The Three Agogos

The Greek word agogos means leader. We still encounter the work today when we refer to the work done by teachers. Traditionally, the craft of teaching is called pedagogy, a word that combines “ped” for children and “agogos” for leader, so (loosely) one’s pedagogy is what one does to be a leader of children.

Since 1973, when Malcolm Knowles is credited with coining the term, we have also recognized andragogy. This refers to the approaches to teaching and learning that are effective with adults, and the term translates to leaders of adults.

More recently, educators have been using the term heutagogy to describe the organization and structures and the methods associated with learners taking a very active role in defining what they will learn, how they will learn, and how their learning will be demonstrated. Heutagogy find one leading oneself.

The three terms become more useful for educators and leaders if we differentiate the terms by the nature of the teaching and learning rather than by the age of the students.  In the table below, I use five characteristics to differentiate pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy.

  Pedagogy Andragogy Heutagogy
need to know determined by the teacher’s authority a sound rationale is necessary arises from the student’s curiosity  
learner’s self-concept assumes learners need assistance to become self-directed recognizes learner’s desire to be self-directed   presumes self-directed learner
learner’s experience assumes learners have little relevant experience methods seek to connect to learners’ experiences becomes the foundation for the curriculum  
readiness to learn external motivation is common assumes learners are motivated to learn without internal motivation, this fails  
orientation to learning focused around subjects or content focused on problems, situations, and context-rich examples   focused by creating a meaningful product or performance

The skillful and attentive teacher will understand the three agogos, recognize their differences, and make decisions about which is appropriate for their students and their content as a course proceeds. First, teachers must reconcile their perceptions of their role in the classroom with the agogos they choose. Those who believe their role is to be the dispenser of knowledge are likely to reject heutagogy.

Second, teachers must determine the nature of the curriculum and students’ needs within it. Good teachers will vary their approaches and strategies, and even when one is heavily involved with one agogos, there are situations in which others are appropriate. Students whose heutagogical studies are in science are likely to need a teacher with excellent pedagogical skill in statistics so they can select and use the statistics they need to complete their work. Teachers who seek to graduate individuals who can apply what they have learned to new and interesting problems cannot rely exclusively on pedagogy.

Third, teachers must reconcile students’ perceptions and interests. Some students believe all education is about pedagogy; they reason “it is the teachers’ job to tell me what I need to know,” thus they are likely to reject any strategies in which they take an active role. Other students want heutagogy, but they lack the knowledge or experience to be self-directed.

As I look at the current state of education, I conclude andragogy is an appropriate default model of education. It holds learners in high esteem and perceives them to be capable of making decisions about relevance and trusts they want to be learners. It also finds teachers responsible for proving the relevance of their curriculum; it is generally not acceptable to validate one’s decisions with “because you will need it next year” when one is andragogic.

Pedagogy has a place in today’s classroom, but only when there is a very specific need and when the learners ask for it. Asking may be explicit and specific, or it may be implicit. Good teachers can diagnose when frustration is due to a lack of knowledge and will teach what is needed to get on with the work. Similarly, good teachers diagnose when frustration is due to lack of experience and will devise a strategy through which the learner can connect to the curriculum.

Education must always include an opportunity for heutagogy as well. As I see it, one of the difficulties in providing opportunity for heutagogical experiences is that it may not be easily standardized. Not every student will be self-directed in the same way in each subject. Not every heutagogic experience will be easily interpreted in terms of standards or outcomes that can be defined before the work. That is the point. That is why it is valuable. That is why we must give all learners the chance to take a deep dive into something that is interesting and important to them. When our schools (or community colleges or universities) allow students to leave at the end of the years (or term) without having that experience in some way, then we have failed to prepare them for their future.