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Exploring the Dynamics of Adult Learning: Andragogy, Pedagogy, and Heutagogy

If I am to teach you something, and you don’t learn, did I teach you?

Dr Jay Wasim

The perennial question of teaching’s relationship with learning continues to fuel thought-provoking debates among educators. It’s a nuanced interplay where we must tread with care, for learning and knowledge accumulation are distinct realms.

In education, two primary approaches to learning take centre stage: andragogy, which is concerned with how adults learn, and pedagogy, which is centred around children’s learning. The term “andragogy” has a history dating back to 1833, yet it remains relatively on the fringes of mainstream educational discourse. This historical discrepancy can be attributed to the early university landscape, which primarily served young and elite students.

In the pedagogical approach, the emphasis lies on the teacher, aiming to impart knowledge and socialize students, often perceived as young and not fully mature. In this context, teachers assume the role of guiding the learning process. However, it’s not solely a matter of age; the teaching approach also plays a pivotal role. Some argue that the choice between pedagogy and andragogy should hinge on the learners’ maturity levels. When it comes to delivering management and business-related courses in higher education, a consensus on the preferred approach remains elusive.

Adult learners are typically driven by internal motivation, actively seeking knowledge that directly applies to their lives. In contrast, child learners rely on teachers for guidance and are frequently motivated by external rewards. A more recent approach, known as heutagogy, places a strong emphasis on learner autonomy and the development of learning skills, with instructors acting as facilitators rather than authorities.

While higher education predominantly caters to adult learners, the education system encompasses all three paradigms: pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. Nonetheless, there has been a growing shift toward student-led educational frameworks in recent years. It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the suitability of a blend of andragogy and heutagogy depends on the nature of the disciplines being taught.

Now, let’s pivot to the intricate challenge of assessing learning outcomes. Traditional methods rely on standardized tests and assessments to measure student success, while modern approaches seek to evaluate a university’s impact on student learning.

A study conducted by the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE), and The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy UK explored student learning through pre- and post-academic year tests. It recommended the use of qualitative methods for evaluating learning, such as interviews and reflective learning portfolios, as an alternative to standardized assessments. However, this approach comes with its own set of challenges, notably in the analysis of diverse student responses.

Measuring learning is akin to capturing a fleeting moment, as it is an inherently personal and internal process. The connection between what students perceive they have learned and what they have actually absorbed can be elusive. Learning often becomes apparent when applied in real-life contexts, influenced by various factors, including the learning environment and teaching quality.

Insights by Dr Jay Wasim