Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.
An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.
There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.
So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.
Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn
So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.
The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.
So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.
And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.
The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.
When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.
As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.
This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.
As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.
Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning
At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.
Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.
Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.
This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.
We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.
The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.
The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.
Andragogy: Adult Learners
So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.
In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:
- Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
- Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
- Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
- Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.
So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.
Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning
Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.
Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.
Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.
So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.
Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.
Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.
And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.
How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?
The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.
We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.
There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.
I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.
I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.