5R Adult Learning Assignment 6: Andragogy and Oppressive Pedagogies

Synopsis/Reflection – Andragogy vs. Pedagogy and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

According to Merriam-Webster, andragogy is the art or science of teaching adults; pedagogy is the art, science, or profession of teaching. Both words derive from the Greek. Pedagogy’s roots – agogus means “leader of” and paid means “child” – combine to form paidagogus, a slave who led boys to school and tutored them after school (Merriam-Webster, Pedagogy). Andragogy’s roots – agogus still means “leader of” and andr means “men” – combine to mean a “leader of men”.

Knowles, Holton, and Swanson (1973/2015) found pedagogy to be synonymous with teacher-centered learning. In pedagogy, the learner’s need to know is based on what the teacher wants to teach; the learner’s self-concept is wholly dependent on the teacher for knowledge gain; the learner’s experience means little in the classroom; the learners become ready to learn when the teacher becomes ready to teach; the content is subject matter oriented; and the learners are motivated by external factors (like grades).

Paolo Friere (1970/2005, p. 73) took the concept of the teacher-centric classroom one step further, analogizing this kind of classroom as a mirror of an oppressive society:

“(a) the teacher teaches and the students are taught;

(b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

(c) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

(d) the teacher talks and the students listen—meekly;

(e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

(f) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

(g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;

(h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

(i) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

(j) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.” (Friere, 1970/2005, p. 73)

In both cases, the role of the teacher is fairly authoritarian, and, in Friere’s case, the teacher inflicts their will on the students. The key ways to liberate education from the oppressive nature of the teacher-centric classroom constitute Friere’s critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy includes reflection (or concientização), and theory merged with action (praxis). Scholarship is needed to both undergird theory and aid in critical reflection. Figure 1 shows how these concepts overlap to build towards educational liberation.

Figure 1 Friere Critical Pedagogy

Figure 1. Friere’s components of critical pedagogy with overlapping critical consciousness by Mejia et al. (2018). (Mejia, J. A., Revelo, R. A., Villanueva, I., & Mejia, J., 2018, p. 3)

When theory, action, and reflection center critical consciousness on the learner, the classroom narrative changes and transforms into a liberating experience, which, in turn, empowers the learner to liberate others. “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information” (Friere, 1970/2005, p. 79).

According to Knowles et al. (1973/2015), andragogy is synonymous with student-centered learning. In andragogy, the learner’s need to know is based on what the student wants to learn, the learner’s self-concept is independent and self-directed; the learner’s experience drives and enhances what happens in the classroom; the learners are ready to learn when they walk in the door because, as adult learners, they already recognize that this learning is critical to their success in life; the content is life oriented (i.e. task-centered or problem-centered); and the learners are intrinsically motivated by factors, like increased satisfaction, self-esteem, or quality of life. These assumptions regarding andragogy are also called the core principles of adult learning, and they are summarized in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Andragogy Core Principles

Figure 2. Andragogy’s core principles. (Smith, 2019a)

Ideally, the use of pedagogy as the major classroom orientation would shift towards andragogy at some point, as described by Figure 3. The question that often remains, however, is this – is there a cultural mismatch between learners and instructors? The actual separation of these two theories of practice is a bit muddier than we expect, mainly because humans do not fit into neat little boxes, and all children are not alike (just as all adults are not alike). We’ve all known the self-directed child and the teacher dependent adult, so perhaps a better delineation between teacher-centric practice and student-centric practice might not be between child and adult, but between less-mature student and more mature student.

Figure 3 Pedagogy vs. Andragogy with in between

Figure 3. Concept of Learning (from dependency to self-direction) vs. Student Age. Is there a cultural mismatch in how we treat learners? Based on Knowles et al. (1973/2015, p.42) as seen in (Smith, 2019a).

While I knew quite a bit about teacher-centric and student-centric classroom techniques, I didn’t realize the origins of the words pedagogy and andragogy, nor did I realize how delineated pedagogy and andragogy were in terms of Knowles’ theory. Friere’s perspective added another layer to this distinction, and although I had a good understanding of the history and the context of Friere’s work (especially in comparison to liberation theology), I had not actually read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, so I was thrilled this week when I finally had an excuse to read it.

My research questions this week delve deeper into andragogy and how we practice andragogy in the classroom. My research questions are:

  1. What does andragogy look like in practice?
  2. How do adult learners plan and assess their own learning process?
  3. How do we match learners with teachers in a way that maximizes the overlap between them? And how do we help students move from teacher dependent learning to self-directed learning?


Research – Andragogy in practice and andragogy in the classroom

Andragogy in practice involves three dimensions (shown by the rings in Figure 4) – goals and purposes for learning, including individual, institutional, or societal growth; individual and situational differences, variables that can be grouped into three categories – subject-matter differences, situational differences, and individual learner differences; and core adult learning principles, which are reiterated in Figure 2.


Figure 4. A model for andragogy in practice. (Knowles et al., 1973/2015, p. 80)

There’s a fluidity between the rings and the core principles. The important consideration here is to recognize that andragogy is not synonymous with solo learning (i.e. learning alone) because much of andragogy is accomplished in context with and for social groups of importance to the learner. “Education as the practice of freedom – as opposed to education as the practice of domination – denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people” (Friere, 1970/2005, p. 81). Learners are regularly and cyclically moving between the rings in this model and the core principles of andragogy.

Adult learning also involves planning and implementation. Knowles et al. (1973/2015, p. 157) describe the four phases of the adult learning planning process using the framework shown in Figure 5. The four phases include:

  • Need – When thinking about your learning goals, what learning is needed to accomplish them?
  • Create – Which strategies and resources will you build to enable you to achieve your learning goals?
  • Implement – Now’s the time for action. Use the strategies and resources you’ve built to accomplish your learning goals.
  • Evaluation – Assess your implementation: Did you achieve your learning goals? Does the process need to be refined for future use?

Figure 5 Praxis in adult learning

Figure 5. A model for how adult learners control their own learning process. (Knowles et al., 1973/2015, p. 158)

In Figure 5, praxis allows for the theory (in the outer ring) to become enmeshed with the inner rings, which involve process and which centers on the learner themselves.

George Grow (1991) envisioned a trajectory that detailed stages for how learners move from dependent learners to self-directed learners. Figure 6 shows two images that visualize this trajectory of learning stages. Along the trajectory on the left side of Figure 6, a learner is dependent, then interested (where most of our “A” students are), then involved, and then self-directed. Teachers that match their student’s learning stage are in the same color. In other words, an authoritative teacher is best (match) for a dependent learner and is okay (near match) for an interested student but is a mismatch for involved learners and a severe mismatch for self-directed learners. The image on the right side of Figure 6 visualizes this match between teacher and student. “Every stage requires balancing the teacher’s power with the student’s emerging self-direction” (Grow, 1991, p. 140).

Figure 6. On the left, we see Grow’s trajectory of learning stages as well as the kinds of teachers that best fit each stage. On the right, we see how teachers and students form a match or a mismatch between the teacher’s direction and the student’s learning stage.  From (Grow, 1991, p. 137) as seen in (Smith, 2019b).

When we apply this trajectory to the classroom, we see that there are specific teaching techniques that better enable each student in their learning stage. Knowing that nothing can really be done about the mismatches, Figure 7 lays out the different teaching techniques that can be used to maximize the teacher/student matches from Figure 6.

Figure 7 Kinds of pedagogy for different kinds of learners

Figure 7. Different teaching techniques that can be used to maximize the matches between teacher direction and student learning stage. (Grow, 1991, p. 143)

Figure 7 also provides a roadmap for how we can move between types of teaching techniques to promote self-directed learning in our students. This roadmap is more explicitly detailed in Figure 8 found in Grow (1991, p. 145), which shows how active learning can loop to maximize every learning stage within the classroom.

Figure 8 Loops of active learning

Figure 8. Loops of Active Learning. (Grow, 1991, p. 145)


Relate – Friere, Liberation, and STEM Education

While researching how critical theories, including Friere’s critical pedagogy, are used in engineering education, Mejia et al. (2018) found guiding questions that researchers in engineering education can ask when scholarship’s goal is liberating education. These guiding questions can be found in Table 1.

Table 1 Friere

Table 1. Guiding questions that researchers can ask when using the theoretical framework in Figure 1. (Mejia et al., 2018, p. 9)

How can we incorporate these questions into our STEM classrooms to best liberate education? As reflection is a critical component of Friere’s critical pedagogy, I suggest we start there.

In my own chemistry classroom, I require students to regularly reflect upon their learning using learning blogs that are shared via a classroom Slack channel. There is no prompt for the learning blogs, and while I share some ideas with those students who need a bit more guidance, I generally encourage the students to write about whatever they choose as long as it somehow intersects with their learning in the class. Many students choose to write exam reflections, some choose to find real-world contexts for the content they’ve learned, some choose to talk about the ways the class is run, some choose to discuss how their chemistry class intersects their future careers, and some choose to research new topics that they’ve become interested in as a result of their learning in chemistry. Ideally, the students write and share their blogs publicly as a constructionist exercise, but not every student chooses to do a public blog and instead posts their entries via word document on Slack. The Slack channel is used so that students have an opportunity to learn from and discuss each other’s blogs in a more private setting. I believe my students’ narratives inform their experience and mine within the classroom, and I hope that this exercise allows greater alignment for those students who are more self-directed.

But Friere’s questions and call for greater alignment remain. And so I continually try to adapt my learning to maximize educational liberation for my students within my classroom.



Friere, P. (1970/2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition). New York City, NY: Continuum.

Grow, G. O. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 125–149. https://doi.org/10.1177/0001848191041003001

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., and Swanson, R. A. (1973/2015). The Adult Learner (8th ed.). New York City, NY: Routledge.

Mejia, J. A., Revelo, R. A., Villanueva, I., & Mejia, J. (2018). Critical Theoretical Frameworks in Engineering Education: An Anti-Deficit and Liberative Approach. Education Sciences, 8(4), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci8040158

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pedagogy

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/andragogy

Smith, G.A. (2019a). Video Warm-Up: Andragogy – “The art and science of helping adults learn”. Retrieved from Bb Learn: https://learn.unm.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/displayLearningUnit?course_id=_70958_1&content_id=_4216270_1

Smith, G.A. (2019b). Video Warm-Up: Self-directed learning. Retrieved from Bb Learn: https://learn.unm.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/displayLearningUnit?course_id=_70958_1&content_id=_4216271_1

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