Category Archives: Pedagogy

Andragogy vs Pedagogy

In a recent Campus Technology article, Trent Batson quotes Connor’s 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

I don’t argue with these five principles at all as they fit pretty well with the principles associated with Knowles’ definition of andragogy. But then Batson goes on to state:

There is little doubt that the most dominant form of instruction in Europe and America is pedagogy, or what some people refer to as didactic, traditional, or teacher-directed approaches… In pedagogy, the concern is with transmitting the content, while in andragogy, the concern is with facilitating the acquisition of the content.

This seems to me to be drawing the wrong conclusion and assuming two thing are polar opposites when in fact they are merely different perspectives. Batosn’s claim would certainly surprise (and probably annoy) the many great teachers who don’t work with adults and don’t rely on transmitting content.

As an analogy, consider the example of culturally-appropriate education. Some minority cultures state that their learners have preference for learning approaches which incorporate small group work and content which is relevant to their lives. I can agree with this without jumping to the conclusion that when working with pakeha (‘European’) the opposite is true: that I shouldn’t use small groups and don’t need to make content relevant to their lives.

The distinction between andragogy and pedagogy provides useful insights into our learners. But to characterise pedagogy as embodying everything that is out-dated and reactionary in educational approaches is simplistic and erroneous in my opinion.


Batson, T. ” The Institutional Path for Change in This Age: Andragogy, not Pedagogy“.

Conner, M. L. “Andragogy and Pedagogy.” Ageless Learner, 1997-2004.

Kearsley, G. “Theory into Practice: Andragogy“.

Photo: FN Noronha

Problem-based learning, games and motivation

When learners are involved in problem-based learning (such as a game or other problem-solving activity), motivation often varies over time. Motivation tends to increase when partial success is achieved, but decreases when partial successes take too long to arrive. But how long is too long?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer since every learner is different and the tendency to remain motivated varies very widely between individuals, over time, and between contexts.

I’m currently working on a model of motivational stamina which attempts to identify some of the variables:

Learning and Motivation

The challenge facing the learning designer is how to maintain engagement when learner motivation is so variable. What is an interesting task at the beginning may cease to be interesting and motivating part way through, and learner attention and commitment to the activity may be lost.

The model suggests that some early success is desirable, and also that ongoing partial successes may serve to maintain motivation. This is reminiscent of narrative techniques in popular culture, where viewer interest is maintained through a repeated cycle of raised tension and dénouement.

Left, Paul. The Motivational Stamina Model.

The limitations of connectivism

The Connectivism & Connective Knowledge online course (CCK08) is now underway with close to 2,000 participants. I’ve wondered for some time about the usefulness and applicability of connectivism as a theory of learning, and enrolling in CCK08 seemed like a good opportunity to explore this issue in depth.

My first post is a response to one of the initial readings on connectivism, which states:

1. Connectivism is the application of network principles to define both knowledge and the process of learning. Knowledge is defined as a particular pattern of relationships and learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.

This appears to suggest that learning involves ‘creating new patterns of knowledge’ and ‘developing skills in navigating knowledge’. This seems to me to be a very knowledge-focused model of learning, and the skills it does incorporate are self-referential – they are skills only in navigating the network which ‘defines knowledge’. If we imagine that the network is broken, then the only real skills developed are in navigating a faulty network.

For someone involved in professional development in education, concepts such as capability, self-efficacy and reflective practice don’t seem well-served by the connectivist definition of learning. This is not to say that ‘the network’ doesn’t have a role to play in supporting processes such as reflective practice (in fact, I think it has an important role) but it does seem limited in its ability to define learning in other than purely knowledge terms. I’m also not suggesting that ‘navigating patterns of knowledge’ is not an important part of learning, but it is just a part.

Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

Information and knowledge in a vocational education setting often has a significance beyond that in more academic courses: in fact, the life and well-being of the students and members of the public may depend on its accuracy. Consider the following scenario:

CC: photo Robert LawtonJan is a nursing lecturer in a department which has recently begun to incorporate a ‘community of practice’ approach, including the use of a wiki for students and staff to collaboratively build publicly-accessible knowledge resources. She logs in one Monday morning and sees that a student has added to the page on clinical practice, including information which is contrary to accepted practice and could put patients’ health at risk.

Jan is appalled: What if another student read that information over the weekend and put it into practice? What if a practising nurse has read it and is about to complain to Jan’s head of department? Jan immediately deletes the incorrect information, then wonders whether she has done the right thing.

How should Jan have reacted? In fact, if Jan’s department had been through a thorough planning process, the risk of faulty information being contributed as well strategies for dealing with it would have been identified prior to implementing the collaborative activity. So Jan would have known exactly how to react.

Some e-learning specialists feel that Web 2.0 tools like wikis have no place at all in vocational education because the risks of ‘faulty knowledge’ are potentially so great. I don’t happen to believe that, but I do believe we need to identify the risks when we are planning, along with what we will do when ‘faulty knowledge’ is contributed. And we need to share this with students beforehand, so that they too understand the risks and how these will be handled.

If we do identify that there is a risk of ‘faulty knowledge’ being contributed, we need to also identify how we will:

  • Monitor the wiki (ie how will we know incorrect information exists?)
  • Deal with the published incorrect information (eg is it deleted, corrected or annotated?)
  • Correct the students’ faulty knowledge (ie that underlies the incorrect information)
  • Maintain a democratic and motivating collaborative environment while retaining the right to intervene
  • Communicate the risks and how we’ll deal with them to students

I believe the potential benefits of exposing ‘faulty knowledge’ outweigh the risks – but we do need a well thought-out plan for dealing with incorrect and potentially dangerous information.

Photo by Robert Lawton

Providing clear structures and guidance for online learners

The Flexible Learning Planning Guide provides a set of 10 guidelines for teachers planning a small-scale implementation of online learning. The first guideline is:

Learning is guided by a clear schedule of objectives and activities which establish an effective developmental progression.

This is not always easy to do: too often learners are confronted with an intimidating list of items (resources, forums, links, …) with little guidance as to how these relate to specific course outcomes or objectives. Even learning management systems such as Moodle and Blackboard provide a calendar for scheduling learning activities, but these are often not linked to course outcomes and assessments. The danger is that learning activities are seen as arbitrary tasks and learner motivation to engage can be affected.

LMS, wiki or blog?

In a small-scale implementation where the technology incorporated does not include a LMS, there may be no features to help teachers develop such a schedule of activities. On the other hand, if the online course is built around a wiki or blog, the teacher is not constrained by the LMS interface.

Whatever the technology used, one clear way to communicate a clear structure of course activities is a table which maps weekly activities to outcomes and assessment:

Example course schedule


This sort of schedule clearly explains to the learner not only what you want them to do, but why it’s important and relevant. See making learning processes explicit for why I think this is important.

The bad news is, most learning management systems, blogs or wikis don’t provide simple tools for creating such a table. The good news is, it’s not hard to create a table like this in HTML that you can then reuse as a template to provide a common schedule format for all your courses. A much simpler option is to use Google docs to create your table as a published spreadsheet. However, you lose some of the flexibility of HTML (eg embedded links), and you may not be able (as here in WordPress) to embed a Google doc in your own page.