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Pedagogy: Educational Theories

Resources and information about library pedagogy

Educational Theories


Definitions of Studies

Pedagogy – pedagogy is the study of the theory and practice of education. Most commonly understood as the approach to teaching, is the theory of practice of learning, and how this process influences, and is influenced by, the social, political, and psychological development of learners. Encompasses all aspects of learning.

Andragogy – Takes a more independent, autonomous approach. Pedagogy is the general study of learning, andragogy solely focuses on adult learning. Mixes multiple educational learning theories, but the overarching ideas are that adults use their own and other’s experiences, strive for autonomy in learning, and that adults learn best with information that is directly-applicable to their current situation. Full guide on Adult Learning Theories.
Definitions of Learning Approaches
(construction/framework of the learning environment)

  • Critical pedagogy – asserts that educational practices are contested and shaped by history, that schools are not politically neutral spaces, and that teaching is inherently political. It asserts that educational practices favor some students over others and some practices harm all students. Educational practices often favor some voices and perspectives while marginalizing others.
  • Dialogic learning – learning that takes place through dialogue. Typically the result of egalitarian dialogue or the consequences of a dialogue in which different people provide arguments based on validity claims and not on power claims.
  • Student-centered learning – broadly encompasses methods of teaching that shift the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. Aims to develop learner autonomy and independence by putting responsibility for the learning path on the students. Focuses on skills and practices that enable lifelong learning and independent problem-solving.
  • Feminist pedagogy – Pedagogical framework grounded in feminist theory. Views currently school atmospheres to be highly hierarchical. This theory aims to restructure traditional learning environments in favor of more communal and collaborative experience in education. Maintains that power in the classroom should be a balance between teacher and student to inform curriculum and classroom practices. The sharing of energy creates a space for dialogue that reflects multiples voices and realities of the student. Influential figures include Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Patti Lather, Ileana Jimenez, and Judy Chicago.

Definitions of Educational Theories
(the learner and how they learn)

  • Behaviorism – only concerned with what is observable stimulus-response behaviors. Application involves rote memorization, a system of routines, and the use of positive reinforcement.
    • Examples: spelling tests, multiplication table tests, right/wrong question and answer, rewards or parties for good behavior
  • Cognitivism – learning relies on external factors and the internal thought process. Developed in the 1950’s, it moves away from behaviorism and focuses on the mind’s role in learning. In cognitive psychology, learning is the acquisition of knowledge and the learner is an information-processor who absorbs the information.
    • Examples: asking students to reflect on information given, students giving justification for their answers/thinking, exploring connections between different ideas.
  •  Constructivism – The learner builds upon previous experience and understanding to construct a new understanding. The learner constructs meaning only through active engagement with the world.
    • Examples: field trips, design-thinking, group work where students teach each other, having students independently perform an activity or experiment and then come together to show how they did it, problem-based learning.
  • Humanism – Learner-centric approach in which the potential is the focus rather than the method of materials. From the viewpoint that people are inherently good, this theory focuses on creating an environment conduce to self-actualization. The learner’s needs are met and they are free to determine their goals while the teacher assists.
    • Examples: students set goals and help design the learning path, asking students to consider what they learned about themselves through a process, providing self-directed options, open seminars, emphasis on emotional support.
  • Connectivism – Informed by the digital age, this theory departs from constructivism by identifying and remediating gaps in knowledge. Focuses on the learner’s ability to frequently source and update accurate information. Knowing how and where to find the best information is as important as the information itself.
    • Examples: using discord or other social media platforms to create student discussions or make announcements, gamification, simulations, learning heavily on decision-making, having students make connections between fields of study.
  • Transformative – Particularly relevant to adult learners. New information can essentially change our worldviews when our life experience and knowledge are paired with critical reflection.
    • Examples: students learning about new religions or cultures with the purpose of gaining new perspective, simulations or case studies that place students in new situations, challenge personal assumptions of the “right” way to do something.
  • Social learning – Students observe others and model their own behavior accordingly to either emulate peers or distinguish themselves from others. Using this theory involves getting students’ attention, focusing on how students retain information, identifying when it’s appropriate to reproduce a previous behavior and determining motivation.
    • Examples: cooperative learning, peer-teaching/reciprocal teaching, inquiry-based learning activities, using cross-age student groups, teacher giving hints or comments to help students along a difficulty activity.
  • Experiential learning – Officially created in the early 1980’s, this theory focuses on engaging students in hands-on experiences and reflection, students learn by doing so they are better able to connect theories and knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world situations.
    • Examples: mock trials, field trips, science experiments, role playing, journaling to consider what they’ve learned in an activity, interactive games, growing plants in a garden, biology dissections or simulations.


Universal Design in Academic Libraries 

Broad scope now includes:
building/space design; in-person classes; online (synchronous and asynchronous); info. lit. tutorials and modules; providing accessible collection materials (book, articles, videos, streaming)


Dempsey, A., & Heil, C. (2021). Agile library instruction: piloting collaboratively-created information literacy modules. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 15(3), 187–203.

  • info. lit. modules

Hays, L., & Handler, K. (2020). Good design is universal: using universal design principles to promote self-regulated learning in learning management systems when teaching information literacy. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 14(2), 127–140.

  • UDL for self-regulated learning in LMS

Lewitzky, R. A., & Weaver, K. D. (2021). Developing universal design for learning asynchronous training in an academic library. Partnership, 16(2), 1–18. 

  • focus on online resources; info. lit. tutorials
  • making content accessible, usable, meaningful/personalization, and reliable
  • UDL began with architecture to accommodate disabilities
  • meant to be proactive rather than reactive

Mery, Y. “Busting brain myths: what really works in information literacy tutorials.”  American Libraries vol. 53, no. 9/10, September 2022, pp. 40.

  • Making instruction to improve learning for all students and provide for more individualized instruction for different skill and ability levels
  • 3 principles – Multiple means of engagement to allow for student choice; multiple means of presentation/communication; multiple means of expression and assessment

Peacock, R., & Vecchione, A. (2020). Accessibility best practices, procedures, and policies in northwest united states academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 46(1). 

  • providing accessible copies of collection materials (books, articles, videos, streaming)

Whitver, S. M. (2020). Accessible library instruction in practice. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 20(2), 381–398.

  • ALA Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy 2001
  • UDL Universal Design for Learning focused on learners
  • UDI Universal Design for Instruction focused on teachers
  • flexibility is most important

Zhong, Y. (2012). Universal design for learning (udl) in library instruction. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 19(1), 33–45. 

  • example of boolean logic instruction
  • Merlot Website - – Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching