What Is Heutagogy?

We all use the term ‘pedagogy’ in a quite free and easy manner when talking about teaching and learning but there is another ‘gogy’ we might be less familiar with – heutagogy.

Born in 2000, heutagogy is another way of saying self-directed learning although some prefer the term self-determined learning. Either way, it is learner-centered and centres on the ‘guru within‘.

Simply stated, it means that some of us learn best when we have a lot of control over what we learn and how we learn it. This is learning as an active and proactive process where learners are the chief agent in their own learning.

The principles of heutagogy are outlined in Hase and Kenyon (2013):

There are four key principles: 

  1. Learning when the learner is ready: the learner has a role in controlling the process of learning, making their own decisions about pace according to need and interest
  2. Learning is seen as a complex process requiring the learner to move beyond knowledge and skills – it is not regurgitation, copying, modelling; it requires new connections and more inventive insights to be made
  3. Learner does not depend solely on the teacher and can be triggered by an experience beyond the control of the teacher
  4. Learning is focused on the student not on a syllabus: it is about what the pupil needs to know and chooses to explore to advance their learning

These elements of the approach lead in turn to:

  • Self-sufficiency in learning – having the confidence to explore new avenues
  • Reflexivity – the ability to take on board the implications of learning and to change ways of thinking and acting as a result
  • Application of what is learnt – so that connections are made beyond content/theory alone
  • Positive learning values – learning becomes a pleasurable experience indulged in for its own sake.

The principles have also been more recently considered in Hase, S. (2014a):

  • involve the learner in designing their own learning content and process as a partner;
  • make the curriculum flexible so that new questions and understanding can be explored as new neuronal pathways are developed;
  • recognise that learning is non-linear;
  • individualise learning as much as possible,
  • provide flexible or negotiated assessment;
  • enable the learner to contextualise concepts, knowledge and new understanding;
  • use experiential learning techniques;
  • facilitate collaborative learning;
  • facilitate reflection, and double loop and triple loop learning (metacognition);
  • provide lots of resources and let the learner explore;
  • develop research skills including how to be discerning about ideas and content;
  • differentiate between knowledge and skill acquisition (competencies) and deep learning;
  • recognize the importance of informal learning and that we only need to enable it rather than control it;
  • have confidence in the learner;
  • recognize that teaching and teacher control can become a block to learning.

As Hase (2018) says

These principles challenge many of the holy cows of educational and training practice, mainly the curriculum, assessment and the role of ‘teacher’. With the learner at the centre of the learning experience and the learning leader (Hase, 2014b) as a partner, the process is dynamic rather than linear. The curriculum is flexible, although still important in directing the learner in a general sense and in the attainment of competence (knowledge and skills). Assessment is part of the learning process rather than a simple test of attainment and is negotiated.
Heutagogy is clearly not for everyone and certainly not ‘glam teachers’. It’s more of a punk way of learning (see Coles, 2014) and as Eberle and Childress (2006) note, teachers need to be courageous because heutagogy isn’t for the faint hearted.
As teachers we have always struggled to let go of the ownership of learning and a large part of that relates to an accountability system that puts pressures on teachers to ‘teach’ and get results. Give in to heutagogy and let learning breathe.

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