Andragogy vs. Pedagogy

In his post, Learning is learning, Steve Wheeler asks, “So does the concept of Andragogy add any value to our understanding of learning? For me, the answer is no.”

I would have to disagree because the concept of andragogy has actually added great value to our understanding of learning.

Pedagogy is derived from the Greek words paid meaning “child” and agogus meaning “leader of.” In this pedagogy classroom, the teachers are responsible for all decisions about learning in that they decided what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, when it should be learned, and if it has been learned. Which meant the learners were pretty much in the roles of passive, dependent recipients of the teachers' transmissions. When our public schools were first established, they were based on this pedagogical model.

When adult education was later established, this was the only model at the time, so our profession was also based on it. Which of course lead to a high drop out rate, low motivation, and poor performance. In 1926, Eduard C. Lindereman's book, The Meaning of Adult Education, captures the essence of adult learning:

In this process the teacher finds a new function. He is no longer the oracle who speaks from the platform of authority, but rather the guide, the pointer-out who also participates in learning in proportion to the vitality and relevance of his facts and experiences. In short, my conception of adult education is this: a cooperative venture in nonauthoritarian, informal learning, the chief purpose of which is to discover the meaning of experience; a quest of the mind which digs down to the roots of the preconceptions which formulate our conduct; a technique of learning for adults that makes education coterminous with life and hence elevates living itself to the level of adventurous experiment. - quoted in Nadler, 1984, p.6.4

In the 1950s, European educators started using the term “andragogy,” from the Greek word anere for “adult,” and agogus, “the art and science of helping students to learn.” They wanted to be able to discuss the growing body of knowledge about adult learners in parallel with pedagogy.

Andragogy, is often criticized because as we now know, it also applies to younger learners; however the people behind the theories at the time were trainers of adults rather than educators in the school system, thus they applied their theories to the section of the population that they best knew about. Because of their work, they pioneered the way for the world of pedagogy to also advance itself from being almost entirely passive-based to a more experience-based process of learning.

So yes, Knowles's concept of andragogy is that he intended for it to be different to pedagogy, because pedagogy at the time was extremely passive-based. Just because pedagogy is finally catching up to andragogy is not a strong enough reason to drop the concept from our terminology. I believe we should be embracing the term because of its rich history and pioneering the way of our present concept of learning.


Nadler, Leonard (1984). The Handbook of Human Resource Development. New York: John Wiley & Sons