Homogogy – the Neo-Paleo Teaching of choice

Before I get into the definitions of teaching in this blog (which are by no means conclusive), I feel it is relevant to address terminology, as it was a core reason behind the concept of Homogogy for me.

Dave Snowden (Cognitive Edge) is one of many who has outlined the importance of language for defining concepts, and it is something I agree with. Where a thought process or conceptual framework requires intelligent application and consideration, it also requires clear, concise, and precise language, which in turn defines how you frame your thoughts about things.

A good example of this is with industry – terms may be mutually used from one situation to another, but in business buzzwords may be used or misused or misappropriated. Terminology can become fuzzy or situational. As an example, many people will use the phrase “in theory” or “theoretically” to talk about an estimate or guess, but are actually talking about a hypothesis – a supposition or proposed explanation, based on limited (or no!) evidence. I’ve heard this a lot in IT and related verticals, especially in sales.

In science, however, a theory doesn’t mean something guessed at, but a substantiated explanation based on a set of facts which have been reliably confirmed via experimentation and observation – both of which are provable and repeatable by anyone. It also accepts that this is the best understanding of something at that point in time, and this could change based on new data.

Humans are learning machines; we adapt and learn faster and on more levels than any other creature we know of; and yet, we manage to actively and aggressively damage that natural learning. We impose limits; we opt for profit over results; we force rather than inspire; and we muddy language around this process, often twisting terminology so it means the opposite to suit our whim.

So language is critical, and its correct application is as important. Cynefin uses it precisely to help define concepts (e.g. Order, Un-order, Disorder); science uses it identically. Business, largely, does not. We must use the correct words, in the correct manner, if we are to comprehend.


Pedagogy & Andragogy

There are two primary accepted methodologies of teaching used, both named in the West from a similar Greek root:

Pedagogy (leading boys) is the concept that children must be lectured and moulded, taught what they need to know. Pedagogues are traditionally associated with the young, strictness and pedantry (children should be seen and not heard is a classic integration with this concept).

Andragogy (leading man) focuses more on adults needing to teach themselves, and discover new skills through play. Andragogues are seen as adult educators and enablers who focus on experiential learning.

They were codified during the 1960s and 1970s by Martin Knowles, a US Professor of Adult Education. He noted that the way adults were being taught was ineffective; lectures, learning by rote, exams, and other techniques we still to this day associate with University learning (as well as school learning) simply weren’t achieving the results they should, relatively easy to monitor and perform though they were. Books such as The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species changed the way adults and industries thought about teaching adults, although the older methods are still surprisingly widely used to this day in both University and Business.

This was very beneficial to adults, especially in industries looking for new and effective ways to engage, and was a definite springboard for engaging techniques such as Agile learning to develop. It was not beneficial to children, however; for all his progressive thinking to how adult humans learn, Knowles assumed that because children had been taught via pedagogy for hundreds of years, it must be the correct way (it’s interesting he quite consciously refuted this assumption for adults), and so he unwittingly and drastically reinforced the old, rigid, totally incorrect methodology for children.

Neither of these acknowledge that humans learn in a similar fashion throughout their life neurologically, nor are they technically correct in times when we are rightfully acknowledging that women are also an equal part of the human intellectual process in intellect and ability, if not recognition and reward. The terminology, in my opinion, needs updating.


Why Pedagogy is wrong

Pedagogy is, essentially, Teacher-Centred Instruction. Immediately this misses the point of learning; the focus should be on the students, their retention, and comprehension, not on an authority figure and their instruction. Even worse, this is usually not the teacher’s preferred method, but professional demands from a disassociated governing body.

Anyone who has seen a child pre-school years realises that children learn naturally and swiftly through interest, play, and repetition. So why in many countries, including the West, do we begin to inject discipline and demand, younger and younger, to remove all fun and interest and to indoctrinate them into the stress of modern life?

This comes from centuries of instructing children, and in some ways is worse than it has ever been. We have moved from rigid silence and forced learning, to the veneer of play – laid over disciplined, metricised, commodified enforced learning, with less resources than ever.

It is not the same country-to-country; Scandinavia, especially Finland for example, has incredible results teaching children – and they avoid pedagogy. Instead, they allow teachers AND students freedom to learn and experiment in the best ways to do both. It seems incredible to me that this happens in the US and UK, then, but there is a clear connection between academisation, profit, and agenda and class, where actual results matter less than these others; blame shifts to the students, for not trying hard enough, and teachers, for not teaching well enough despite the huge limitations placed upon them by the system (this applies very much in business intra-organisation as well).

In the UK, children as young as 4 are being monitored for SATs  – Standard Attainment Tests. They supposedly monitor the progress of children in black and white, for all to see, but they are frankly a ridiculous idea, and one many teachers balk at. They do not provide accurate understanding of children of all backgrounds and neurodifferences; they are not an accurate monitoring of the level of a child; and they induce massive stress levels which de-incentivise children and stifle learning. They also value learning-by-rote achievements over applicable comprehension, which for me is unforgivable.

Far too much pressure is put on schools to deliver certain levels of results or lose status or funding; far too much pressure is put on teachers to get results within strict limitations; and far too much pressure is put on children, who are finding their learning interrupted by the trauma and stress.  Why then do this, preparing children for a life of dictated mindless toil and stress, when later we work to “reawaken” adults in industry and help them learn intuitively? Should we not be doing this from the beginning?

Well, yes, we should. It’s been proven in multiple studies that the best school systems in the world with the highest results (such as the example of Finland above) remove enforced homework, constant measurement and competition, and the high pressure levels, and allow children to develop interest and learning themselves. It also been proven over decades of research into neural learning patterns and brain-friendly learning that pedagogy is the diametric opposite to these. Exams and SATs should be a loose marker, a gauge; but they are taken as a grail; THE RESULTS.

Learning is a continuous path, not an end location.

I’ve passed exams on hardly any work, because I’ve always excelled at seat-of-my-pants reactivity; that does not equate to comprehension and application of a subject. Apply that to business, as I’ve seen happen after my own courses, and you are suddenly left with an organisation in trouble with a client because they were more concerned about the course qualifications of the student (or tick-box for compliance) than their ability to know what they are doing. That equals lost revenue, lost reputation, lost trust, and the growth of a culture of only caring about the paper (anyone in IT will readily cite MSCEs as a victim of this cramming process).

Pedagogy is still widely used in business. Certification is all; classes are strict; classrooms are arranged in desks, and more. Typically there is an information overload delivered in too short a timeframe to too many people at once in a generic, boring, and “company approved” manner which often spawns bad conceptualisation, inability to apply or retain data, a hierarchy of go-tos, and a host of other problems. It is a terrible teaching methodology for humans, let alone children, and it comes hand-in-hand with the expectation that the certification is the goal; a qualification that has more value than the learning itself both before and after.

As I said in my recent post Never Mind the Buzzwords, it is important to understand that a certification or qualification is the beginning of understanding and application, not the end. This should especially be borne in mind for younger humans.

Children learn in the same way as adults, but better, faster; they lack only the developed cognitive abilities for the abstract, and the prior experience. That is why stories are as crucial for children as play and experimentation; they allow relation of concepts to their limited experience and the understanding and expansion this brings, and the inspiration to test.

A much smaller % of people are readily capable of learning in this restrictive way, and the rest are judged for not managing; but even those who are incentivised and capable of learning like this can improve how they do so.

In short: Pedagogy does not allow children, or anyone else, to learn like humans.


Why Andragogy is no longer right

Andragogy has been widely understood to mean “the teaching of adults”. Despite efforts by many professional teachers to redress the usage, it remains associated with adults, and agile learning methodologies especially, rather than the default way we should teach everyone.

Aside from abstract processing and life experience, another difference between adults and children in teaching and learning is the ability of adults to know and/or be able to express if that teaching and learning is not working effectively (wrong course, irrelevance, poor teacher, and so on). They have developed a meta-understanding of the process and how abstract concepts integrate, whereas children tend towards pure learning without the awareness of the method. This may be why Knowles focused on the needs of adults in finding a new way to teach and learn; it is easy to look at several hundred years of teaching children and say, “Well, they haven’t raised these issues”.

The idea was formed that adults need games, engagement, and “space to learn”; that the teacher still has knowledge to pass but the adults use experiential learning. Of course, as soon as you really consider children you realise it’s no different for them.

Does any of this sound mad to anyone else? Children, who learn by play naturally, should be taught like automatons and be rigidly graded with SATs and every other possible metric; whilst adults, who have lost some of that neuroplasticity but can discipline themselves to learn in a number of more restrictive ways, are taught like “real people” and encouraged to play games?


Rather than unlearning what you have once learned, it’s better to learn
correctly from the start… and continue for the rest of your life!


In Training from the Back of the Room, Sharon Bowman paraphrases a list from Knowles, noting humans:

• Want/need to learn
• Learn in different ways
• Learn best in informal environments
• See themselves as self-directed and responsible
• Learn best with hands-on practice
• Bring their past experiences to learning
• Learn best when they can relate new information to what is already known
• Have their own ideas to contribute

There is an unwritten assumption in almost all teaching that the teacher is always the holder of knowledge, correct, and that they are “in charge” of a class, although Andragogy is far less rigid in this respect. Bowman’s book stresses the importance of removing the teacher as an impediment, which I have always strongly agreed with.

In short: Andragogy has come to mostly be accepted only as a(n agile) way of teaching adults and is often misapplied as a result.


Why Homogogy is what we now need/have always needed/used to have

The meanings of the above methodologies have been misappropriated over time, and were misunderstood from the start. Both Andragogy and Pedagogy view the teacher as a holder of knowledge, and a student as a recipient of knowledge. This is massively simplified, and only one aspect of teaching.

I’ll introduce a novel thought:


We are a guide; we inspire, we help; we provide information, too, but we are there to spark and engage, not enforce. Learning is not effective when you attempt to force it upon people for anything other than survival (at which point you expect losses). In addition, a teacher can only open the door; the student must decide to walk through it themselves.

I proposed 6 I’s in another post that are mostly overlooked as part of Pedagogy, and often Andragogy:

Neurologically, children and adults learn through the creation of neural connections in their brains in certain orders. The brains of children are far better at this (neuroplasticity) and this means it is incredibly important to allow them to explore, play, and incorporate their developing ideas into their learning; unlike adults, they do not have a lot of experience to draw conclusions about and so experimentation is even more vital for them, along with correlational, simple stories.

How humans learn is through doing; back before we tried to structure learning en masse, the best learning came from mentoring, expert advice, apprenticeship, repetition, experimentation, and guidance. We went with others to learn what and how to hunt and forage, and were guided by their advice as we attempted it. We apprenticed to a blacksmith to practice working in metal. We told stories to inspire others to want to learn life skills and knit a community closer. These things were interesting, immersive, and inspirational; we had incentive, and we were involved constantly, as we knew we needed them for our very survival. We passed on instruction of them to others so that they, too, would be successful, making us all successful.

Most teaching has become much more abstract as our real and virtual communities expand and increase in complexity; we have changed the way we teach to be convenient, but the way we learn is coded into us on three levels – by evolution, by culture, and individually by neurodifference or conditioning.

Our brains are analogue devices, not digital, and work via experiential neural connection creation. Teaching must engage this, not the reverse; we cannot change how we are programmed to learn. 

Pedagogy and Androgogy should never have been defining methods of teaching and learning. They are segregational, generalised, limited, reductionist, and restrictively associated. This is all wrong; we have decades, centuries, millennia of evidence to prove it, both scientifically and anecdotally. Although Jay Cross (Informal Learning) has a point when he says, “‘Andra’ is the ‘gogy’ to go with for all,” I would go even further because of the evolved restrictive association with adults.

How we should all be taught is as humans, regardless of age or gender. That is why I have realised my teaching and learning pattern methodology is Homogogy.


So what is Homogogy?

Homogogy (“Leading Humans”) is a “new” framework which is actually very ancient, hence neo-paleo. I believe it is what most effective teachers mean when they refer to Andragogy now, but as I said at the start, language is important. For me, Homogogy has more precision and better connotations; we’re all human, after all. But it isn’t just the teaching or learning of a simple subject; it’s at the core of human interaction.

Every interaction we have holds teaching and learning patterns. Business meetings; basic onboarding at a company; a fire safety compliance meeting; a school class; a presentation; a workshop; a heavily technical training; social events; university; the first time we meet someone; and on. All of these hold multiple levels of understanding, potential paradigm shifts, feedback, and information – intellectual, physical, and emotional. Understanding how we teach and learn, and seeing those opportunities, is something we often miss – every day holds them, and yet we usually only consider them during a formal “class” occasion.

We have conditioned ourselves to become lazy at teaching and learning, in a time where more humans have access to more information more quickly than ever before. Worse: we are so de-incentivised to learn by subjects perceived as boring, disagreeable, or too complicated that we often choose wilful ignorance. 

I genuinely believe Homogogy, how humans teach and learn, can reverse this, and it begins with all human interaction. Everyone, every situation, has something to teach us. There are some similarities with Andragogy, with a number of concepts that are required for effective human learning:

Brain-friendly (neurological) learning
It’s been shown through multiple studies that all human brains learn in the same fashion: we create neural connections to facilitate memory. How we arrive there and engage this can differ slightly, and there are natural neural differences in humans which will dictate the most effective technique for each human.

We are both competitive and collaborative naturally, and both can be drivers of learning; but only collaboration can be an emergent modifier. Competition will quickly inhibit group learning in favour of a dominant individual or group, and often the focus becomes more about who wins over who learns. Collaboration can be competitive, but it’s beneficially so, and the greatest advances come from the sharing of ideas, not the dampening of them. Synergy between multiple cultures, organisations, and individuals in a class is not only possible but beneficial – and can hugely enhance learning and collaboration. I’ve seen large competitor organisations develop a shared knowledge pool in my classes before, and stay in touch afterwards to exponentially enhance troubleshooting. This is something you will not find with competition.

Engagement & Cultural understanding
The gateway to accessing brain-friendly learning is through engagement, which is both individual and cultural. You cannot engage an Asian class in the same way you can engage an American class, for example, so before you can connect with students well enough for them to learn, you must understand the best way to do so. One size does not fit all. People will not learn if they are not engaged, and the teacher’s role is to engage them so they can learn, not try to force learning upon them. Learners need engaging culturally, individually, and neurologically – the trick is doing this in a mixed class! It is also crucial for a personal connection of some form between teacher and learners.

Failure & Feedback
Failure is crucial for learning to occur, especially from doing; demonstrating the consequences of what not to do is more effective than simply knowing what should be done. Humans tend to need demonstrations to understand or believe something. Feedback is linked to Failure, because failure is really only feedback; it’s telling you what you need to adjust so you can do something as you require it to be done. The true failure comes in the form of not learning from the feedback. This is vital for people to understand, and can have an impact when faced with a cultural engagement that considers failure shameful rather than an opportunity to learn. Failure is not shameful – it is a required part of learning, and must be monitored constructively.

The 6 I’s
To help understand this, consider the circle of the 6 I’s (as above) – Interest, Inspiration, Involvement, Immersion, Investment, Instruction. This is the lifecycle of the learning of an idea for a human.

As an example: a child is curious about the sounds an adult makes, and it realises that the sounds bring consequences – attention, food, love, and so on – so it is inspired to use them creatively (“Children say the funniest things”). As it becomes involved, it learns, and as it is immersed, it learns faster and more completely, and just as importantly, long-term. As it grows it becomes more and more invested in the use of language and its complexities, and eventually teaches others usage for mutual advantage. This is a natural cycle for social interaction and teaching/learning; yet most patterns, especially pedagogy, tries to force some parts and ignore others.

It is important to realise that a strength of humanity (and an overall weakness) is its individuality. We are incredibly individual in a multiplicity of ways, yet working together we create vast, complex anthro-social systems and paradigms. Our individuality is ofttimes at odds with this, and we limit ourselves via conflict, hierarchy, and strong assertion of identity in a number of areas, as well as an inherent desire to order systems – which sometimes cannot be ordered, by their very nature. This causes serious problems in time (see Cynefin posts for more information). The best human systems are those that celebrate and utilise the individuality of each person, acknowledging it and harmonising it. Individuality is part of where we get our complex natures from, and it makes us learning machines. Anonymising and repressing this stultifies learning.

Freedom to Experiment & Innovate
For truly organic, flexible learning, both teachers and learners must be able to play, test, do, experiment, and understand not just the subject but how to take it in. This allows individuals, situations and classes to naturally find the best ways to be incentivised, understand, and teach one another. Outliers, individuals, and shared cognitive load in an unconstrained environment spark personal as well as industry innovation.

Humans do not learn effectively unless we are receptive to retaining and understanding data. Outside a few very clearly focused instances (picking up a hot coal, for example!), this requires us (certainly for abstract and complicated issues) to be relaxed, and to enjoy our learning. Moving outside a professional comfort zone is required to spark innovation and experimentation, but staying far enough inside a personal comfort zone is important, because you do not absorb or retain information effectively when anxious.

Ignoring age as a segregator
Humans are humans. Regardless of sex or age, we learn in the same physiological manner, allowing only for different engagement culturally, individually, and minor adjustments (positive, not negative) for age. You would not teach at the same conceptual depth with the reliance on world experience with a class of 6 year olds as you would a class of 40 year old professionals; but you would teach in the same way.

Homogogy is Evolutionary, not Revolutionary!

It’s always been there, and we’ve ignored it to our detriment. It’s time to re-acknowledge how we are designed to learn instead of suppressing it in favour of convenience of teaching.

The most important thing is always the applicable comprehension and retention, and passing on of the learning. Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost sight of this.


Further Consideration

I have coached many organisations, large and small, on learning as children naturally do, organic flexibility in structure, allowing students to drive the class, engaging, spaced learning techniques, mental parsley, the importance of teaching for applicable use and comprehension instead of exam answers, the criticality of real-world training, class sizes, layouts, and much more.

Many of these are covered in my first book on teaching and learning patterns, Involve Mea short guide which didn’t deeply delve into the understanding behind the teaching (and needs updating!). A revised edition is due out very soon (I’ll tweet it when up!).

I’ll expand further upon Homogogy in my upcoming second Teaching/Learning book – title TBD!

I hope this has been useful. As ever, comments below or on Twitter welcomed!



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