Defining pedagogy

Defining pedagogy:

Pedagogy is the term that describes the relationships and “interactions between teachers, students and the learning environment and the learning tasks.” (Murphy, 2009. p 35). The Latin word “paidagogi” was used to describe the slave who accompanied the young Roman boy to school. Plato described these pedagogues as both leaders and custodians of children (cited in Smith, 2006 p. 200). From this etymology, has developed the term of pedagogy to describe the methods and approaches used by teachers to lead students in their learning. Alexander (2008, p 6) outlines the difference between teaching and pedagogy by emphasising that “teaching is an act while pedagogy is both act and discourse…Pedagogy connects the apparently self-contained act of teaching with culture, structure and mechanisms of social control.” Pedagogy is not therefore simply describing the activity of teaching, but reflects the production of broader social and cultural values within the learning relationship.

Concepts of pedagogy reflect societal values and beliefs about learning, and usually draw from two main paradigms: traditional notions of learning as a biological, cognitive acquisition of uncontested knowledge, or alternatively notions of learning as a cultural and social construction within communities of practice. The traditional learning paradigm that emerged in the early 1900s and dominated the 20th century was based on beliefs of social efficiency, social Darwinist theories of innate ability through individual heredity, and behaviorist learning theories (Shephard 2000). Principles drawn from efficiency of industrialisation and factories were applied to education and educational building design. Fundamental building blocks of curriculum were taught in sequence so skills could be mastered and measured by frequent testing, with motivation provided by reward and positive reinforcement.

A new paradigm of learning emerged in the 1970’s about the time when Vygotsky’s work was rediscovered when translated into English. Within this emerging paradigm, “fixed, largely hereditarian theories of intelligence have been replaced with a new understanding that cognitive abilites are developed through socially supported interactions” (Shephard, 2000 p. 7). Friere (1970) also challenged the notion of a “banking” model of education, in which the teacher “owns” knowledge and “deposits” it in students. Instead, he promoted what is now known as critical pedagogy in which teachers and students learn together through dialogue, posing problems and investigating their own worlds, leading to a “dialogical theory of praxis and knowledge and a revised relationship between teacher and student“ (Bartlett, 2005). The active role of the learner within cultural communities created a greater focus on how learning occurs, and appreciating the diversity of learners and their preferred learning styles and modes. Sfard (1998) has noted that both “acquisition” and “participation” approaches to learning are needed. Learner centered principles from both paradigms such as flexibility, differentiation, adaptation, individualised and active learning are principles of pedagogy that have significant implications for learning space design.

Current influential pedagogic principles for Australian teachers can be inferred from statements such as the two educational goals for young people outlined in the Melbourne Declaration (2008):
● Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and
● That all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.
Creativity, active engagement in learning, research skills and inclusivity are all pedagogic principles implied within these goals.

Similarly the seven general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum are aspirational statements describing principles for the preferred way Australian students may interact both in their schooling and beyond schooling.
● Literacy
● Numeracy
● Information and communication technology (ICT) competence
● Critical and creative thinking
● Ethical behaviour
● Personal and social competence
● Intercultural understanding.

The detail in the statements expect students to create, investigate and apply, reflect, question, evaluate ideas, transfer knowledge to new situations, build teams, resolve conflict and contribute to reconciliation between cultures. These statements reflect the new paradigm of student centered, active learning needing learning spaces where students can construct their understandings in teams.

While these capabilities are often described as 21st century learning capabilities, there are tensions emerging from wider educational policy values. Foundations for 21st century learning statements often derive from economic reviews such as Mayer’s (1992) key competencies which identified vocational capabilities for an economy moving from an industrial to a post industrial workforce. Statements of 21st century learning goals can therefore reflect global economic influences and a shift from government to governance (Lingard, 2010). Luke (2011, p. 375) describes a current context of “global curriculum settlement around educational basics and ‘new economy’ competences that focuses almost exclusively on the measureable production of human capital”. As a result there is an increasing emphasis within Australian education on performance measurement, benchmarks and standards and accountability (Klenowski 2008). Beliefs about learning in the 21st century are in danger of returning to the values of the 19th century (Broadfoot, 2009). Identifying the purpose behind 21st century learner capabilities is therefore significant for teachers and designers of learning spaces.

Direct links between measurable learning outcomes as a result of learning space design are also problematic to make as learning space design interacts with other factors, and not all of those factors are measurable. Claims for improved learning outcomes have been made in experimental cases, for example those students in a brightly coloured room with flexible table groupings outperformed those taught the same course in a traditional classroom (Whiteside, Brooks and Walker 2010). The design of the space impacted on the teacher and student behaviour, so that in spite of their intentions, more feedback and discussion and active student learning occurred in the room designed to meet 21st century learner goals. Improved learning was measured by end of course grades, but could also have been measured by increased participation and engagement which led to more active learning. Similarly the learning space could not be singly identified as the only factor, with the teacher and student interactions being highly significant factors identified. Making links between learning outcomes and learning space design does depend on clearly defining what is understood by improved learning.

Quality learning for 21st century learners depends on a cluster of conditions. Hattie (2009) highlights the importance of teachers providing challenging learning, and supporting students to navigate through ‘not knowing’ rather than breaking the task down, by building trust and rapport through teacher leadership in creating a community of learners. When students are reflectively involved in deep understanding and expertise (high cognition), genuinely valuing what they are doing (high emotion) and actively participating in school and classroom activities (high behaviour), significant improvements in learning engagement result (Munns and Woodward 2006). Well designed, stimulating learning environments can promote quality learning by communicating to students that their learning is valued, and promoting student ownership of the space which is a precondition for developing learner autonomy (Willis, 2011). Learning spaces can be designed to provide for active group learning, as well as teacher directed, individual learning, allowing responsive flexibility as the challenges of learning demand.

Pedagogy that promotes quality learning is not an exact science. It is ambiguous, draws from a teacher’s tacit knowledge and expertise, and is understood as an art rather than as a science of didactics (Murphy 2009). It is interactive and emergent because student actions as well as teacher intentions shape the interactions. Pedagogy can therefore be described as the enacted philosophy or principles that describe how people participate in learning, and the practices that emerge through that participation. Understanding the views of the students and teachers, as actors in the interactions, within their particular learning space, is therefore important.
Pedagogical principles and learning space design

Thoughtful, purposeful pedagogical principles can inspire the design of places and spaces that encourage the desired learning interactions. Stimulating spaces attract people and spark creative thinking. They have the ability to motivate and engage students and educators. Visual, tactile, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences all influence memory and the intake of information as humans associate what they learn with where they learned it (Gee 2006). 21st century learners are digital, mobile, independent, social and participatory (Lomas and Oblinger 2006) and this impacts on their learning and preferences for learning spaces.

Gee (2006) provides this list of principles for design:
• Be flexible
• Allow adequate space
• Be welcoming and familiar
• Allow user ownership that enables people to manipulate how they use them
• Enable changeable focus points
• Have mobile displays that support collaboration and teaching with digital media.
• Support diverse IT & technology tools
• Anticipate future needs

Additionally, existing learning spaces enable particular types of interactions that will reflect particular beliefs about learning, that may not have been purposeful or articulated, but are none the less are powerful as cultural narratives and assumptions that perpetuate a particular view of learning (Walkerdine, 1984). Making changes to learning spaces can change the pedagogic practices that occur within them (Willis, in press).

While learning spaces may be designed from pedagogic principles, or enable particular types of interactions, how those pedagogic principles are enacted will vary because of the activities of the people who use the spaces. The beliefs that teachers or students may hold about learning, familiarity with technologies, unexpected uses of furnishings, and who is deemed to have ability to make changes can all influence the way an innovative space is used, and produce pedagogic interactions that can differ from teacher to teacher and class to class. Pedagogic practices are a site of production (Murphy, 2009), and opportunities to disrupt and innovate can occur in tacit and emerging ways for learners and teachers. While it is important to continue the research about how learning space design can enable 21st century pedagogic practices, there is a significant gap in our understanding of how pedagogic practices are negotiated by participants in this nexus between the imagined pedagogy intended in the design and the enabling flow and function of the emerging space.

Alexander, R. (2008). What is pedagogy? In K. Hall, P. Murphy & J. Soler (Eds.), Pedagogy and practice: culture and identities. London: SAGE publications.

Bartlett, L. (2005). Dialogue, knowledge and teacher-student relations: Freirean pedagogy in theory and practice. Comparative Education Review, 49(3).

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning. A synthesis of over 800 meta-analysis relating to achievement: Routledge.

Klenowski, V. (2008). The changing demands of assessment policy: Sustaining confidence in teacher assessment. Paper presented at the Australian Association of Research in Education.

Lingard, B. (2010). Policy as numbers: Ac/counting for educational research. Radford Lecture, Australian Association of Research in Education, University of Melbourne 29 November, 2010

Luke, A. (2011). Generalising across borders: Policy and the limits of Educational Science. Educational Researcher, 40, 367 – 377

Munns, G., & Woodward, H. (2006). Student engagement and student self-assessment: the REAL framework. Assessment in Education, 13(2), 193 – 213

Murphy, P. (2008). Defining Pedagogy. In K. Hall, P. Murphy & J. Soler (Eds.), Pedagogy and practice: culture and identities (pp. 28 – 39). London: SAGE publications.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

Smith, M. (2006). The role of the Pedagogue in Galatians. Faculty Publications and presentations, 115. Retrieved from

Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4 – 14.

Walkerdine, V. (1984) Developmental psychology and the child-centered pedagogy. In Henriques, J., Holloway, W., Unwin, C. and Walkerdine, V. (eds) Changing the subject: Psychology, Social regulation and Subjectivity, Methuen, London/New York

Willis, J. (2011). Affiliation, autonomy and Assessment for Learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, policy and practice, 18(4), 399 – 416.

Whiteside, A., Brooks, D., & Walker, J. (2010). Making the case for space: Three years of Empirical research on learning environments. Educause Quarterly, 33(3). Retrieved from

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