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Pedagogy and Andragogy

February 21, 2012

As you may know, I am involved in advanced education. One of my assignments involved exploring the differences between andragogy and pedagogy–i.e., the differences between adult education and traditional, youth-focused education. I have been asked to share the findings in a public format, so my loyal hotdog theology readers can benefit. Feel free to comment and dialogue with respect to the study.

Education has been a discipline since perhaps the beginning of mankind, but it has only been recently that Christian education has made a resurgence in terms of research and scholarship. Though Christian education has been practiced since the time of Christ, studies in this century have helped to give a language and shared terminology to these concepts, many of them borrowed from the wider discipline of education. One such concept is the division between pedagogy and andragogy.

            The term pedagogy comes from the Greek root paidos, meaning child, and generally refers to the teaching of younger learners. Paul uses to this term in Galatians 3:23 when he speaks of the law as a schoolmaster. In the Greco-Roman world, a pedagogue, or paidagogos, was a tutor who was responsible for the moral and intellectual formation of a boy (Wilkerson, 2001). This linguistic framework is so entrenched that in modern times, pedagogy can refer to the field of teaching in general as well as its more specific use in emphasizing the education of younger learners.

            Pedagogical theory in Christian education can be traced as far back as the Church Fathers. Augustine and others emphasized memorization, repetition, and factual knowledge in their teaching. The importance of the catechism reflects this type of mindset (Wilkerson, 2001). The Moravians expanded this approach in the seventeenth century, replacing the catechism with an inductive type of memorization and agglomeration of factual knowledge. The underlying assumption remained that theory preceded practice (Wilkerson, 2001).

            Since that time, several different and fragmented approaches to pedagogy have arisen. Experiential or democratic pedagogy seeks to engage the student in a collaborative role in the learning process. Cultural pedagogies seek to use cultural referents as a way to underscore the learning gained. Critical or radical understandings, such as those promulgated by Marxist and neo-Marxist theories, undermine the assumptions deemed as majority focused or class-based (Wilkerson, 2001).

            Perhaps the widening acceptance of pedagogical theory resulted in the Sunday school movement, spearheaded by John Vincent and the Chautauqua adult educators. They emphasized that even a volunteer Christian educator, if he or she would immerse himself or herself in pedagogical theory, could have a fulfilling and effectual impact in education (Wilkerson, 2001). Such fusion of theory and content indeed has been transformational in American Christian education.

            In applying these theories to a higher education classroom, it is important to note the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy. In pedagogy (referring to younger, immature learners) issues of classroom control become prevalent. A power imbalance exists, with the majority of the authority lying with the instructor. In addition, the motivation for learning typically is derived from external sources, such as coercion from parents, rather than internal motivations. Pedagogical instruction, as in the days of Augustine, seeks to imbue factual knowledge above theory or practice, generally expecting that the application will naturally arise at such time as it is necessary. Classroom environments are controlled and typically fairly rigid (Melick, 2010).

            Supplementing pedagogical theory is andragogy. This term refers specifically to the education of adult learners in contrast with the narrower use of pedagogy. Malcolm Knowles, generally acknowledged as a pioneer in the field, describes andragogy as “simply another model of assumptions about adult learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model of assumptions, thereby providing two alternative models for testing out the assumptions as to their fit with particular situations” (Carlson, 2001).  Therefore, andragogy is not superior to pedagogy; it simply is a different model used in appropriate contexts.

            Andragogy introduces very different assumptions towards a learning base than pedagogy. Carlson has described some of the most important. The first is in the concept of the learner, with adult learners being self-directing and pedagogical learners typically guided. Andragogy also assumes a greater volume of life experience as a foundation. The readiness and motivation to learn is also usually different, with andragogical learners ready because of a need or a desire to perform more efficiently, stemming often from an internal motivation.  By contrast, most pedagogical learners are not ready to learn because of a misperception of their needs. This leads to most of the motivation being applied from external sources. Andragogical learners also differ in their approach to learning, being life-centered, task-centered, and problem-centered rather than the subject-centered approach typically found in pedagogically oriented learners (Carlson, 2001).

Though andragogy has been practiced throughout history, probably at least as far back as Plato, it has only been described as a specific subset of the larger educational discipline recently. Thinkers such as Alexander Kapp, Eduard Lindeman, Malcolm Knowles, John Dewey have incorporated these differing assumptions throughout their careers. Others, such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Cyril Houle also have had an influence in shaping modern andragogical paradigms (Carlson, 2001).

            Melick and Melick have applied the difference in these educational approaches to theological education. They see the majority of teaching that occurs at the Christian education level as using pedagogical method and outcomes, such as the continued emphasis on repetition and memorization without the extra, andragogically motivated steps of application of that theory. As such, Christian education would benefit from an understanding of what outcomes are desired and a related choice of learning strategy and assumption (Melick and Melick, 2010).

            Melick and Melick also catalogue some of the pitfalls faced in Christian preaching and in higher education. Through various motivations, such as the desire to keep a power imbalance between the pastor and congregation, often a theological educator will treat the learners with undue inferiority, leading to a misapplication of teaching technique and an unsatisfactory amount knowledge transfer (Melick and Melick, 2010).

            In keeping with sound andragogical practice, the discussion must move from theory to practice. The below are several possible applications of andragogical theories to Christian education, particularly in a classroom context. Though these are not exhaustive examples, nor are they able to be applied universally, such a listing should give a flavor of the distinction between pedagogical and andragogical methods.



  • Emphasize the internal orientation of the learner by permitting food and drink in the classroom (Melick and Melick, 2010)
  • Consider allowing students to share in the teaching, utilizing collaborative instructional methods
  • Infuse the educational experience with technology, especially that which students can reduplicate in their own applications of the teaching.
  • Use an interactive message board or class blog to encourage interaction and continued stimulation outside of the classroom hours
  • Show respect for your adult learners by addressing them appropriately and promptly responding to communication
  • Ensure that, as an educator, the desired learning outcomes are always in view and select a tactic based on that shared goal
  • Remember that memorization and other rote devices can only give a platform from which to provide application—memory and regurgitation should usually not be seen as a sufficient outcome
  • Consider empowering students to be in charge of their own learning by relaxing attendance policies
  • Remember that adult learners are hoping to soon apply their learning. Always connect the lesson with how it will be used in life or in the workplace
  • Andragogical learners should be treated as adults. This shared learning means that teachers can expect higher quality work, that deadlines will be met, and that professional standards will be adhered to.
  • Discern when pedagogical techniques can be applied and utilize them! Pedagogy is not inferior; it simply seeks a different context
  • Understand that pedagogy can refer to the field of teaching as well as to the teaching of immature learners
  • Provide opportunities for your students to practice their learning; for example, in a preaching class, give opportunities to preach, whether inside or outside of the classroom
  • Approach methods of classroom control differently. Though the educator remains in charge, adult learners are typically more naturally deferring. An instructor can engender hard feelings by overstepping the boundaries of discipline with no need to do so
  • Remember that theological education is EDUCATION! Be creative in your methods—the best content delivered with outdated or un-engaging methods will not have its full potential met
  • Receive feedback from your students with humility. As motivated learners, they will have some tips and reactions that you may not be aware of. Take advantage of this to improve your delivery and classroom skills rather than assuming an air of superiority
  • Act with professionalism at all times and adhere to the same guidelines you give to students.







Carlson, Gregory C. “Andragogy,” pages 45-46 in Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.


Melick, Richard and Shera Melick. Teaching that Transforms: Facilitating Life Change through Adult Bible Teaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2010.


Wilkerson, Barbara. “Pedagogy,” page 528 in Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.


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