By Lisa Marie Blaschke
Center for Lifelong Learning, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany
A significant challenge being faced by institutions of higher education is employer dissatisfaction with higher education graduates who lack the necessary skills and competencies for the workforce, and an increasing industry demand for autonomous and self-motivated employees who can manage the complexities of the workforce in creative and innovative ways (Jaschik, 2015; CBI/Pearson Education, 2015; Gallup Organization, 2010). Rapidly rising educational costs, combined with a whirlwind of advancements in technology, further feed into these external pressures leveraged on institutions. Added to these outside forces are internal ones, such as the digital divide that continues to broaden between an aging teaching force comfortable with traditional styles of instruction, such as chalk-and-talk lectures, and a younger, more tech-savvy generation of students eager for more technologically-supported ways of learning. How can institutions adapt their teaching and learning models to address this convergence of challenges?
Heutagogy, or self-determined learning, is one model that bears strong consideration for meeting both industry and learner requirements. A learner-centered approach to teaching and learning, heutagogy is based on the principles of human agency, self-efficacy, reflection, and metacognition – all principles that when applied in education work together to develop skills of self-determined learning in students and the kind of skills in demand in today’s work environments (Hase & Kenyon, 2000; Blaschke, 2012). This approach to teaching and learning places the student at the center of the learning experience, giving him/her full control over the learning path and outcomes, while building student efficacy and independence. When combined with social media, heutagogy not only gives students control in designing and developing individual and personalized learning environments (PLEs), but also provides a framework for students to continue to expand upon and grow their learning networks throughout their lifetimes (Blaschke, 2014).
Within heutagogy, the student is actively involved in the learning process and decides what she or he will learn and how it will be learned. Learning takes a non-linear path, as determined by the student, and assessment of learning is a collaborative endeavor, decided upon between instructor and student, for example, through the use of learning contracts, learner-directed questions, flexible curriculum, and project-based learning. The instructor role is not diminished but rather enhanced, as she/he becomes the “ace in the space” (Mathes, 2017), the coach providing the student with resources and advice (e.g., formative assessment) as the student pursues his/her learning goals; the learning leader helps to scaffold the learning process and guides the student along a path of inquiry as needed. In this way, heutagogy is particularly relevant within online and distance learning contexts, where the instructor role has traditionally been one of guide and mentor, and the student takes a more autonomous role than in traditional face-to-face classrooms. The role of the institution becomes that of supporting the growth and development of resources and networks for the student.
By exploiting the affordances of social media – knowledge creation, collaboration, reflection, connection, and networking – the student is able to further extend his/her classroom environment to a broader local and global community (Blaschke, 2014; McLoughlin & Lee, 2007). Using the tools available, the student begins to build his/her PLE, one that can then transition with the student from the academic environment to the workplace. Here are a few examples of heutagogy in action using social media:
- Becoming curators of content using online curation tools such as ScoopIt! and Diigo
- Creating a blog spot to document the learning journey and for reflecting on the learning path and experience
- Establishing an online e-portfolio to demonstrate competencies and skills and to showcase accomplishments
- Designing and developing YouTube videos in relation to the research topic and/or as a reflective activity
- Participating in a massive open online course (MOOC) related to the research topic or project
- Connecting with and following experts and researchers within the field of interest using social media networks such as Twitter, Research Gate, and LinkedIn
- Joining other practitioners in discussing and resolving research issues using the social web to create online communities of practice
- Sharing resources and discoveries to the learning group using WhatsApp, Instagram, and SnapChat
There are challenges in adopting a heutagogic approach in teaching and learning. First and foremost, students must be prepared to take on the role of directing and determining their learning goals and path. For students who are unaccustomed to taking responsibility for their learning, a heutagogic approach can be a daunting and formidable task, requiring careful and cajoling yet firm guidance by the instructor. Here it is critical that the instructor helps the student gradually make the transition by scaffolding teaching and learning activities to encourage more autonomous learning. Students must also be willing to step out of their comfort zones and make decisions about their learning. Although an obstacle for students, upon using a heutagogic approach students often find it difficult to return to more formal and passive pedagogies (e.g., classroom lectures). Instructors may also be resistant to a heutagogic approach, as the transition shifts them from center stage to the sidelines and also results in a loss of control of the learner and his/her learning path. Self-determined learning can be a chaotic experience and relinquishing control of the classroom and student can also move the instructor out of his/her comfort zone as a teacher. In addition, assessment is a thorny issue (or wicked problem!) with a heutagogic approach. Students are not always skilled enough to assess their own learning, and instructors may not want to allow students to assess their learning – or may be required to assess student learning independently. For the institution, assessment is also problematic, particularly in terms of accrediting and certifying program studies.
Despite these drawbacks, there are many benefits of applying heutagogy in the classroom. Research into heutagogy has shown that the approach can improve critical thinking and reflection, increase learner engagement and motivation, give learners more control over learning, improve the ability of learners to investigate and question ideas – and apply knowledge in practical situations, support development of independent ideas and self-confidence, make learners more capable and able to adapt to new environments, promote democracy of learning and social justice, and better prepare learners for the complexities of the workforce (Canning & Callan, 2010; Ashton & Elliott, 2008; Blaschke, 2014; Blaschke, Hase, & Kenyon, 2014). Taking these benefits into account, it is evident that applying a heutagogic approach in the classroom then has the potential to not only better prepare students to become lifelong learners, but also to equip students with the skills needed for the workforce.
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Key words: social media, heutagogy, self-determined learning, lifelong learning, personal learning environments