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Two Transformative Learning Strategies: Heutagogy and Personalization

by Bill Brandon

March 7, 2016


by Bill Brandon

March 7, 2016

“The examples provided by Hase and Kenyon, Couros, and Zhao are taken from education, but they should spark some ideas as to implementation in other settings.”

The industrial-age model of instruction (note the emphasis was not on learning) assumes a curriculum with set outcomes, written by a subject-matter expert or by an instructional designer, delivered by a teacher or teacher-surrogate (such as asynchronous eLearning), with criterion testing to confirm attainment of the outcomes, and a defined physical or virtual space for delivery. This set of assumptions gave us the ISD (instructional systems design) approach to education and training. We call education and training “learning and development” now, but it's still all about instruction.

That model is working less and less well in the twenty-first century as traditional ways of working evolve and as technology facilitates access to information and access to other people. Because of their familiarity with “Web 2.0” and changes in primary and secondary education, the next generation of workers will probably assume and expect an approach to learning that supports self-determined processes and outcomes. It may be true that expert- and instructor-driven instruction (lecture, curricula, most eLearning) will always have a role to play in the development of skills and knowledge, but it is being complemented, even pushed off of center stage, by the appeal of new media and the affordances of new technologies that support more effective learning.

In this article, I present two closely-related concepts that offer a path to effective learning as we leave the industrial age further and further behind.

Transforming learning: Heutagogy

The first of the concepts that is transforming learning has an alien-sounding name: heutagogy. This is a term that originated in the 1990s with Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon at Southern Cross University in Australia. (See the References at the end of this article.) The term is new, but it describes a very old human learning strategy. Hase and Kenyon define it as “the study of self-determined learning” or “the strategy of self-determined learning.” Most significantly, according to Hase and Kenyon, “Heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces.”

Heutagogy is a kind of complement to two earlier concepts, pedagogy (a strategy for teaching children) and andragogy (a strategy for teaching adults). The key difference is that heutagogy is self-determined strategy—an instructor, teacher, or other arbiter is not necessarily involved, unless the individual chooses to involve one at some point. It is important to think of it as self-determined learning, not “informal learning” as contrasted to “formal learning.” It is also important to reflect on the fact that everyone with access to the Internet has, to one extent or another, already adopted heutagogy as a key part of their personal learning strategy. Before the Internet, for that matter, anyone with access to a library, a newspaper, a correspondence school catalog, or a social network did the same thing. Further back, Ben Franklin and many other individuals found their own paths to self-determined learning. It's just the word itself that is new.

Many who read this article will be employed as instructional designers or training managers in some kind of organizational context. Heutagogy is clearly a personal strategy of individuals. If yours is an organizational context, how can you support heutagogy in a way that both satisfies business requirements and at the same time allows for self-determined learning?

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Good stuff Bill, I've been using Heutagogy in several conversations over the last year, but complementing it with your section on personalization is a great overview of the topic.
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