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Does blended learning change what learning is?

For Christine Rivers and Anna Holland, online and blended delivery requires a careful rethinking of the way we understand learning and teaching.
This article is more than 3 years old

Christine Rivers is Co-Director of the Centre for Management Education at Surrey Business School

Anna Holland is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Management for the Centre of Management Education at Surrey Business School. 

The biggest change that Covid-19 has brought to academic practice might be the adaption of our traditional approaches to learning to a unfamiliar world of flexible, hybrid, and online learning and teaching.

So how do the concepts of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy fit into new approaches in learning and teaching?

Three tiers?

In very simple terms pedagogy assumes that the learner is dependent on the teacher and the teacher knows best. This stems from its Latin origin: leading children. Pedagogy drives how and when learners are learning and defines transmission routes for learning. Teachers provide materials they believe are the sources of information and determine the incremental stages of learning by releasing what is adequate at a specific time.

The fixed timetable approach in some HE institutions is an indicator of the pedagogic didactic culture. In a pre-Covid world it was hard to challenge this transactional and often linear perspective to learning. However, looking at the new mode of delivery and what we expect from our students in the upcoming academic year, pedagogy as an underpinning concept might be less useful to plan for a flex and hybrid approach to learning and teaching with strong emphasis on independent, self-paced but guided learning.

Adult education

Andragogy might be better placed to meet the requirements of a flex, hybrid and online learning approach directed at adult learners which andragogy refers to in a learning and teaching context, although the Latin translation of andragogy is leading man. Adult learners are understood as independent, self-directed individuals, who seek autonomy in learning and most importantly decide for themselves how and what to learn and why. The motivation to learn comes from within and teachers take the role as facilitators enabling learning through various techniques beyond the transmission and transaction of learning.

This approach is rooted in the fact that adult learners are interested in the application of theory in practice. It is characterised by problem-based learning and work-based learning – approaches that widen someone’s knowledge and skills to advance to a higher state of thinking and increase their employability. Internal motivation comes from successful performance, often on an individual basis. Interestingly, andragogy has been used a lot less within higher education as an underpinning concept for learning and teaching, even though it may appear better suited.

The third way

Looking at the various approaches providers are offering their students to continue or start their studies, students are expected to manage their own learning, challenge their own thinking, and make independent decisions not rooted in experiences of themselves and others but in the need to learn through reflection in a linear and circular (creative, unplanned) way to unlock their own potential. While andragogy addresses some of those aspects, heutagogy – another uncommonly used learning and teaching concept – seems to be even more aligned with the new learning and teaching approaches and challenges.

Heutagogy originates from the Greek word self and has been linked to the meaning of self-directed in a learning context. It is based on the principles that learners are independent, pro-active and have a great level of self-efficacy. The teacher takes on the role as a facilitator but also as a coach and enables learning through developing the learners’ capabilities. The goal of supporting students to become capable learners might also help to move away from an assessment driven culture to one that embraces assessment as a meaningful learning experience rather than measuring success or attainment.

As part of this approach students are also encouraged to contribute and shape not just their own learning but take ownership and control in all aspects of learning including curriculum design and assessment. This does imply that students would need to be equipped with the skill and knowledge of how to learn in the first place. Handing over this level of control requires the willingness of the institution to engage in student-academic partnerships.

Some teaching settings may welcome this, for others heautagogy might be a step too far. In diverse learning environments such a level learner of control might lead to deeper learning opportunities and higher engagement – though this does raise questions of inclusivity.

All together now

So maybe the answer is not so much to use any of these gogies in isolation than in combination and as a mechanism to support the way of learning an individual chooses. Thus, self-directed learning might be open for interpretation depending on the student’s preference for learning – especially when learning unfamiliar subjects or reduced confidence are present.

At Surrey Business School we have adopted a new methodology called Active Digital Design (ADD) – an approach to delivering hybrid education. ADD is built on elements of all three concepts (pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy). There are distinctive factors that can help identify how and when to utilise the three concepts to support the development of an effective learning and teaching strategy – mode of delivery, accessibility, and expected engagement related to academic levels.

Mode of delivery refers to synchronous/live and asynchronous/on-demand learning. Synchronous live sessions might include face to face or virtual real-time seminars. Asynchronous on-demand learning refers to pre-recorded bite size lectures and guided online instructional activities created by the academic and provided through a VLE. The latter implies that students can access content when it suits them, adopting a self-directed and self-paced approach to learning. However, the academic can control the depth of learning through scaffolded narratives and prompting reflection in addition to knowledge acquisition and critical evaluation of theory for instance.

While asynchronous on-demand content is highly didactic – thus utilising elements of pedagogy – its accessibility refers more to andragogy and heutagogy (self-directed, self-paced, internal motivation). Real-time, live face-to-face or virtual/ online sessions, if intended to be interactive and inclusive, also function as a space to support the development of capabilities and proactive learning referring to andragogy and heutagogy.

It is clear to us that all three concepts are interlinked, have relevance and can underpin flexible and hybrid online education approaches. The value of each can be strengthened through strategically identifying mode of delivery, accessibility and expected engagements. Depending on the academic level there might be a need for more pedagogic, andragogic or heutagogic elements to be present in some levels and programmes.

3 responses to “Does blended learning change what learning is?

  1. You state those definitions of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy as if they’re established and uncontested, but that isn’t the case. Pedagogy is still a widely used and accepted term to refer to the study of ALL teaching, and if we’re going to say it isn’t because of etymological hair-splitting, then andragogy is every bit as problematic – arguably more so, and all the worse for having been more recently coined when we should have known better. So let’s stop trying (and failing) to make up clever new names for different sorts of learning and teaching and just call it that.

  2. As someone leading a department with andragogy in it’s name I am tempted to agree with Sarah above. The language seems all too often to get in the way of the intent or practice. It is my belief that very often a major internal driver within adult learners – if that is andragogy – is often quite short term goals. The learning drive is often to meet objectives that have immediate and realisable impacts; the advent of just in time learning and a highly tactical, not necessarily strategic approach. If there were not the society imposed framework to compulsory education possibly those learners would also exhibit similar tactical preferences?

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