From New World Encyclopedia
Early teaching methods

Pedagogy, literally translated, is the art or science of teaching children. In modern day usage, it is a synonym for "teaching" or "education," particularly in scholarly writings. Throughout history, educators and philosophers have discussed different pedagogical approaches to education, and numerous theories and techniques have been proposed. Educators use a variety of research and discussion about learning theories to create their personal pedagogy, and are often faced with the challenge of incorporating new technology into their teaching style.

Successful education for all depends on teachers being able to embrace both the art and science of pedagogy, acting as "parents" who understand the needs, abilities, and experiences of their students while also being trained in the best methods of communication and presentation of appropriate materials.


Pedagogy, literally translated, is the art or science of teaching children. The word comes from the ancient Greek paidagogos, a compound comprised of "paidos" (child) and "agogos" (leader). While the term is often used to mean the art of teaching in general, some prefer to make the distinction between pedagogy (teaching children) and andragogy (teaching adults). The terms "pedagogy" and "andragogy" are also used to describe teacher/subject based instruction and student centered/directed instruction, respectively.

"Critical pedagogy" is traditionally defined as educational theory and teaching/learning practices designed to raise learners' critical consciousness regarding oppressive social conditions. Heavily influenced by the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, critical pedagogy is particularly concerned with reconfiguring the traditional teacher/student relationship using meaningful dialogue.[1]

An honorary degree, Ped.D. (Doctor of Pedagogy), is awarded by some American universities to distinguished educators. The term is also used with earned degrees to denote an emphasis on education within a specific field (for instance, a Doctor of Music degree "in piano pedagogy").

History of Pedagogy

From the very beginning, educators have tried to find interesting ways to bring out the possibilities of intelligence and a love of learning from their pupils. The advent of writing circa 3000 B.C.E. resulted in a style of education that was more self-reflective, with specialized occupations requiring particular skills and knowledge: scribes, astronomers, and so forth. In ancient Greece, philosophy helped questions of educational methods enter national discourse. In both Republic and Dialogues, Plato advocated a system of instruction using the Socratic method of teaching through questions. Through the clever use of questions and answers, Plato's teacher, Socrates, was able to show even an uneducated slave boy how the logic leading to the Pythagorean Theorem was within him.

Since the time they launched their first school in 1548, the Jesuits believed that a high quality education is the best path to meaningful lives of leadership and service. The Jesuits adapted available educational models while developing their own pedagogical methods to become the "schoolmasters of Europe." Ignatian pedagogy, which embodies five key teaching elements—context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation—is the process by which teachers accompany learners in the lifelong pursuit of competence, conscience, and compassionate commitment. This method aims to support teachers to be the best teachers, motivates students by personalizing their learning experience, and stresses the social dimension of both learning and teaching. Underlying the educational process in its entirety is the religious dimension, for the ultimate purpose of such education is considered to be the discovery of God.[2]

During the mid-1600s in what is now the Czech Republic, the educator Comenius wrote the first children's textbook containing vivid illustrations, entitled The Visible World in Pictures. Known as the "Father of Modern Education," Comenius believed in a holistic approach to education. He taught that education began in the earliest days of childhood and continued throughout life, and that learning, spiritual, and emotional growth were all woven together. Unlike most of society at the time, he also advocated the formal education of women. Well respected throughout northern Europe, he was asked to restructure the Swedish school system.[3]

During the 1700s, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau presented his methodology on the education of children in his novel Emile, the story of the education of a young boy. Within his novel, Rousseau described the importance of having a focus on both environment and personal experience. Different learning stages are described: for example, during the "the age of nature" (from ages 2 to 12), Rousseau argued that a boy should receive no moral instruction or verbal learning, as the mind should be "left undisturbed until its faculties have developed." Instead, education during this stage should be focused on physical and sensory development. Books are eschewed during Emile's education, with the exception of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a novel that reinforced Rousseau's ideal of the solitary, self-sufficient man.[4]

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer, greatly influenced the development of the educational system in Europe and America. His educational method emphasized the importance of providing a loving, family-type environment in which the child can grow and flourish naturally, balancing their intellectual, physical, and technical abilities, with emotional, moral, ethical, and religious growth. Pestalozzi asserted that education should be centered on the child, not the curriculum. Since knowledge lies within human beings, the purpose of teaching is to find the way to unfold that hidden knowledge. Pestalozzi proposed direct experience as the best method to accomplish this, advocating spontaneity and self-activity, in contrast to the rigid, teacher-centered, and curriculum-based methods generally used in schools. He advocated an inductive method, in which the child first learns to observe, to correct its own mistakes, and to analyze and describe the object of inquiry. In order to allow children to obtain more experience from nature, Pestalozzi expanded the elementary school curriculum to include geography, natural science, fine art, and music.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, a German educator, also made substantial advances in children's education, particularly the invention of the kindergarten system for young children. His own difficulties as a child, his love of nature, and his faith in God, combined with his experiences with Pestalozzi's educational system, were the foundation for his insights into the education of very young children. He recognized the importance of play in order to allow their creativity to unfold and blossom. His school included a large room for play, as well as a garden outside for the children to grow flowers and other plants. Thus, he developed the kindergarten—a "garden for children" where they could grow naturally, with support from their parents and teachers.

A contemporary of Fröbel, Johann Friedrich Herbart, had a very different approach to education. Based on his views of philosophy, which were based on a philosophical realism, and psychology, that all mental phenomena result from the interaction of elementary ideas, Herbart believed that a science of education was possible. Herbart's work and his belief that a science of education was possible led to the establishment and acceptance of pedagogy as an academic discipline studied on the university level.

In his work Universal Pedagogy (1906), Herbart advocated five formal steps in teaching,[5] which were translated into a practical teaching methodology:

  1. preparation – relating new material to be learned to relevant existing ideas (memories) to stimulate the student's interest (prepare students to be ready for the new lesson)
  2. presentation – presenting new material in the form of actual experience of concrete objects (present the new lesson)
  3. association – comparison of the new idea with existing ideas to find similarities and differences and thus implant the new idea in the mind of the student (associate the new lesson with ideas studied earlier)
  4. generalization – procedures designed to take learning beyond perception and experience of the concrete into the realm of abstract concepts (use examples to illustrate the lesson's major points)
  5. application – using the newly acquired knowledge so that it becomes an integral part of the life of the student (test students to ensure they learned the new lesson).

Herbart's ideas were widely adopted in Germany and also the United States, translated into the simple five-step teaching method that became the basic pedagogical practice in the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, however, the steps had become mechanical and Herbart's underlying ideas on ethics, psychology, and aesthetics had been forgotten. In their place, new pedagogical theories, such as those of John Dewey in the United States, which freed the child from what had become a controlled learning environment, grew in popularity.

Although his teaching methodology was overtaken by new ideas, Herbart's institution of pedagogy as an academic field has remained. The idea of a science of education, including psychology as a source of information about the nature of the learner as well as the learning process, has continued to advance teaching methods.

Learning Theories

The importance of psychology in understanding the interest, abilities, and learning processes of students, has become an integral part of theories of education. Theories of learning have been developed to describe how people learn; these theories aid in the development of various pedagogical approaches. There are three main perspectives in educational psychology: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism.


Behaviorism, a term coined by American psychologist John B. Watson, is based around the idea of a stimulus-response pattern of conditioned behavior. One of the most famous experiments in classical conditioning was performed by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. By introducing the sound of a bell before placing food in front of a dog, Pavlov was able to create a conditioned response in the dog where the dog would salivate at the ringing of the bell alone.

Some of the most important developments in behaviorism, especially as it relates to pedagogy, occurred in the mid-twentieth century with the work of B. F. Skinner. Skinner studied operant, or voluntary, behavior, and called his approach "operant conditioning." Skinner's mechanisms included: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, non-reinforcement, and punishment. In a classroom setting, non-reinforcement might consist of ignoring misbehavior in the hope that lack of reinforcement would discourage the behavior.


Cognitivism became the dominant force in psychology in the late twentieth century, replacing behaviorism as the most popular paradigm for understanding the learning process. Cognitive theory is not a refutation of behaviorism, but rather an expansion that uses changes in behavior as indicators for processes within a learner's mind. The concept of cognitive theory utilizes the concept of "schema," a structure of internal knowledge, as well as the concept of short and long term memory. Cognitive theory suggests that meaningful information is easier to retain, and new information is affected by context, environment, and previous schemata.


Constructivism is a set of assumptions about the nature of human learning. It values developmentally appropriate teacher-supported learning that is initiated and directed by the student.

According to the constructivist approach, learners construct and interpret their individual realities based on their perceptions of experiences. Learning is regarded as a process in which the learner actively constructs new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge and beliefs. Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context. The teacher acts as a facilitator, encouraging students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. Working with other students enables the sharing of viewpoints and an emphasis on collaborative learning.[6] Constructivist theories are behind many modern teaching styles, such as Generative Learning, Inquiry-based instruction, Discovery Learning, and knowledge building, promoting the student's free exploration within a given framework or structure.

Learning styles

The idea of individualized "learning styles" originated in the 1970s, and gained considerable popularity. A learning style is the specific method of learning that is presumed to allow a particular individual to learn best. With this concept, each individual processes information in one of several manners (or a combination thereof.)

Auditory learners process information and learn best through hearing, while visual learners process information best through seeing it. Kinesthetic learners process information best when it is combined with physical movement. It has been proposed that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student's learning style. Teachers can use techniques like role-playing or historical reenactment in the classroom to reinforce information through kinesthetic learning, or graphic organizers such as diagrams and concept maps for visual learners. Older students, once aware of which learning style fits them best, can use a variety of techniques in their studies to help them learn. For example, auditory learners may find that reading aloud works well for them. Many students use a combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles.

Learning in Different Age Groups

Because of the differences in cognitive, physical, and social abilities of different age groups, different pedagogical approaches are used when working with children of various ages. A technique that works well with a five year old might not be successful with a fourth grader. Similarly, teaching adults requires a different approach than the education of high school teenagers, even when the subject matter is the same. Pedagogical approaches and learning theories may be numerous in nature, but the desire of educators to examine and discuss these varied approaches and theories will hopefully help create the best possible learning environment for all students, from preschool through adult.


One of the most important debates regarding teaching preschool children is over work versus play. While some educators advocate the beginnings of formal education, including mathematics, reading, and foreign languages, most advocate imaginative play over academic learning at such an early age. Physical development is often stressed, and children are engaged in group activities that aid in socialization. Some preschool programs may be very structured, while others allow the children more choice in their activities.

A kindergarten in Afghanistan

Elementary school

From kindergarten through grade five or six, generally known as elementary education, students learn most of their basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Education within the public school system is generally more traditional in nature (teacher-directed learning). Many public schools tailor their pedagogical approaches to include different learning styles as well as cultural responsiveness. For parents looking for a more student-directed pedagogical approach, private schools like Montessori and Waldorf, as well as open and free schools, offer a variety of approaches to childhood education.

Middle school and high school

Japanese high school students wearing the "sailor" uniform

Educators in many middle and high school programs often use a traditional pedagogical approach to learning, with lectures and class discussion providing the core of instruction. Standardized testing, while used occasionally in the lower grades, is much more prevalent in high school. Technology is often an integral part of instruction; in addition to multimedia and educational presentations, computer programs have replaced activities like animal dissection in science classes. For those seeking a less teacher-directed approach, alternative high schools generally provide a smaller class size and more student-directed learning. Other types of private schools, such as military schools, offer a rigidly structured approach to education that is almost exclusively teacher-directed.


Representation of a university class, 1350s.

While there are some "free" or alternative colleges that offers self-directed learning and non-graded, narrative evaluations, most colleges and universities primarily employ lectures, laboratories, and discussions as their primary teaching method.

Similarly to pedagogical approaches in high school, technology provides additional presentation materials, as well as impacting the way faculty and students communicate. Online discussion groups are common; students may have access to an online message board where they can discuss a covered topic with other students and the professor, and email contact between students and professors can supplement office hours. Professors are often challenged to find new ways to address students' different learning styles, as well as creating a learning environment that is accessible to those with learning disabilities.

Adult learners

Remedial programs for adult learners (such as literacy programs) focus not only on the acquisition of knowledge, but also must deal with the biases and sensitive emotional issues that may face adults in these situations. Adult educators often use students' life experiences to help connect them with the academic material. Adult learners interested in continuing higher education often find that online or distance learning is easier to fit into a busy schedule than physically attending classes.

Modern Teaching Methods

During the twentieth century, work within the educational community impacted the way learning was perceived, and pedagogical approaches became widely discussed. In many countries, the traditional method of education had been the "banking method of education," a concept perhaps most famously criticized in Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.[7] With the "banking" method, teachers lecture and bestow knowledge upon the student, who then passively receives, or "banks" it.

In the United States, John Dewey significantly influenced pedagogical approaches with his concept of progressive education. Dewey believed that students needed to integrate skills and knowledge into their lives through experience, rather than just be taught dead facts. He also coined the phrase "learning by doing," a phrase that has become the hallmark of experiential learning. For instance, Dewey's students learned biology, chemistry, and physics though activities such as cooking breakfast.

The concepts behind cognitivism and social constructivism have led to the development of schools like Montessori and Waldorf schools; private schools that allow children to direct their own education, and encourage hands-on and active learning, while minimizing the amount of technology and teacher-directed learning. Constructivism has also led to the development of educational styles like service learning, where students participate in and reflect upon participation in community service, using their experience to make meaningful connections between what they are studying and its applications. Other types of schooling, such as free schools, open schools, and democratic schools function almost completely without the traditional student/teacher hierarchy.

Brothers studying together in a homeschool environment.

Many educators are focusing on ways to incorporate technology into the classroom. Television, computers, radio, and other forms of media are being utilized in an educational context, often in an attempt to involve the student actively in their own education. Some educators, on the other hand, believe that the use of technology can facilitate learning, but is not the most effective means of encouraging critical thinking and a desire to learn, and prefer the use of physical objects. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that technology has revolutionized many approaches to education, including distance learning, computer assisted instruction, and homeschooling.

While new approaches and pedagogical techniques are constantly being developed, some older ones are being questioned. Many educators question the value of standardized testing, particularly in younger children. While such techniques are still a major part of many educational systems, there is a push to discontinue their use in favor of more student centered, hands on evaluation. Thus, as all those involved in educational theory and practice continue to advance their knowledge and techniques, and our knowledge and technology continues to develop, pedagogy also is in a state of continuous change and improvement in an effort to provide the best education to all people.


  1. Jeremy Koay, What is Critical Pedagogy? EduMax.
  2. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, The Characteristics of Jesuit Education document composed by the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education (ICAJE) Rome, December 8, 1986. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  3. Why Comenius?. Comenius Foundation. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  4. Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education The Encyclopedia of Informal Education, January 7, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  5. Johann Friedrich Herbart Allgemeine Padagogick (Thoemmes Press, 1999, ISBN 1855062879).
  6. Brenda Mergel Instructional Design and Learning Theory May, 1998. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  7. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0826412769).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000. ISBN 0826412769
  • Froebel, Friedrich. Friedrich Froebel's Pedagogics of the Kindergarten: Or, His Ideas Concerning the Play and Playthings of the Child. University Press of the Pacific, 2003. ISBN 1410209261
  • Herbart, Johann Friedrich. Allgemeine Padagogick. Thoemmes Continuum, 1994. ISBN 978-1855062870
  • Highet, Gilbert. The Art of Teaching. Vintage, 1989. ISBN 0679723145
  • Knowles, M. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing, 1984. ISBN 0884151158
  • Knowles, M. Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984. ISBN 0608217948
  • Knowles, M. Self-Directed Learning. Chicago: Follet, 1975. ISBN 0842822151
  • Martin, Everett Dean. The Meaning of a Liberal Education. Norton, 1926.
  • Monroe, Paul. A Text-Book in the History of Education. Macmillan, 1915.
  • Moore, Alex. Teaching and Learning: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Culture. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0750710004
  • Palmer, Joy A. Fifty Major Thinkers on Education: From Confucius to Dewey. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0415231264
  • Pestalozzi, Johann H. How Gertrude Teaches Her Children: Pestalozzi's Educational Writings: Two works (Significant Contributions to the History of Psychology 1750-1920). University Publications of America, 1977. ISBN 0313269378

External links

All links retrieved November 23, 2022.


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