autonomous and self-directed, practical, require respect, and have a foundation of knowledge and life experiences (Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative, 2012). These attributes of these categories of learners have implications for the learning methodologies employed. Some of the strategies of teaching that have been identified to work for these learners include quiz, games, role-playing, brainstorming, lecture, case study, simulation, and group problem-solving. The choice of instructional methods or strategies depends on the context or the specific situation of learning. The choice of the appropriate methodologies to apply for adult and adolescent learning is based on assumptions of adult learning.

Adult students are self-directed or responsible learners (Gibson, 2014). Therefore, the educator's role is to facilitate self-directed learning, giving the responsibility for taking charge of learning to students. Self-directed learning motivates students to learn. The first approach may be to build a rapport with the learners to make it easy for them participate in the learning process. The educator is also required to show interest I the thoughts and opinions of the student by carefully paying attention to any question or inquiry made. The teacher should lead the learner toward inquiry before providing them with facts. The educator is also required to review the goals of the students and acknowledge goal completion. The teacher needs to acknowledge the learning styles of the individual students. Also, it is essential to set student tasks or projects that reflect the interests of the students.

Adult learners and, to some extent, adolescents, bring experiences and knowledge to the learning process (Merriam, 2001). For this reason, these learners prefer being provided opportunities to utilize their knowledge and experience to their learning experiences. Therefore, the educator may need to establish the nature of the knowledge and the past personal, work, and study experiences their students have, including their interests. The teacher should assist the learners draw on their experiences to solve problems. The educator should facilitate or provide opportunities for reflective learning, which helps the student examine the existing habits or biases on the basis of life experiences, and move toward gaining a new understanding of the information presented.

From the assumptions already discussed, adult learners are goal-oriented (Gibson, 2014). For effective learning to occur, adolescent learners should also be considered goal-oriented. These learners become ready to learn once they experience a need to learn what they are learning. The educator's role is to demonstrate the significance of what the students are learning to their goals by clarifying how the course or topic will aid the students to be better-equipped to respond to the real-life problems and tasks. The target is to increase awareness of the students, in terms of the need for the skill or knowledge. Therefore, the educator may adopt certain strategies. The educator should provide meaningful learning experiences, clearly linked to professional and personal goals, as well as assessment and future life goals. The other alternative may be to provide case studies involving real-life scenarios. Case studies provide a basis from which to teach theory. Another strategy is that the teacher can provide a quiz or pose a question that motivates reflection, inquiry, and research.

Adults and adolescents are relevancy-oriented (Merriam, 2001). These categories of students want to identify the relevance of the things they are learning to the goals they want to achieve. In order to assist the student to perceive the value of their knowledge and practical experiences, the educator needs to ask learners to state to state what they expect to learn prior to beginning the learning experience and their plans of applying the knowledge, in the future. The educator should consider providing options for fieldwork, in order to make the learning process to reflect the interests of the student.

Educators must also acknowledge that adults are practical (Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative, 2012). It is, therefore, vital that learning programs are organized to include regular fieldwork experiences, allowing students to interact with clients, in real-life situations. The purpose is to enable students to move from the textbook and classroom mode to hands-on experiences, involving problem-solving situations. The educator should provide an explicit explanation of how learning will be useful and applicable to their professional endeavors. In addition, the educator should explain the rationale or criteria used for assessments and interventions. Also, the educator should foster student participation by providing plenty of opportunities for practical experiences, with the aim to build skills, competence, and confidence.

The other vital factor that influences the choice of the learning methodology and strategy is that adults seek to be respected (Gibson, 2014). Educators can demonstrate respect to their students by showing interest in their prior knowledge and acknowledging their experiences. In addition, educators should regard learners as colleagues, who are equal in terms of life experiences. In showing respect, the educator should encourage expression of ideas and feedback sharing at every opportunity.

Methodology for Physical Skills Vs Cognitive or Soft Skills

Methods are ways or procedures educators use to teach material to students (White & Manfred, 2010). The choice of methods vary with the content (what educators want to teach), the type of students, and expected level of competence. For this reason, methods for teaching physical skills vary with those for teaching soft or cognitive skills. Soft skills are a cluster of personality qualities, interpersonal skills, and additional skills, which mark individuals to varying degrees (Schulz, 2008). Examples of soft skills include communication skills, problem-solving skills, creativity, critical thinking, time management, work ethics, self-esteem, responsibility, cultural awareness, conflict management, time management, social skills, team work capability, and many others. Hard or physical skills are the technical skills required to pursue a job.

A formal approach to fostering the development of soft skills is to incorporate subjects that teach soft skills into the curriculum (Schulz, 2008). On lower-level education, students may be required to conduct a bit of research and report findings to the class. On graduate level education, courses on conflict management, time management, cultural issues, and communication skills have been identified to improve soft skills among students. Perhaps, the first step is to raise the student’s awareness about the importance of soft skills and the consequences or shortcomings. Students should be encouraged to read dedicated books, join clubs and societies, and attend dedicated courses.

The typical educational curriculum is with methods for teaching the hard skills (Schulz, 2008). For the typical classroom, methods for teaching physical skills or hard skills include lectures, team-based learning, case methods, demonstrations, and active learning systems. Demonstrations are valuable for teaching, critiquing, and examining many skills, attitudes, and values. Demonstrations can use pictures, videos, and forms. Active learning activities include games and quizzes. The case method was developed by the Harvard Business School and remains the most-adopted for disciplines, especially medical education. Team-based learning involves providing quizzes or other assignments to student teams. The lecture method is a common method suited for providing the introduction or overview of the topic or giving instructions. For small group teaching, focused discussions, problem-based learning, student-led seminars, and role plays are appropriate for teaching physical skills.


Pedagogy and andragogy differ with both the assumptions and methodologies. Pedagogy is the approach to child education while andragogy is the approach to adult education. For andragogy, the experience of the learner and prior knowledge does not matter in the planning, development, and implementation of the curriculum. In other words, the learning approach adopted is teacher-centered. For adult learning and education of adolescents, the approach is different; the student directs learning. Therefore, the students’ experiences, prior knowledge, goals, perceptions, and feedback are vital. Educators must structure learning to include methodologies that foster both soft and hard skills.


Bryson, J.D. (2013). Engaging Adult Learners: Philosophy, Principles, and Practices. Barrie, ON: Author

Gibson, P.K. (2014). Andragogy as defined by Knowles.

Merriam, S.B. (2001). Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning Pillars of Adult Learning Theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 89: 3-13

Ozuah, P.O. (2005). First, There Was Pedagogy And Then Came Andragogy. Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine, 21(2005): 83-87

Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative (2012). Adult Learning Theory and Principles. Brisbane: The University of Queensland

Schultz, B. (2008). The importance of soft skills: education beyond academic knowledge. Journal of Language and Communication, 2008: 146-154

White, C. & Manfred, L. (2010). Instructional Methods and Strategies. In ACE Guidebook for Clerkship Directors. Ed. E. Ruth-Marie. Alliance for Clinical Education

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