Published on 2012/05/10

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly pervasive among non-traditional learners, and is forcing educators and higher education institutions to adjust their learning delivery systems. Photo by Titanas.

I thought that “pedagogy” was the word for how to teach and learn, but looking on the Internet for the meaning of “ped”, I found “pedal” which is the thingie you push with your foot.  That’s not appropriate for dealing with students, so I settled on “pedagogy”—clearly related to “iPod”, one of the wonderful technology developments for assisting in teaching and learning via technology.

Our students, most of whom have iPods or other mobile thingies, increasingly include a new-ish group called “non-traditional students”. They are the ones who come back to us, rather than staying in the direct K-25 educational pipeline. It’s great to have them back, but it can be a bit unsettling. We need to adapt.

You see, they have more life experience outside the educational pipeline, and so need (demand?) different treatment. They want education to improve their lives and careers and they know that they want this. They aren’t going through our courses in the naive belief that their school work will be to their benefit – they already know it will.  So they ask that their school work clearly support their goals. This calls for an alteration of our methodology. We need to adapt!

“Pedagogy”, oriented to children, isn’t sufficient to achieve this! We need to move to “Podagogy”—or, even better, all the way to “Andragogy”.  We need to adapt!

Andragogy is a seismic shift in approach which has been described rather well by my late colleague Malcolm Knowles as “the art and science of helping adults learn”. Wikipedia sums it up well: “Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: ‘man-leading’) should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: ‘child-leading’).”

It’s obvious that adults and children differ in many ways.

One of big differences is motivation leading to self discipline. We already know from times past that adults can even learn from a book – and often did in “correspondence courses”—the precursor of online learning. Later they learned from lectures recorded on VHS cassettes and mailed to them – so they could get a Master’s degree while they were working and raising families.

This is important – because based on this behavior, we can see they are less affected by the lack of the socialization and social encouragement which is found in the face to face classroom. These social aspects are considerably more important to traditional students (“children”) who have an elevated failure to complete online courses satisfactorily.

A lot of effort is going into making online classes more fun and captivating—games, social media… and these are yielding better results with “children”. But our “adult” students don’t require this as much as they require solid and connected content and the flexibility to take classes intermingled with their adult life requirements. We need to make sure that our online classes meet these criteria! We need to adapt!

More reading on Andragogy can be found here.

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Readers Comments

C Zahn 2012/05/10 at 11:04 am

I don’t know that we need to take online learning this far… at least not yet. It’s all well and good to sing praises of mobile technology, but I think just about everyone has a computer and we need to perfect that delivery method before we go skittering into all different types of media

Henry 2012/05/12 at 10:12 am

You make a good point about learning to use existing technology more productively. I don’t see that eliminates the value of learning to use newer technologies productively – especially if the newer technologies are spreading rapidly.

What thoughts do you have about differentiating between the pedagogy and andragogy approaches?

Mitch Owen 2012/05/14 at 2:15 pm


Nice Article. We need to seriously explore the integration of technology-based learning to our traditional mediums. For example, Knowles wrote about the knowledge and motivation of the adult learner driving the learning process, but he worked and lived in a non techology based world. Today, we have these great tools. But we tend to segment our approach around mediums… rather than looking holistically at th process. Part of the problem is we are trying to drive the learning experience.. (I’ll lecture 20 minutes, then do an exercise… etc)

Today’s instructors still seek too much control over the process, when we should be delegating more responsibility to the learner. Learners can self-select the learning approaches they need. Contrast academia with the the business world.. In business, the smart phone is qucikly becoming a job aid… yet we still have professors who view they as something that should not be used during their lectures. When.. smart phones could be used to expand learning beyond the lecture. In the past 5 years, I have not sat through a keynote speech without looking something up on my iphone that would enrich the learning process for me. I say this to make this point…

We need to move the community of academia to a more progressive view of these tools.. in Andragogial ways.. we need to let the adult learners (students) shape how they are used in our classes. We need to design learning systems that allow the learner to navigate and shape their learning… and then validate that learning has been acheived. Much too long a comment. Thanks for you wisdom!


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