Technological tails, pedagogical dogs: I’m repeating myself

I’ve read a few interesting papers recently on what makes effective elearning and if/when elearning is more effective than traditional classroom teaching and learning. The bottom line is similar to what I discussed in other posts: it is not the technology or medium of delivery in general that produces better results when it comes to learning, it is the learning methods.

It may be that online learning – from instructional design to authoring tools – facilitates utilising better learning methods. A lecture will produce similar results (typically quite poor understanding and retention) regardless of whether it is delivered in a lecture theatre or online.

Best learning methods

So what learning methods create the largest benefits? Metastudies repeatedly show that rather than relying on straight information presentation, effective learning requires the following:

Retrieval practice and spaced repetitions

Knowledge checks, asking questions, creating opportunities for decision making and other activites that require learners to remember and retrieve knowledge are very effective for long-term retention.

Structuring and guiding attention

Learning improves when we explicitly guide learners’ attention to the most important information (the learning objectives). When designing online content, we should always make clear what the main thing learners need to learn in this module/section/activity is.

Learning is also more effective when prior knowledge is explicitly activated and signposting (or ‘content organisers’) are provided.

Real-world contexts

Learners should be able to see the relevance of the content to real-world contexts. To help achieve this, content delivery should focus on actions and situations, rather than principles and concepts. Real-life examples also help to contextualise the content covered.

Realistic practice and decision making

To help retention and reinforce the importance of content covered, learners should have numerous opportunities for translating facts and information into actual actions and situations. Application of knowledge should be an integral part of any learning material.

Frequent feedback

Frequent feedback is necessary to clarify misunderstandings, create correct mental representations of concepts and facilitate retrieval practice.


Content should be provided in a variety of formats – othewise it gets monotonous and predictable.


Useful reading

Heutagogy. Say what?

This post includes some thoughts and resources on heutagogy as a notion that seems to be gaining momentum in theories of adult education.

The concept of heutagogy is often expounded by contrasting it with the related concepts of pedagogy and andragogy. The term comes from the Greek words for ‘self’ and ‘leading’, which shows the underlying change of focus: from an external focus on ‘child’ and ‘adult’ in the two other approaches respetively, to an internal focus on ‘self’.

The differences between the three approaches are clearly presented in this useful chart.

The differences in focus suggested by the three terms can be observed at several levels. One of them is the level of control over the learning process (or learner autonomy if looked at from another angle): while pedagogy is most teacher-centred in this regard, andragogy and heutagogy are more learner-centred. However, heutagogy differs from andragogy in that, in the former, the learning design and approach are not linear, and heutagogy is even more learner-directed than the latter. In andragogy, the stress is on getting students to learn, while in heutagogy the stress is on getting students to understand how they learn. In other words, in a heutagogical approach, learners do not only acquire new knowledge or solve a problem, but they also reflect on how they arrived there. Knowing how to learn is seen as one of the fundamental skills of future workplaces. The focus is not so much on the content or outcome as on the process of mastering the content or arriving at the outcome, which is believed to have a bearing on learners’ preconceptions, values and attitudes. As a result, with regard to learning approach and cooperation, heutagogy has been usefully conceptualised as “knowledge sharing” as opposed to “knowledge hoarding”.

The differences between andragogy and heutagogy are succintly presented, with informative examples in this short video.

This frequently quoted article links heutagogy with lifelong learning, therefore emphasising the importance of the former in professional development. (Blaschke, L. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71.)

In this useful and interesting post, the concepts of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy are presented in analogy to the concepts of Education 1.0, Education 2.0 and Education 3.0 (which in turn bring to mind the concepts of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and [the disputed] Web 3.0), with essentialism, constructivism and connectivism as the respective philosophical underpinnings. There are also practical examples of pedagogical, andragogical and heutagogical activities in a mobile environment. Recommended!

Heutagogy has attracted a number of educators who started forming heutagogy communities of practice, for example: and

There has even been a claim to introduce a related concept of e-heutagogy, although this calls a little for Occam’s razor to be applied…

From an educator’s perspective, it is useful to reflect on to what extent these three approaches can be and are implemented in actual teaching and learning contexts. This article¬†convincingly argues that despite the drive to implement more constructivist and connectivist approaches in adult education, the limitations of formal assessment and accreditation frameworks often result in a reversal to the teacher-centred, knowledge-hoarding pedagogical approaches. Consequently, the argument goes, teachers are often unable to fully implement either approach. Also, we need to take into consideration the reasons why adult learners decide to join formal educational institutions. As a result, although “the principles of heutagogy are seen as potentially improving or extending the theories of andragogy and pedaogy, the removal of the educator makes the concept of heutagogy impractical in a credentialing institution”.