On Heutagogy

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.


Ashton, J., & Elliott, R. (2007). Juggling the balls – study, work, family and play: Student perspectives on exible and blended heutagogy. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 15(2), 167-181.

Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1076/2113.

Blaschke, L.M. (2014). Using social media to engage and develop online learners in self-determined learning. Research in Learning Technology, 22.

Blaschke, L.M., Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2014). Experiences in self-determined learning. United States: Amazon.com.

Canning, N. & Callan, S. (2010). Heutagogy: Spirals of re ection to empower learners in higher education. Reflective Practice, 11(1), 71-82.

CBI/Pearson Education. (2015). Inspiring growth: CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cbi.org.uk/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=92095A98-3A90-4FBD-9AF891997B103F50

Gallup Organization. (2010). Employers’ perception of graduate employability. Flash Eurobarometer. European Commission. Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/flash/fl_304_en.pdf

Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. UltiBase Articles. Retrieved from: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/nph-wb/20010220130000/http:/ultibase.rmit.edu.au/Articles/dec00/hase2.htm

Jaschik, S. (2015, January 20). Well-prepared in their own eyes. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/20/study-finds-big-gaps-between-student-and-employer-perceptions

Mathes, J. (2017). Guide on the side no more: The faculty role in digital learning. (Blog post.) Online Learning Consortium. Retrieved from: https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/guide-on-the-side-no-more/

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M.J.W. (2007). Social software and participatory learning: Pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the Web 2.0 era. In Proceedings from ascilite, December 2-5, 2007. Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite. org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/mcloughlin.pdf

Key words: social media, heutagogy, self-determined learning, lifelong learning, personal learning environments


Author: lisamarieblaschke

Dr. Lisa Marie Blaschke is program lead of the online Home Hub at Learnlife in Barcelona, Spain (www.learnlife.com), a K-12 ed-tech startup that promotes self-determined learning through passion projects and entrepreneurship. More recent, Lisa was program director of the Management of Technology Enhanced Learning (MTEL) master program at the Center for Lifelong Learning at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, as well as a senior researcher at the Duale-Hochschule Baden-Wuerttemberg (DHBW) in Heilbronn, Germany. She is a former executive committee member of the European Distance Education and E-Learning Network (EDEN) and is a Senior EDEN Fellow and Chair of the Board of the EDEN Fellows Council. She is also a former adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland University College, where she received the Stanley J. Drazek Award for Teaching Excellence in 2016. Lisa has a BS in Technical Communication, and two master’s degrees (MDE, MBA), and a PhD. She serves on the advisory board of the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education (ETHE), and the editorial boards of the European Journal of Open, Distance, and E-Learning (EURODL) and the Asian Journal of Distance Education. Prior to academia, Lisa worked for SAP for over a decade in Walldorf, Germany, leading and implementing enterprise-wide knowledge management and training processes and solutions. Lisa’s research interests are in the areas of self-determined learning (heutagogy), online collaborative learning, pedagogical application of web 2.0 technology and social media, and user interface design. Website: http://lisamarieblaschke.pbworks.com/

10 thoughts on “On Heutagogy”

  1. I wholeheartedly buy into the ethos of Heutagogy, but can we as teachers adopt this approach without institutional support?
    Educational systems require that we validate our curriculum long before we know our students, and provide uniform pre-determined assessment. How can we subvert these requirements and give our students control of their learning? How do we account for the extra effort required by us and our students to adapt to such an approach?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yishay, yes, I agree that it is extremely challenging to realize heutagogy when institutional support is lacking (or lackadaisical). The best of all worlds is when we have both top-down and bottom-up buy-in; however, even without that support, it is possible to enact change as an individual instructor or community of educators. Yes, we are often given pre-determined assessment requirements — but at the same time we usually have flexibility in defining how those requirements are met. I start with the the pre-defined learning outcome, then consider ways in which I can promote learner agency in realizing that learning outcome and then I design the learning activity in such a way as to maximize that agency. It is extra effort, but my personal feeling — and based on student feedback — is that it is well worth it. When students tell me that my course is the toughest they’ve taken, but that they have learned more than they ever have, then I know I’ve done my job as an instructor. As instructors, we also cannot underestimate the model of learning we are presenting our students. We create the learning and teaching examples we ultimately want the next generation of students to follow.

      How do we account for the extra effort? Tough question. If learning is the goal, then I think both students and teachers need to make the effort. It’s rewarding to both students and teachers — but the transition is a real challenge that can’t be underestimated. As instructors, it’s much easier for us to sit back on our laurels and teach the way we always have. And for students who have always learned in passive forms (read-and-regurgitate), it’s also a lot easier. Taking responsibility for learning moves both instructors and learners out of their comfort zones and can be very disconcerting, but the resulting empowerment is invigorating and motivating.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It is always easier to design heutagogy as a core element of new curricula or during curriculum redesign than trying to bolt it onto to pre existing a curriculum. Designing the curriculum to be flexible enough to incorporate heutagogy is the key, as well as scaffolding the introduction of heutagogy across the length of a course rather than adding it into final year projects after both students and lecturers are already enculturated into a traditional curriculum pedagogy. We need more examples ion designing the curriculum for heutagogy to illustrate how to do this in practice. Here’s a few examples of ours that people may find useful:

    Cochrane, T., & Narayan, V. (2017, 4-6 December). CMALT cMOOC: Developing a scalable lecturer professional development framework. Paper to be presented at the Ascilite 2017, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia. Link: https://www.researchgate.net/project/CMALT-cMOOC-Developing-a-scalable-lecturer-professional-development-framework/update/59a5c2b5b53d2ff30bdcd321?_iepl%5BviewId%5D=5FufWT7aB7A1UMRDO5Ej3Y9F&_iepl%5Bcontexts%5D%5B0%5D=projectUpdatesLog&_iepl%5BinteractionType%5D=projectUpdateDetailClickThrough

    Lees, A., Antonczak, L., & Cochrane, T. (2017, 5-7 September). Designing ‘phygital’ spaces: Integrating mobile social media in health education. Paper presented at the ALT Annual Conference 2017: Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al), University of Liverpool, UK. https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2017/sessions/designing-phygital-spaces-integrating-mobile-social-media-in-health-education-1809/ https://bambuser.com/v/6885266

    Cochrane, T., Cook, S., Aiello, S., Christie, D., Sinfield, D., Steagall, M., & Aguayo, C. (2017). A DBR Framework for Designing Mobile Virtual Reality Learning Environments. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), 33(Accepted for Special Issue on Mobile Augmented and Virtual Reality).

    Cochrane, T., Sissons, H., Mulrennan, D., & Rive, V. (2016). Journalism 2.0: Collaborative curriculum redesign. In D. Parsons (Ed.), Mobile and Blended Learning innovations for improved Learning Outcomes (pp. 181-200). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global. http://www.igi-global.com/chapter/journalism-and-law-20/151863

    Cochrane, T., & Antonczak, L. (2015). Designing Creative Learning Environments. Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal – IxD&A, N.24, 125-144. http://www.mifav.uniroma2.it/inevent/events/idea2010/doc/24_8.pdf

    Cochrane, T., Antonczak, L., & Guinibert, M. (2014, 24-26 November). Designing Transformative Learning Environments. Paper presented at the Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology, the 31st Ascilite Conference, Otago University, Dunedin. https://app.box.com/s/016cdyv8dq1pp0yhp1vw/1/2704865198/23032570490/1


    1. Thank you for the examples, Thom! These will be/are very helpful in furthering the conversation about designing for heutagogy.


  3. Thanks for introducing me to the term “heutagogy” Lisa–sooooo many years of curriculum study and I didn’t come across it…how could this be?
    I appreciate very much Yishay’s and Thom’s comments above; both point to some of my thoughts and your clarifications help broaden my understanding.
    First thought: I love the concept–and, because we are a learning-loving species, I think it is a very effective approach to learning for those students equipped with the disposition and skills to do it. The versatility of online tools/social media formats makes them incredibly useful for this self-directed learning approach.
    My question connects back to what Yishay brings up…it is about the instructor. I think there still needs to be an understanding on the part of the instructor–that coach or “ace in the space” (nice!)–of how the students’ can be emotionally and imaginatively engaged in learning. All “coaches” are not created equal–they need pedagogical understanding of the best ways to engage the emotions of the learners as there is no learning without emotional engagement. (Or, at least, it seems this approach only works if the student has that engagement–what support is there for instructors to develop that engagement in those who don’t immediately feel it? I don’t think we can assume all learners will be engaged). I appreciate that this approach isn’t “hands off”–nor can it be completely I don’t think. For me, that engagement by the coach will also help spur on the student in their self-directed path.
    It is early here in Vancouver…I do apologize for the messy thoughts!


    1. Hi Gillian,
      No worries with messy thoughts. I once lamented the same to a close colleague and friend of mine, who said that from chaos emerges clarity. In that sense, messy thoughts are a good thing because they bring us a step closer to understanding and knowledge.
      I agree with you that we can’t assume all learners will be engaged. In fact, many of the learners that I have worked with will often passively (or aggressively!) resist the approach. This is why having an instructor who can gently nudge the learner toward taking more responsibility for learning (e.g., by scaffolding learning activities) is integral to a heutagogic approach. At the same time, I also realize (and agree with you!) that many instructors are not sure how to do this. The institutional role in this case is to provide the support that the instructor needs; if this isn’t possible or available, instructors can also reach out to their fellow instructors and colleagues or to online communities of practice. (The “Experiences in Self-Determined Learning” book talks about some of these — I am not plugging sales of the book; I am actually in the process of making it an online open educational resource…I will keep you updated. 🙂 Stewart Hase has also written extensively on the instructor role here on the Heutagogy CoP blog: https://heutagogycop.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/the-learning-leader-new-skills-for-education-in-the-21st-century/ (Other blog posts on Heutagog are also available on the site.)
      Kind regards,


  4. Some of the issues discussed here were the topic of investigation in my PhD (sorry for shamelessly promoting my work). The study investigated a set of design principles for enabling heutagogic learning and teaching using mobile and social media tools within a design-based research approach. The principles (derived from existing literature) were integrated into the design of a course and refined over two iterations (different cohort of students over two years). You can access the findings and the refined design principles in the thesis accessible: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/36991/

    I have submitted a paper (few more to follow) outlining the study and the refined design principles to a journal. I’ll share the link if/when it is published.

    The findings report on the impact heutagogic learning using mobile and social media tools had on the students and their learning and the issues we faced and overcame ‘in-practice’—approaches/strategies for overcoming these issues are also discussed.


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