53 Powerful Ideas

I’ve recently come across this very useful resource by SEDA consisting of few-pages long discussions of various teaching-related topics. The papers take on board some deeply-rooted notions and ideas from educational theory and practice, such as student engagement or behavioural learning objectives and analyse them in a critical way, prompting the reader to reflect on her own assumptions and practice.

The SEDA blog is also an interesting one to follow.

Heutagogy. Say what?

This post includes some thoughts and resources on heutagogy as a notion that seems to be gaining momentum in theories of adult education.

The concept of heutagogy is often expounded by contrasting it with the related concepts of pedagogy and andragogy. The term comes from the Greek words for ‘self’ and ‘leading’, which shows the underlying change of focus: from an external focus on ‘child’ and ‘adult’ in the two other approaches respetively, to an internal focus on ‘self’.

The differences between the three approaches are clearly presented in this useful chart.

The differences in focus suggested by the three terms can be observed at several levels. One of them is the level of control over the learning process (or learner autonomy if looked at from another angle): while pedagogy is most teacher-centred in this regard, andragogy and heutagogy are more learner-centred. However, heutagogy differs from andragogy in that, in the former, the learning design and approach are not linear, and heutagogy is even more learner-directed than the latter. In andragogy, the stress is on getting students to learn, while in heutagogy the stress is on getting students to understand how they learn. In other words, in a heutagogical approach, learners do not only acquire new knowledge or solve a problem, but they also reflect on how they arrived there. Knowing how to learn is seen as one of the fundamental skills of future workplaces. The focus is not so much on the content or outcome as on the process of mastering the content or arriving at the outcome, which is believed to have a bearing on learners’ preconceptions, values and attitudes. As a result, with regard to learning approach and cooperation, heutagogy has been usefully conceptualised as “knowledge sharing” as opposed to “knowledge hoarding”.

The differences between andragogy and heutagogy are succintly presented, with informative examples in this short video.

This frequently quoted article links heutagogy with lifelong learning, therefore emphasising the importance of the former in professional development. (Blaschke, L. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71.)

In this useful and interesting post, the concepts of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy are presented in analogy to the concepts of Education 1.0, Education 2.0 and Education 3.0 (which in turn bring to mind the concepts of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and [the disputed] Web 3.0), with essentialism, constructivism and connectivism as the respective philosophical underpinnings. There are also practical examples of pedagogical, andragogical and heutagogical activities in a mobile environment. Recommended!

Heutagogy has attracted a number of educators who started forming heutagogy communities of practice, for example: http://heutagogycop.wordpress.com/ and https://twitter.com/HeutagogyCoP

There has even been a claim to introduce a related concept of e-heutagogy, although this calls a little for Occam’s razor to be applied…

From an educator’s perspective, it is useful to reflect on to what extent these three approaches can be and are implemented in actual teaching and learning contexts. This article convincingly argues that despite the drive to implement more constructivist and connectivist approaches in adult education, the limitations of formal assessment and accreditation frameworks often result in a reversal to the teacher-centred, knowledge-hoarding pedagogical approaches. Consequently, the argument goes, teachers are often unable to fully implement either approach. Also, we need to take into consideration the reasons why adult learners decide to join formal educational institutions. As a result, although “the principles of heutagogy are seen as potentially improving or extending the theories of andragogy and pedaogy, the removal of the educator makes the concept of heutagogy impractical in a credentialing institution”.

How is learning changing?

This post includes my reflections after listening to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk “How to Change Education”. In particular, I’ll focus on two ideas that I believe will have a growing impact on education, including learning and collaborating online. They’re spontaneous learning and collaborative learning. (NB. I’m focusing here on adult education as different principles may apply to children’s education.) 


As usual in his talks, Sir Ken notes that much of current alienation of teachers and learners in educational systems is the result of top-down governance where educational authorities issue rules and regulations which the rest of the system is supposed to implement and follow. He advocates a bottom-up approach focused on the teacher-learner relationship, which he believes is the cornerstone of education. As he shows using a theatre analogy, when we strip education of all that has been built around it throughout centuries and go back to the basics, we are left with the teacher-learner relationship, which should be the focus of any reforming efforts. 

This bottom-up approach should be based on two concepts: spontaneous learning and collaborative learning. I take spontaneous learning to mean learning that is not forced in any way but emerges as a result of an individual’s intrinsic motivation to acquire new knowledge and skills. Adult learning is a goal-oriented activity: people engage in an activity when they clearly see its purpose and this purpose is linked to how they see themselves at the end of the learning process. It is hardly possible to teach somebody something they don’t want to know or they don’t see the relevance of, which university lecturers are often reminded of when students seem to forget everything they’ve learnt a day after their exam.

In other words, spontaneous learning is about an individual’s active engagement with the learning content, which is the result of individual motivation. Therefore it is important to establish what learners’ needs and motivations are at the start of the learning process, which gives the teacher the flexibility to (a) dynamically adapt the content to these needs, (b) develop ways of finding a common ground between learners’ expressed needs and the content the teacher believes learners should master before continuing to the next step in their education process.

Thus understood, spontaneous learning is linked to flexible teaching methods and dynamic content delivery, including constructivist approaches whereby the teacher is no longer a transmitter of knowledge but rather a facilitator helping learners find their own, personally relevant learning trajectories in the available body of knowledge. It is also about encouraging people and helping them find out what motivates them and why they have decided to participate in a given formal learning process (e.g. a university course) in the first place. As Sir Ken usefully reminds us, teaching is an art form: it is not enough for a teacher to know the discipline, s/he must also know how to excite people, pick their imagination and get them to want to learn.
Spontaneous learning is something we do all the time in informal settings. All informal learning is spontaneous learning: we actively seek knowledge to solve problems we’re facing and we do that by identifying new or utilising existing resources or asking other people who we think are more knowledgeable on the subject. This takes us to the idea of collaborative learning. Sir Ken mentions the idea of ‘flipped classrooms’ (here is a good infographic) where learners teach each other and learn from each other in groups with the teacher staying in the background and only stepping in where and when necessary to enhance understanding. As a result, it is believed, learners feel more in the centre of the learning process, which is conducive to taking more control of their own learning. Whether or not flipped classrooms are useful in all circumstances (which they probably aren’t, as the comments under the above infographic reveal), collaborative learning is about actively involving learners to teach each other, therefore developing ‘learning communities’ and helping learners become more independent and confident lifelong learners.

How are the two concepts linked to learning and collaborating online? On one hand, online modes of delivery provide flexibility that can enhance access to learning for various groups of learners, allowing them to pursue knowledge they see as most relevant and therefore increasing their motivation. As exemplified by e.g. the recent success of MOOCs as a learning concept, such flexible modes of delivery appeal to large numbers of people and feed on their intrinsic motivation to learn. At the same time, the teacher’s role as a facilitator becomes extremely important in online settings in order to sustain learners’ motivation and encourage them to work collaboratively. Neither spontaneous and collaborative learning nor online delivery play down the role of the teacher – quite the contrary, although no longer in the foreground, at the lectern in the middle of a lecture theatre, the teacher as facilitator becomes a crucial element of a successful learning process.

Online learner support: some resources

This post includes some of the useful resources I came across when researching the topic of online learner support. 

One recurrent advice for effective online learner support is the inclusion of collaboration in the learning design so that students learn to rely on one another and feel a part of a community of practice.

For example, in her article “Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online learning” (p. 114), Mary Thorpe emphasises the importance of group learning and collaboration as part of learner support in online environments: 

“The availability of learners to each other and to the tutor asynchronously and well as synchronously has the potential to overturn the emphasis in distance education as an individualised form of learning. The potential to create extensive dialogues and interchange electronically means that online teaching is often prioritising the learning group as a chief resource for learners and the focus for the tutor, rather than the needs of each individual learner, though these too can be accommodated in the pedagogical design supports that.” 

This webpage provides a list of practical steps that teachers can take to facilitate learning in a culturally and ethnically diverse student body. A number of these steps will also apply to instructional design for online contexts.

This book by J.E. Brindley, C. Walti & O. Zawacki-Richter (eds.) includes a selection of papers on various aspects of online learner support.   

This article by Ivan L. Harrell II provides a usefully concise description of learner support in online environments with an extensive reference list.

On the importance of scaffolding in online learning design see this article by Stacey Ludwig-Hardman and Joanna C. Dunlap

This useful resource by Catherine McLoughlin discusses a possible model for learner support in an online environment.