What Is Pedagogy in Education?

An elementary school teacher works with a student.

Teaching well is an art, but it’s also a practical skill. Every instructor can learn to apply theory-based teaching practices that effectively translate even the most challenging subject matter into approachable concepts for learners.

Pedagogy in education is the study of teaching methods that educators use to help students meet learning objectives. Pedagogical approaches vary depending on the subject matter, students’ education level and classroom dynamics, but three elements are always present: the educator, the learner and the subject matter.

Educators who want to improve their grasp of pedagogical theory can benefit from an advanced degree in education, such as a Master of Education (MEd) in Instruction, which equips graduates with actionable teaching strategies to support student learning.

Four Categories of Pedagogy

Pedagogy can be divided into four main categories:

  • Behaviorist
  • Constructivist
  • Social constructivist
  • Liberationist

1. Behaviorist Pedagogy

Behaviorist pedagogy is the basis for the traditional, lecture-style model of classroom learning in which the teacher delivers the concepts for students to learn. To help students remember the subject matter, the teacher may assign repetition exercises or recommend mnemonic devices. The teacher often motivates students to learn the subject matter through positive reinforcement, such as good grades or verbal praise.

According to eLearning Industry, “the basic assumption of behaviorism [is] that knowledge is objective, meaning that there is only one correct answer to give or a specific approach to follow.” This method can be useful for subject areas that rely on facts and formulas, such as math or grammar.

Behaviorist Methods

A teacher using a behaviorist approach may encourage students to learn their multiplication tables by reciting them in class every day, or a teacher may regularly assess students on their ability to recall elements on the periodic table. To help language learners remember verb endings, a teacher may set the material to a tune for students to sing aloud, or a teacher may encourage students to study for a spelling test by promising prizes to the top three performers.

These strategies help students learn the subject matter through teacher-centered instruction, repetition and positive reinforcement.

2. Constructivist Pedagogy

In a constructivist approach to pedagogy, each student has the opportunity to create a path to learning, rather than follow a predetermined path set forth by the teacher. Group discussion is common with this approach, since constructivism values learning that occurs through firsthand experience and inquiry, rather than through lecture and repetition.

Constructivist pedagogy is sometimes called “invisible pedagogy,” which speaks to the idea of teachers creating a hidden framework that supports individualized, student-led learning.

Constructivist Methods

For teachers interested in applying a constructivist approach to pedagogy, The Edvocate suggests allowing “students to try their own theories and make mistakes—this way, students will learn from their errors and understand the work more clearly.”

Rather than demonstrating a lesson for students to learn, teachers can assign activities that encourage firsthand learning. A teacher may have students conduct their own experiments to illustrate a principle of physics, providing loose instructions to keep students on track while leaving room for creative approaches.

3. Social Constructivist Pedagogy

Social constructivism is a hybrid approach to pedagogy that takes cues from behaviorism and constructivism. Like constructivism, this approach uses group work to encourage student-led learning, but the teacher guides this work by dividing students into smaller groups and focusing discussion using specific prompts.

The Edvocate notes that social constructivism “develops as a result of social interaction and language use.” Interactions with teachers and their peers challenge students to reflect on their current understanding and form new ideas, thus facilitating deeper learning.

Social Constructivist Methods

Activities that promote dialogue in the learning environment are effective approaches to social constructivism.

A teacher may divide the class into two groups that represent opposing sides of a debate and ask the groups to express their stance in a public forum-style discussion. To promote discussion about an assigned text, a teacher may have students share their interpretations of a passage on a discussion board and respond to their peers’ interpretations. Reflective journaling that includes individualized feedback from the teacher is another method to help students develop their thoughts and consider new perspectives.

4. Liberationist Pedagogy

While behaviorist pedagogy makes the teacher the main source of knowledge, liberationist pedagogy calls for students to take center stage in a democratic classroom, where their contributions are just as valuable as the teacher’s. This approach originated with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that details Freire’s methods to eradicate mass illiteracy in Brazil and thus empower those in poverty.

In liberationist pedagogy, every student can take on the role of educator and share their understanding to edify the learning environment. This collaborative learning style works to expand the knowledge of everyone in the classroom, including the teacher.

Liberationist Methods

Liberationist approaches to pedagogy allow students to showcase their learning and offer new ways to engage with the subject matter. For example, a teacher may allow creative approaches, such as visual art or interpretive dance, in place of written text analysis. Rather than the teacher guiding students in class discussion, students can take turns posing questions for their peers to consider.

Considering assignments inspired by Freire’s work, JSTOR Daily cites a middle school math class in which students thought up solutions to challenges facing the local economy, water supply and school budget.

Dive Deeper Into Pedagogy With an MEd in Instruction

Earning a master’s degree in education equips teachers with theory-based practices to positively impact student learning. With an MEd in Instruction from Augusta University Online, teachers can take the next step in their professional development and learn advanced teaching strategies to support diverse groups of learners. Discover how to bring pedagogy into practice at Augusta University Online.

ELearning Industry, “Behaviorism in Instructional Design for eLearning: When and How to Use It”
JSTOR Daily, “Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed at Fifty”
Tes, What Is Pedagogy?
The Edvocate, “Constructivism and the Developing Child”
The Edvocate, “Social Constructivism in Education”

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