Didactics versus pedagogy, a personal note

I’m attending ResearchED NY at the moment and during a discussion something popped up that I never noticed before. People were using pedagogy and didactics as almost synonyms. They aren’t.

If you do a Google check on the differences, you’ll get a lot of different possible distinctions. The distinction I learned at university way too long ago is the following:

  • pedagogy is the biggest of the two as it covers the why and how of education, but also talks and thinks about the curriculum, the values, the visions on education, etc. Pedagogy can therefor be more philosophical by moments.
  • didactics focuses on the how. It’s more mechanic, often easier to research.

When I talked with John Hattie a while ago when we discussed inclusive education, he only said something about the learning effect. This was a rather didactical answer. The discussion about inclusive education is more pedagogical than purely didactical.

I have to admit that I learned pretty fast that when I’m in an Anglo-Saxon environment I should call myself educational scientist, while when talking in Belgium or The Netherlands I will describe myself a pedagogue. The kind of education and training I had at university is not really known in the UK or the US. Pedagogy and Educational Sciences is more like studying psychology. Something you can chose to study at the beginning of your university career instead of something you study after studying something else. The kind of education I had, makes it possible to study the broad field of education and the aim of these kinds of university training is to have a good overview.

13 thoughts on “Didactics versus pedagogy, a personal note

  1. Without a formal study of it but through my own interpretation from reading etc I always thought of Pedagogy as the whole and didactic as a specific pedagogy; a way of how to teach. Interestingly I think didactics is rarely used here and around my parts. We just lump all as pedagogy.

  2. I had the same experience, being a “wijsgerig pedagoog” interested in education in the context of the family, I just didn’t seem to exist in the Anglophone academic world. In that world I’m a philosoper of education who isn’t working in the field of schooling, but investigates (philosophically) issues of parenting and parenting support. I discovered by the way that it is not correct to translate parenting as “opvoeding” as is often done in the Netherlands.

  3. What a wonderful discussion!

    While doing my masters studies in education and teaching (in Finland), I learned that “general didactics” is basically the science about teaching, the instructional process with all it’s connected factors (Kansanen & Meri, 1999, p.107; informative images on p.112 and 114, article available in research gate). Then, during my doctoral studies (in the U.S.) I learned about curriculum design and how instructional processes often get tied into a given curriculum, which teachers are asked to follow faithfully. Inclusive education appears to be a structural choice within the educational system.

    Alas, didactics as the theory and practice of teaching seems be used mostly in Europe and especiallly in Finland.

    I could see subject didactics falling under curriculum design , especially in English verbiage about teaching and learning, as it relates to why and what we teach – but then again, I have learned to use the curriculum as a guidline, not a road map. It seems that didactics have been externalized from schools and teachers to the curriculum design process (big publishers), emphasizing the normative aspects of education. I personally believe that broad approach in teacher training supports the didactical skills that help teachers to be more successful in their profession.

    Pedagogy then (to me) is something that focuses on how we support the individual learning process towards deep learning, so it covers the interactions between teachers and students, and the choices about how information is presented.

    As a developmentalist, I believe that the need for pedagogical interaction decreases when the student matures. Thinking of an infant, all learning happens with human interactions, and most of learning happens that way in preschool, too. School aged children learn from their educational (online & offline) materials and from each other, but they still need guidance, so the teacher has to fine-tune the pedagogy: too much help reduces learning, as does too little help (basic Vygotskyan ZPD here). The secret for empowering students to learn on their own lies in letting go of unnecessary guidance/ control and focusing on supporting students’ metacognitive skills and knowledge, so that they become capable of self-assessing their learning.

    In andragogy the same support structures are needed to ease adult students into expectations and practices (and the hidden curriculum) of their degree, with the same mindset of fine-tuning the interactions. (I currently work with teachers pursuing their M.Ed. degrees.)

    Do I make any sense with my ramblings?

    Kansanen, P., & Meri, M. (1999). The didactic relation in the teaching-studying-learning process. Didaktik/Fachdidaktik as Science (-s) of the Teaching profession, 2(1), 107-116.

  4. when I engaged students in the “struggle” we learned what and how they came to know-they left with confidence -and I worked myself out of a job

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