Integrating Andragogy, Gamification and Digital Learning – Trends, Opportunities, and Challenge

Integrating Andragogy, Gamification and Digital Learning – Trends, Opportunities, and Challenge



This blog explores the emerging trends in adult learning, the immense possibilities that gamification and digital offer today, and seeks to discern both opportunities and challenges associated.


The Trigger

Last week, I was traveling from Pune to Mumbai in an owner-driven cab. Asif, an introverted smartly dressed man, came across as a professional and as a very safe driver on the wet highways.

However this picture perfect scenario was marred by the fact that he drove with a single earphone plugged in his left ear. After some time I asked him whether he was listening to film songs, prayers, etc.

Asif calmly replied that he was finishing a YouTube series on car engines, maintenance, and mechanics. The more I spoke with him, the more impressed I was with his understanding of cars, car-fleet financing, and car maintenance. It was an energizing conversation where his appetite, enthusiasm, and search for learning was palpable. I was not just impressed but intrigued that he was being able to leverage a smartphone and cheap 4G connectivity to a fault, when it came to learning.


Part 1

Andragogy versus Pedagogy


Very often, we use the term – ‘pedagogy’ to explain away learning approaches and training designs in the L&D and HR ecology.

However, whether out of ignorance or as an unconscious slip of tongue for one may be infantilizing the employee, the use of the term is intriguing because pedagogy literally means ‘leading children’, and refers to methods, approaches, and axioms of how children learn.

It was Malcolm Knowles, who popularized the term – Andragogy – in 1966, though the term was coined by a German thinker and educator known as Alexander Kapp in 1833. Knowles created learning axioms very specific to adults. For example, Knowles believed that adults in order to learn, need the following:

  • Adults unlike children, seek learning that is relevant to their work and or their personal lives, and their orientation towards learning is ‘problem-centered’ as opposed to ‘content centered’


  • Secondly Knowles believed that Adults need an ‘experience’ to embed their learning agenda. The experience is stronger when there is a failure or an error, and this energizes the Adult. Adults learn more by ‘doing’.


  • Thirdly, most Adults have to be own up their individual learning agenda and respond better to internal motivators.


  • Lastly, most Adults should have the right and the opportunity to choose their ‘learning journeys’, and then network with Others (peer learning) as equal partners – not wishing to be told what to do by Gurus, and by taking authority and ownership of designing their own learning agenda.

Revisiting Knowles was very affirming for me – for the last decade has also meant working with many a human being just like Asif – independent, self-reliant, and adult-like as opposed to the spoilt, indulged, and dependent professionals who come for a management development program (as high performers), and yet insist on receiving ‘pedagogy’ as opposed to ‘andragogy’.

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For example, if I were to state in the mid 1990s, that learning agenda and learning choices were to be made by the individual manager, supervisor or leader, I would have had to face incredulity, suspicion, and rage. It was generally believed that the HR and L&D function was created to research, design and deploy learning solutions for the middle and senior leadership – a kind of buffet for the incumbent manager to sample, taste, and of course evaluate and criticize as opposed to become a partner.

Times have changed for the very same invitation to managers, supervisors and leaders would lead to conversations around salient learning journeys meeting specific objectives. I am hoping that a day would come when each employee in a learning organization is offered a budget, a set of initial choices, and a practice of andragogy – and that each employee then takes ownership of his or her learning journey.

Keeping my musings aside, this blog explores how technology in the form of gamification, digital and mobility is supporting ‘ANDRAGOGY’, and what these trends may imply – both as opportunities as well as challenges.


Part 2

Gamification & Andragogy: Opportunities and Challenges


Gamification makes the learning experience of the Adult as intense and relevant. Allowing for competitiveness and desire for mastery, gamification translates existing skill based tasks into play – it invites the adult to immerse in a play, and then allows for a better sense making of the context through a narrative tutorial.

Narratives, stories, rewards in the form of points and achievements, and leaderboards are ways of creating intense and yet fun-filled journeys. At GlobalGyan, I am experimenting with ‘Avatars’ to get insights into looking at Identity and role-taking, when it comes to processes of self-authorizing, collaboration and deploying power.

Gamification allows a quality of learning that immediately impacts employee productivity because the design elements of the experience are made relevant to the learner’s context.

The Human-Computer or Human-Mobile interaction is ‘safe’ because the associated feelings of ‘shame’, ‘failure’ and ‘shyness’ that accompany any learning are not relevant in this mode. Most adults are extremely conscious of making mistakes in a classroom and thus set up defences and facades to shield their lack of knowing. Gamification allows a sense of intimacy and privacy where the adult can do away with such concerns and make mistakes. In fact Gamification ought to encourage erring and failing for the adult – the experience offers a lot to learn from.

In India, the generation born from 2010 onwards is already leveraging digital platforms to complement conventional pedagogy. Five years ago, I registered my two children on to Khan Academy so that they could learn in addition to what they imbibed in school. Byjus and Disney Byjus are already popularizing a new pedagogy that is aligned to the child’s learning abilities, including agility. With these offerings making an impact in the markets today, the next generation of adults by 2025 would be far more experienced and comfortable with gamification and digital learning.

Like others, I do see a huge market for adults, like Asif who are dependent on YouTube videos today, willing to empower themselves and get down to designing and choosing bespoke learning journeys that may even substitute conventional learning including colleges and universities, especially if the skills and knowledge can be embedded in effective andragogy.

Traditional education is becoming increasingly expensive and time consuming – there are learners and there are employers who are open to new ways of learning. A degree from an ivy league institution matters less today than the skills and perspectives brought on to the table by the employee. Many of us in the management education space are firmly believing that the MBA degree today would be irrelevant in five to ten years.

It is my fervent hope that Gamification and digital learning may even tear down the class barrier of wealth – a key constraint impacting the ability to ‘learn’ and become ‘employable’. By democratizing learning and offering it as a relevant andragogical method that is cheap and accessible to anyone with an internet connection – many such class and caste barriers would be overturned.

If Asif can learn to be a car fleet owner by understanding financing, customer service and technology, imagine how social inequity can be battled on this front. Digital learning journeys can be made relevant as well as inexpensive.

Learning as a service (LAAS) or ‘andragogy on the tap’ may have a different meaning in the coming years, as the quest for learning becomes more diverse, discrete, convenient, and effective. I see many young adults questioning the ‘pedagogical assumptions’ of the schools and colleges that they have enrolled in – there is distancing between the traditional teacher and the new student – this distancing is not just social, but has to do with a widening gap of how learning is to be modelled and offered. I hear many of my students not wanting to be treated ‘like child’ and fed norms and rules that may have worked in the last century.

There are many players including GlobalGyan that are trying to anticipate emerging needs and new skills in a world that would be more dependent on AI and robotics, and preparing the adult throughout his or her life for new skills and knowledge.

Lastly, digital andragogy prepares each of us to interface with machines – many thinkers have outlined the increasing dependency on AI and how this dependency is to be valued and even cherished lest we get seduced by Man versus Machines phantasies. I do think learning with a machine enables a certain ease and comfort that can overwhelm anxieties and fears.

I take great faith in this trend if ‘men’ are willing to check with google-maps when they get lost as opposed to the earlier traditional macho stance of never stopping for guidance – the machine can become a good friend as opposed to be fought against.


Part 3

Critiquing Digital Andragogy

Like many of you, I carry fears on the deeply eroding human interface between adults, which is getting replaced by adult-machine interface… people around us spend much of their waking hours on their phones and tablets.

digital learning

The ability to nurture and create social capital is being ignored – much of the relatedness is transactional and bereft of authentic emotions.

When it comes to Adult learning, gamification and digital learning cannot avoid these limitations … even if gamification principles leverage real or virtual teams, the intensity of experiential learning within groups can never be replicated.

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Digital andragogy would prepare us for learning skills, ploys, and methods to deal with our instrumental context, currently it does not look at building a perspective or building a personal philosophy. Existential angst may never get worked through this medium and self-obsessed alienated workforce would need other avenues of learning.

But the hope that I carry is that skills and knowledge components of learning can be made more accessible, more effective, and less expensive – reaching out to many who cannot or do not have the resources to learn the conventional way.


Digital Andragogy can make many of us more employable to combat the emergent issues and challenges of the context today.



3 thoughts on “Integrating Andragogy, Gamification and Digital Learning – Trends, Opportunities, and Challenge

  1. Hi
    – Agree with you that adults should chart their own learning journey – In fact they do – so if a person is nominated by ‘HR’ for a course which (s)he does not consider relevant – (s)he would not participate well – or create disturbances. – So key point is – do adults want to learn at all? What would drive the need to learn? – Someone like Asif wants to learn – so he finds ways to learn. But many people around me do not want to learn – so they find reasons outside them to reject the experience. Technology will bring knowledge to you, lower costs – But everyone has to answer the question to themselves “Why learn?” and if we want to establish ‘learning culture’ we need to deliberate more about it why does one not learn for reasons beyond the ‘exciting learning experience’

    More I think about it – I find some answers – one is ‘The transactional approach / consumer approach towards learning” – If what I am learning today can not be used ‘now’ – I am not interested if it “could be” useful tomorrow. – Other aspect of this approach is trivializing the impact of learning using ‘silly’ measurements.

    The other is – somehow being grown up is associated with ‘graduation’ i.e. end of learning – So often the need is to skip through learning experience as quickly as possible (because now I am grown up)- or while in learning experience – keep proving to yourself that you are grownup (and thus don’t need learning)

    Third is confusing between ‘gaming’ and learning. Learning is necessarily complex (and sometimes painful) activity. It is going to disturb some assumptions and images – so should not be compared with leisure experiences. – You can spend three hours in a movie theater and after coming out you may not recollect most of the details. Many computer / mobile games in fact are created such that for hours you do not think ‘critically’ or apply your experience outside the game. But if you spend 3 hours in front of a e-learn – you should not only recollect some of it – but in fact you should think, apply and discover beyond.

    Gamification works, technology helps but there is a lot beyond……


    1. I like your thoughts on this piece Chitra – given that you have invested into the learning and gaming technologies for many years. What i liked was about learning being complex and painful – something that gaming cannot really create … in fact virtual or digital learning is being liked because it is not painful. many adults are avoiding pain and perhaps then avoiding complex learning. Transactional learning i guess cannot be ignored till organizations and employers let go of their manipulation and instrumentality.


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