What is Pedagogy? An Introduction to Learning Theories

Author: Ben Greenwood

Posted: 05 Feb 2020

Estimated time to read: 5 mins

Pedagogy, pronounced ‘ped-a-godge-ee’ (yes, we had to google that), is a term whose definition is regularly contested. Wedged somewhere between teaching theory and psychological vernacular, it’s a word that sits just out of reach for many classroom teachers - not through ignorance or lack of knowledge but because of how broad and inaccessible the workings of pedagogy can be.

In this post we’ll look at where the term came from, what it means for teachers and how it continues to change teaching and learning to this day.


The beginning of pedagogy

The role of teacher was created in Ancient Greece, where teaching was first seen as an art form. Going to school to learn was something that only the wealthiest could afford for their children and educators were central figures in the learning process. They imparted their invaluable wisdom and students took note.

But it wasn’t these educators who were the first pedagogues. Due to their status, the rich families used slaves to escort their children to and from school. They were seen as worldly and experienced and imparted their knowledge on the children they were chaperoning.

It's from here that the word pedagogue was created. Roughly translated as ‘leader of children’, it describes a person whose job it is to guide students and tutor them, not just academically but morally and spiritually too.


The science of teaching

Since then, the term pedagogue has evolved to mean ‘those actively engaged in teaching children’. And by the time we reached the 19th century, science took over. Industrialisation meant that more educated workers were needed and less serfs. There was pressure on governments to push more children through the school system and have them ready for work. 

Schools effectively became workforce factories, with teachers constantly striving to drill discipline into students and ensure they were ready for life in the factories and mills. This meant making teaching as efficient as possible.

Once science and psychology were added to the mix in the 19th century, pedagogy became an entirely different beast. The development of behaviourism and classical conditioning through experiments with cats and buttons and mice in mazes, expanded our understanding of how children's minds work and what makes them learn.

Pioneers, such as Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget and Paulo Friere pushed the science of learning into the psychological sphere, examining students’ learning patterns and applying their own theories to teaching. This has continued to the present day, and there are now hundreds of pedagogical techniques and approaches.

Why pedagogy is important for teachers

Understanding and implementing pedagogy can improve the quality of your teaching and help you connect with students. By being mindful of which learning theories you are using and how they impact the class, you can help students achieve deeper, more meaningful learning.

By combining elements of different pedagogical approaches, teachers develop more informed and better suited classroom approaches for themselves. But with teacher workload on the rise, many simply don’t have the time to study these techniques.

By giving teachers more time to study their profession, schools will benefit from the new ideas teachers will bring to the classroom and the impact they will have on learners.


The difference between a pedagogical approach and pedagogical techniques:

  • Pedagogical approach - A pedagogical approach is an entirely unified way of looking at teaching. It takes a majority of elements from one of the overall approaches to pedagogy, such as Behaviourism, Constructivism or Liberationism, and applies that approach to all aspects of teaching. 

  • Pedagogical technique - A pedagogical technique is more granular than an entire approach. It’s usually a specific set of actions that the teacher employs in the classroom. This could be computational thinking, deep learning or flipped learning. 


Why is the use of pedagogy in decline? 

We posted a twitter poll asking teachers if they actively use pedagogical techniques in the classroom. The results showed that a staggering 37% of our teachers don’t have the time or freedom to implement new learning techniques in the classroom. This likely correlates with the creeping increase of teachers’ workloads.

If we don’t take an honest look at workloads, and actively make time to study the academics behind the craft of teaching, we’re going to lose much more than just a work-life balance. The very purpose of education and its role in society is to allow each generation to improve, go further and be better than the last.

Trying to do this without the help of science and pedagogical theory is like trying to drive a car at night with the headlights off. Teaching relies on a teachers’ knowledge of how learning works and how students receive and process tasks.


In our upcoming weekly blogs, we’ll be looking at different pedagogical approaches and techniques and how teachers can apply them to real classroom scenarios, providing more food for thought and a fresh outlook on teaching and learning.

Read more from our pedagogy blog series



Social Constructivism


Fall in love with teaching again with the magic of AI 

Get your evenings and weekends back and fall in love with teaching again, all thanks to the help of your new AI Sidekick! Save valuable time creating homework, quizzes, spelling tests and lesson plans using the magic of generative AI, all without leaving Satchel One.

Learn more 

Sidekick banner