Question … has the executive education giant that appears to have been sleeping for the past twenty years or so finally awakened?  A recent article in the house magazine of the Institute of Directors (Director, March 2014) appears to think that, at least some of these somnambulant institutions appear to be rousing from their slumbers. Apparently the surprising thing is that soft skills are equally as important to business leaders in the 21st Century as technical ability! Here “softer skills” are defined as including engagement, values and ethics, sustainability and a more inclusive approach to business and the IoD wonders whether providers of business education and leadership development programmes can deliver this new approach. It does seem, according to the article, that at least a few of the UK’s business schools have set their alarms earlier than others and are even including “Personal Development Plans” within their courses to encourage participants to identify the softer skills that will enable them to achieve personal goals. What I, as someone who has been involved in leadership development for some 20 years and who is working for  an organisation that has been delivering Leadership Development and related behavioural change for over thirty years, am most amazed at here is the amount of surprise that is contained within the article.

Teaching Styles


Back in 1996 Peter Vaill in his book “Learning as a Way of Being” argued that the formal business education system (that he refers to as “institutional learning”) has ill prepared managers and business leaders for the “messy” world in which we all live and work.  Vaill suggests that the formal school system has profoundly influenced so-called adult-education within Universities and Business Schools.  Nearly twenty years later this concept is borne out in the Director article: the Director of Studies of an on-line MBA at a UK university talks about the “pedagogy” of the MBA. Now, pedagogy is the science and art of education – specifically instructional theory – and a literal translation from the Greek root is “to lead the child.” Influenced by such psychologists as Piaget and Vygotsky, pedagogy is about a structured sequence of individual mental processes (such as recognising, recalling, analysing, reflecting, applying, creating, understanding and evaluating) that we are led through by our teachers when at school; when we need the help of another to start to understand the world around us.  This method of instruction and teaching is excellent for the learning and development of technical skills, such as how to write a business plan, or construct a budget, or read a balance sheet.


However good it may be in helping students and participants to learn technical skills, the process is not appropriate when we come to the development of the “softer skills,” here we are needing to work differently and have expectations of being treated differently.  Here we come to the alternative process – Andragogy. Andragogy (adult learning) is a theory that holds a set of assumptions about how adults learn. Andragogy emphasises the value of the process of learning. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic, and also emphasises more equality between the teacher and learner. Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in 1950’s and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970’s by Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”. Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning outlined below.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  •  Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them.  The trainers’ role is to facilitate a participant’s movement toward more self-directed and responsible learning as well as to foster their internal motivation to learn.
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults like to be given opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and experiences gained from life experience, and apply it to their new learning experiences.
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adult learners become ready to learn when “they experience a need to learn it in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems”
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. One way to help them to see the value of their observations and practical experiences.
  • Adults are practical
  • Through practical experiences, interacting with real clients and their real life situations, learners move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognise first-hand how what they are learning applies to life and the work context.
  • Adult learners like to be respected

The Difference

The main differences between Pedagogy and Andragogy are shown in this table:

  Pedagogical Approach Andragogical Approach
The Learner
  • The learner is dependent on the teacher for all learning
  • The teacher assumes full responsibility for what is taught and how it is learned
  • The teacher evaluates the learning
  •  The learner is self-directed
  • The learner is responsible for his/her own learning
  • Self-evaluation is characteristic of this approach
Role of the Learner’s experience
  • The learner comes to the activity with little experience that could be tapped as a resource for learning
  • The experience of the instructor is most influential
  •  The learner brings a greater volume and quality of experience
  • Adults are a rich resource for one another
  • Different experiences assure diversity in groups of adults
  • Experience becomes the source of self-identify
Readiness to learn
  • Students are told what they have to learn in order to advance to the next level of mastery
  •  Any change is likely to trigger a readiness to learn
  • The need to know in order to perform more effectively in some aspect of one’s life is important
  • Ability to assess gaps between where one is now and where one wants and needs to be
Orientation to learning
  • Learning is a process of acquiring prescribed subject matter
  • Content units are sequenced according to the logic of the subject matter
  •  Learners want to perform a task, solve a problem, live in a more satisfying way
  • Learning must have relevance to real-life tasks
  • Learning is organized around life/work situations rather than subject matter units
Motivation for learning
  • Primarily motivated by external pressures, competition for grades, and the consequences of failure
  •  Internal motivators: self-esteem, recognition, better quality of life, self-confidence, self-actualization


Nearly thirty years of developing people has shown me that an Andragogical approach always works far better when dealing with behavioural change.  What I, and most other leadership development specialists, recognise is that participants come on our programmes not just wanting to know what to do, but, and more importantly, how to do whatever it is.  That is why we have been working with such “soft” topics as Emotional Intelligence (whether it is actually called that or not is immaterial) for many years – Salovey & Mayer first coined the phrase in 1989 and the concept became far more widely known from 1995 and the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ”. Working to achieve change in a person, whether it is the development of different behaviours or ways of viewing the world and those within it, means working within the psychological depths of that person; it is not just about acquiring new knowledge – if that is all it takes to be a leader then go and read some of the 86,680 books currently being advertised in  Rather, the development of these soft skills requires patience, practice, feedback as well as some guidance, support and, even, challenge; and preferably within a safe environment where one can make mistakes, try again, do better, try again etc. etc.

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