“Andragogy” v. “Pedagogy”

Angie Hammons shares her thoughts on an article she found in Campus Technology:

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[ANGIE] I read an interesting article the other day in Campus Technology (http://campustechnology.com/articles/68283_1/).  It was titled “The Institutional Path for Change in this Age: Andragogy, not Pedagogy.” It solidified some thoughts in my mind about the educational process. The article begins by explaining the difference in pedagogy and andragogy.  Pedagogy was something I focused on with my educational courses in college.  It focuses on transmitting information to students through curriculum.  This was truly the first time I had been introduced to the term andragogy, which is the acquisition of content.  The article goes on to list the five principles of andragogy:

  1. Letting learners know why something is important to learn.
  2. Showing learners how to direct themselves through information
  3. Relating the topic to the learners’ experiences
  4. People will not learn until they are ready and motivated to learn
  5. Requires helping them overcome inhibitions, behaviors and beliefs about learning.

This was truly an eye-opening description as it mirrors my philosophy on education.  I had learned how to be the “sage on the stage” while at university.  But I found in the classroom it wasn’t the best method for students to learn.  Sure they could memorize and repeat for a test.  But how much of that information were they retaining for use later?  I didn’t see the “Aha” that I wanted to see. Then I began to focus on the Constructivist Theory of Learning, which simply states that students needed to construct their own learning for it to become meaningful.  This was my “Aha” moment and truly began to change the way I viewed education.  When put in to practice, I soon began to see students understanding concepts that I had struggled with them to understand.  They were putting together complex processes and it was making sense to them.  Now, I also realize that this doesn’t work for everything.  I do however believe that it can improve the outcome for students.  This article simply reinforces what I have seen in my own classroom.  

With the advent of technology andragogy becomes easier to assess and collect evidence on what students are doing and learning. As the article states, “We are now in the era when student learning experiences can be visible because of the everywhere and all-the-time (ubiquitous and universal) presence of Web connections.”  Students connect beyond the classroom with their peers.  It is important that we recognize this and utilize this in our approach to teach.  Technology can become a powerful tool when utilized effectively within andragogy.

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[MALCOLM] For the most part, I agree with Angie’s interpretation of learning using the andragogical model instead of the more traditional pedagogical model. However, I am not as supportive as Angie is of the Constructivist Theory of Learning. Mainly because it is often used to teach subjects such as mathematics and science which do not lend themselves as much to the Constructivist Theory. The most brilliant minds on the planet have developed mathematical theorems and scientific models to describe reality over the past 500 years (and longer). Unfortunately, there is a tendency for teachers–particular in the lower grades–to encourage students to “independently” discover foundational mathematical principles. Students (and often teachers) simply don’t have the rigorous training in logic required to perform the necessary thought experiments to discover those principles on their own. In many cases, this lack of rigor in student thinking processes can lead to fundamental errors in how they approach problems (such as forgetting that some mathematical formulas will only work under certain constraints–e.g. the Quadratic Formula only works when a is not equal to 0).

Scoff if you like, but the fact that someone actually discovered the Quadratic Formula is really quite an amazing achievement. Higher up the scale of intellectual achievements, it is simply a miracle that calculus was developed to the point that we can use it to observe more about the world around us today than at any other time in human history. We can also use it to create astounding technology sufficiently advanced that it is, in Arthur C. Clarke’s words, “indistinguishable from magic.”

With that said, I do believe it is possible to use a guided constructivist approach when teaching subjects that are less constrained by the rules of reality (the key word here is “guided”). For instance, technical communication is one area that can benefit students a great deal when they are allowed to experiment and test knowledge in a “safe” environment. Students can build presentations, write proposals, and perform other tasks that incorporate “best practices” of technical communication in an environment that is mostly free from any real-world consequences other than a grade. They can also use peer-review with their fellow classmates to check for the usability of the documentation they create under the watchful eyes of the instructor.

One of the challenges I have to face as a potential instructor in technical communication (I am a graduate student of Tech Com) is to somehow relate the content of the course to real-world situations. Often the only way to do this is to engage in “pseudotransactional” activities that simulate the types of documents students will need to create when they are actually employed for a company or other institution. Fortunately, there are any number of examples of “bad” technical communication to illustrate to students just how NOT to do something (especially bad PowerPoint presentations).