What Makes A Good Teacher

What Makes A Good Teacher: The Learner-Teacher Relationship and Pedagogy-Andragogy Continuum

Teachers require learners, a phrase that perhaps treated as rather obvious (e.g., Ramsden, 2003). However the effectiveness of a good teacher means a good fitness of purpose with the learner, as argued by Vygotsky's (Vygotsky, 1986) theory of a 'Zone of Proximal Development' (ZPD), initially as a pedagogical aid, but one which can be used for all learners. The teacher needs to be position in that space of what the learner can do without assistance, and what they cannot do at all, i.e., what they can do, with assistance. In this regard, the teacher must know their learners, know their abilities, what they want to learn, why they want to learn it etc. The teacher must also, in this regard, know themselves, where they are capable and competent, what delivery style they are familiar with that will suit their learners etc.

In the context of higher and adult education, it is essential for a teacher to recognise the continuum between pedagogy and andragogy. In the latter, the learner has increasing levels of self-motivation, voluntarism, experiential resources, a research orientation, practicality of content, and social equality between teacher and learner (Knowles et al, 1998). The application of pedagogical-specific techniques to an andragogical audience will surely end in disaster, just as the reverse would. Whilst not strictly determined by age, the continuum from pedagogy to andragogy is derived from developmental psychology, specifically the acquisition of formal operations in cognitive processes (Piaget), post-conventional moral reasoning (Kohlberg), role-integration (Mead), superego recognition (Freud) etc. It is curious that none of the suggested readings for the week noted the pedagogical-andragogical continuum, despite the mention of developmental psychology. A more contemporary application of the need for immediacy among advanced and adult learners is the encouragement and recognition of lifelong learning. Social and technological dynamics also require a regular updating of skills and knowledge, which the learner can associate with proximal and distal time goals (Simons et al, 2004).

Delivery of content has a number of well-known techniques for imparting knowledge effectively and evaluating the knowledge acquired. Structured content of embedded knowledge that provides a scaffold for future learning, use of narrative techniques (including humour) (Sviniki, 2004), providing self-determination for intrinsic motivation (Sheldon, 2009), applying the appropriate disciplinary learning style (Drysalde et al 2001), encouraging cooperative and collaborative learning (Bonk, Cunningham, 1998). For evaluation, the sense that the learner has a high level of self-efficacy (Schunk, Pajares, 2004), allow for a component of self-assessment and autonomous evaluation, as well as formative and summative assessment components, differentiated according to the real-world application of the subject.

To summarise:

* Teachers need learners, and in adult education, the learners have a very high degree of social equality with the teacher.
* Teachers must know their course material and have a good knowledge of their audience.
* Adult education techniques must address the particular characteristics of adult learners (e.g., voluntary attendance, immediate application of knowledge), as well as general techniques (e.g., structured content)


Bonk, C. J., & Cunningham, D. J. (1998). Searching for learner-centred, constructivist, and sociocultural components of collaborative educational learning tools. In C. J. Bonk & K. S. King (Eds.), Electronic collaborators: Learner-centred technologies for literacy, apprenticeship and discourse (pp. 25–50). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Drysdale, M.T., Ross J.L., & Schulz, R.A. (2001). Cognitive learning styles and academic performance in 19 first-year university courses: Successful students versus students at risk. Journal of education for students placed at risk, 6 (3), 271-289.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F. & Swanson, R. A. (1998). Beyond andragogy. In The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (5th ed., pp. 153–179). Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education, 2nd edition, London: RoutledgeFalmer

Schunk, D. H. & Pajares, F. (2004). Self-efficacy in education revisited: Empirical and applied evidence. In D. M. McInerney & S. V. Etten (Eds.), Big theories revisited (pp. 115–138). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Sheldon, K. M. (2009). Changes in goal-striving across the life span: Do people learn to select more self-concordant goals as they age?. In M. C. Smith (Ed.), Handbook of research on adult learning and development (pp. 553–569). New York: Routledge.

Simons, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Lacante, M. (2004). Placing motivation and future time perspective theory in a temporal perspective. Educational psychology review, 16(2), 121–139.

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Helping students understand. In Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom (pp. 39–60). Boston: Anker.

Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, FP 1934