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Heutagogy: A Holistic Framework for Creating Twenty-First-Century Self-determined Learners

By Lisa Marie Blaschke and Steward Hase
Heutagogy is a form of self-determined learning and is a holistic learner centred approach to learning and teaching. It is a theory that has been adopted mainly in e-learning environments and has developing capability, self-reflection and metacognition at its core. In the heutagogial model, self-determined students lead themselves through transformational experiences, becoming good communicators and problem-solvers of real-life scenarios. It was developed as an extension of andragogy and taps into the recent advances in neuroscience. A number of ideas, such as reflective practice; double loop learning; self-efficacy; self-determination and capability have supported the advent of heutagogy. Although some earlier experiments in this area (Steiner and Montessori) have been generally ignored, globalization and complexity are changing the way individuals and institutions interact and obtain information. In this complex environment, curation is more important than access, shifting the power from “those who know” to those to those with competence and capability (the ability to use one’s skills in new and unfamiliar circumstances).This need to develop capability links heutagogy to the Cynefin model, since people in complex and chaotic environments need to know how to learn and how to harness emerging knowledge. Blasche and Hase support the idea that social change and advancement in technologies is revolutionising the way people learn. However, this change is slow coming, mainly on the back of constructivism, which connected human agency to learning. This chapter (of a larger book titled Learning Designs for Emerging Pedagogoies) discusses the principles, processes and design of heutagogical learning environments with a specific emphasis on digital technologies


Our education system is based on a model developed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, which is not relevant for today’s twenty-first-century world. Despite a reluctance to fully understand the implications of heutagogy, the revolution of the way people learn continues to affect education systems, training systems, workplaces and social systems. There are no barriers to knowing, and the skills required to be an effective learner in the twenty-first century have changed dramatically, as the learner evolves from passive recipient to analyst and synthesizer. These are considered vital skills for survival in a complex environment where knowledge management is more important than access. As a result education systems are recognising the need to develop lifelong capable learners who have the skills that prepare them for life in a technologically evolving future. Whilst traditional education is based around standardisation and performance (a vestige of its industrial revolution origins) 21st century education requires lifelong learning, creativity and innovation; and heutagogy has the potential to support that. Blasche and Hase suggest that, with the increased access we now have to knowledge, skills and competencies, the vision of lifelong learning is potentially achievable. New technologies and Web 3.0 tools support learner-centered design and activities, as well as learner exploration, creativity, reflection, collaboration and networking. There is also a shift from competence to capability as our rapidly changing world becomes more complex, requiring people who are capable of using their competencies in ambiguous, changing environments or turbulence. 

Heutagogy can equip learners with the skills and capabilities that help them manage these environments and transition to the workforce. Employers are increasingly looking for employees who are innovators, complex problem-solvers and effective communicators. They need people skilled in collaboration, digital literacy and curation; people who can adapt easily to disruptive innovations, acquire new skills and can work both independently or in teams. A heutogogical approach helps to meet the demands of employers by preparing learners for employment through developing these skills. 

Furthermore, at classroom level heutagogy offers the benefit of a learner centered environment that supports them to develop their own path for learning. Learners negotiate and define their own learning outcomes and assessment processes while taking into consideration their learning needs and the program learning outcomes (or curriculum objectives). The curriculum is adapted to support the learning process and the role of the teacher is to create challenging, achievable and worthwhile tasks that allow for autonomy and collaboration while offering ongoing and constructive feedback, opportunities for learners to self reflect and access to any media or tools that might support the learning. Assessment is also learner centered and is defined at the start of the process through a negotiated learning contract. 


Living in an interconnected society requires our solutions to global challenges to be inclusive. This, of course, includes education. Social exclusion is being pointed out as one of the main dangers to social progress: Social immobility can also be called inequality of social opportunity. For Di Maggio et al. (2004) it is crucial to move beyond description and projection to understand the mechanisms, consequences and institutional context of inequality in access to the Internet and use of the services it offers. Blaschke and Hase’s article closely links the raise of relevance of heutagogy with the technological advances bringing about education 3.0. However, 45% of the world has no access to the internet. Therefore, based on the digital divide, heutagogy could propel further inequality in regards to access to quality education and the job market. Another important limitation emerging from this close linkage between heutagogy, e-learning and accessing information available in the Internet, is that although 7% of the world speak English as a first language, 55% of the information in the Internet is in English. Making the cultural locus of the learners maybe more relevant that the learning framework.

Heutagogy is originally linked to adult education and the world of research, which means a high level of self-determined learning that is now available in secondary education at present. Even with progressive educational systems, where lots of room for student agency is available, the existence of a hidden curriculum determining what success looks like (qualifications) will always limit the self-determination of those learners who are afforded. Furthermore, for as long as students need to sit external examinations, a realistic negotiation of the assessment process will be impossible. 

Another challenge facing the spread of heutagogical practices in classrooms is the cognitive schema or mental models that politicians, policy makers and practitioners hold. We all come with cognitive schemes about educational practice based on our previous experiences. An important shift of perspective is needed in recognising the needs of the learner and the role of the teacher (or learning leader). Heutagogical learners need to be able to identify a skill or knowledge deficit and employ strategies to fill it. They need good sound research skills and appropriate digital literacies. Given the huge amount of content available on the world wide web, students need the skills to check data against reputable sources and to analyse and synthesise information. They need to be agile and adaptable, collaborative, creative and optimistic. Furthermore they need to demonstrate initiative, be entrepreneurial, resilient, empathetic and have a sense of global stewardship and vision. Learning leaders need to be willing to foster these skills and adapt to the changing needs of the learner. They need to shift their cognitive scheme and relinquish their need for control in favour of student autonomy and self-determined learning. In primary schools where more student agency is afforded, teachers also need to be aware that students in a heutagogic classroom can experience inner conflict as they are not accustomed to taking responsibility for their own learning. They can find it intimidating and uncomfortable but according to Brant, 2013 as cited by Blascke and Hase, and once they have had a taste of it, they are less willing to return to the restrictions of a tightly structured curriculum.


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