Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: An Active Learning Mashup

old crayons

Instructional designers often talk about the difference between andragogy and pedagogy. But which applies to online instruction at FIU? In the webinar Effective Teaching and Learning Online, Dr. Trina Sanders, an FIU Online Instructional Design Manager, suggests a mixture of the two learning perspectives can make for an FIU-perfect cocktail: active learning

Instant Replay: Effective Teaching and Learning Online

Dr. Sanders started her webinar by asking a simple question: What is learning? Responses flooded the chat. It was clear there were as many definitions of learning as there were participants. Dr. Sanders offered her own definition, too. “Learning,” she said, “is a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning.”

The struggle to define learning proved the importance of examining our assumptions about teaching. Dr. Sanders covered the two aforementioned learning perspectives: andragogy and pedagogy. Understanding these theories, she explained, is key to identifying how students best learn; they can better shape our instruction. 


You cannot talk andragogy without mentioning Malcome Knowles, the father of adult education. Dr. Sanders believes that Knowles’ most crucial contribution is about motivation. Adults, he says, are self-directed. According to Knowles, realistic situations, previous experiences, and social roles are drivers of adult learning. In short, adults learn best when responsible for their own education. 

Whiz Kids

The predominant learning perspective of formal education, pedagogy mostly pertains to children. As Dr. Sanders explained, children are not self-directed learners. While real-life applications motivate adult learners, it’s teachers and their prescribed subject matter that motivate children. 

Get Active

One reason why FIU is so special is its diversity of students. Our students range from recent high school graduates to returning adult learners. For that reason, we need not choose between andragogy or pedagogy. Rather, our students will excel by a mutual infusion of the two approaches. With learner-centered active learning, Dr. Sanders suggests, we can do just that. 

Marshalling a helpful video to make her point, Dr. Sanders stressed that active learning is now the preferred teaching method in higher education, and can include activities such as polling, debates, and discussions. She also said reflective journaling and game-based learning are each valuable ways of achieving active learning too. 

Instructors can also foster active learning using a flipped classroom. A flipped classroom is when students solve problems related to course content rather than simply consume videos or lectures. 

In a breakout session, participants shared a variety of active learning strategies for online courses. Attendees even exchanged new methods worth jotting down when watching the webinar. 

A Tale of Two Pandemics

Dr. Sanders ended her webinar with a moving reflection on the difficulties of the past year. She related what students of color have called a double pandemic: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Inspired by an FIU News Campus Voices feature, Dr. Sanders believes active learning is well-equipped to empower our students of color. 

There’s so much more. I encourage readers to watch a recording of Effective Teaching and Learning Online. Find it among all the excellent Instructor Webinars the Insider has archived just for you.

Michael A. Martin is an instructional designer and writer for the Continuing and Professional Education team at FIU Online. He is also an adjunct lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric at FIU.

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