Andragogy versus Pedagogy: hammer vs. wrench or Phillips vs. flat?

by Paula Moran

What are they?

Pedagogy is knowledge of how to teach information to students*.  It includes understanding how to set up a lesson, question, assess and present information all in an effective manner. There are elements of pedagogy that are universal, such as how to write or mastery objectives.  There are also elements of pedagogy that are considered content specific such as how to develop a scientific inquiry lab.

The fundamental key to Pedagogy is that the instructor makes decisions about and constructs the learning environment.  Often the instructor is also the subject matter expert.

Andragogy is the knowledge of how to teach adult students.  In andragogy traditionally the instructor takes the role of a learning facilitator in contrast to the full dictatorial powers as in pedagogy. 

*students will be used for consistency of wording but refers to trainees, leaners, employees or whomever is doing the learning.


How are they different?

Role of the Instructor

The biggest contrast between pedagogy and andragogy is the role of the instructor.  In pedagogy the instructor is significantly more of an expert than the students.  This expertise can come from study, age or background experience.  The difference in expertise creates a dynamic of the instructor giving information and the students receiving it.  An example of this dynamic is primary school classrooms.  The teacher is an expert in basic math, reading and writing while the students are not.

In contrast when the company HR representative is leading professional development training the students may have more experience than the HR representative.  In this case the role of the instructor is that of a facilitator than a disseminator.  Students will learn more from each other than from the instructor.  Therefore the instructor must facilitate the process of informational exchange. 

See Figure 1 for the contrast in information sharing dynamics.  “I” represents the instructor and “S” represents student.


Nature of the learner

In our society individuals between the ages of 5 and 18 years are expected to attend school.  During those 13 years of formal education students are expected to take a variety of classes some of which may have no direct relation to the final professional career of the student.  The overall K-12 curriculum is designed to teach individuals the skills they will need to be a productive member of a democratic society.  The learner may not be able to independently understand the importance of what he or she is learning.

Compulsory education does not apply to adults.  Adults either enter formal educational settings by choice or by periodic compulsion of employers.  Formal learning is a periodic rather than constant activity.  Adults enter formal education to meet their individual needs not that of society.   Because of this adults enter educational settings with a basic understanding of why the material is to be learned.


Educational Setting

Traditionally younger students are taught in a classroom and for that reason pedagogical practices focus on methods that are most effective in the classroom setting.  That is changing with the advent of online high schools and technologically integrated classrooms.

Adult education historically encompasses a greater variety of situations.  Professional training, educating populations for social action, political campaigns and mentoring can all be considered forms of adult education.  Because of the variety of activities that fall within the realm of adult education the settings have a vast range from formal to informal.


Age of student and Licensure

Historically pedagogical practices were applied while students were between 3 to 18 years of age.  Licensed k-12 teacher have passed a series of tests known as the Praxis. The Praxis tests content knowledge and pedagogical application.  An “unqualified teacher” is one that has not passed the Praxis test in his or her content area. The Praxis in modern education is akin to the bar exam in the legal system.   It has had important implications in recent educational legislation.

There is not an analogous test to demonstrate understanding of andragogy.  There are certifications and degrees that individuals can obtain degrees or professional certifications.   Some states, including Arizona and Connecticut, offer certifications in adult education.


How are they similar?

Both pedagogy and andragogy are assemblies of methods and theories.  Neither is a prescribed set of steps. 


Motivational theories

Both believe that the closer the content is related and applied to students’ daily lives the more a student will be motivated to learn it.  What form that application takes depends on the content and students.


Reliance on Developmental theories

Humans develop in a predictable manner.  Go to any toy store and look on the packaging.  Manufacturers can give you reasonable suggestions what ages would be in a given toy based on cognitive and physical development at that age.

Both Andragogy and pedagogy match instructional activities with the abilities of a learner at certain stages of life and in the case of pedagogy the physical development as well.  Just as there is a difference between the cognitive abilities of an 8 and 16 year old there will be differences in the abilities of a 25 and a 50 year old. A 50 year old will have a greater abundance to life experiences and in theory the ability to work more independently as he or she is probably higher up the hierarchical professional ladder.


Conclusions and application

Education is no longer restricted to sitting in rows of desks scribbling notes.  The modern world has set up a plethora of contexts and practices for education.  We must free ourselves from the restrictive view that educational method should be prescribed by age and embrace the best method for the context and learners we teach. 

Pedagogy and Andragogy are not two separate tool kits, but rather refer to a spectrum of methodologies to draw from.  Consider:

  • Who are the learners,
  • What information must be taught,
  • The context of the learning,
  • And the background connections of the learner and the information.

Then select the best method from your expanded palette of methodologies.  In the end it is the education of your students or trainees that is most important.  Never shortchange them by restricting yourself.

Pedagogy and andragogy are like Phillips and flathead screwdrivers.  Each comes in a wide variety.  Different ones are optimal for different situations.  But in the end they do the same job – educate people.