Self-directed learning? There’s a word for that.

On an airplane last spring, I was seating next to another passenger who just happened to be flying to the same conference I was attending.  After we shared details about our roles at our institutions and our current research projects, we began discussing our presentations we were planning to give at the conference.  After sharing details about my presentation, I asked my in-flight neighbor what he had planned to share.  “Heutagogical strategies that instructors can incorporate in their classroom” he said simply.   Needless to say, he spent the rest of the trip teaching me about the concept of “heutagogy.”

In education, we focus a lot on pedagogy.  We see the “science and art of instruction” as critical to fostering student learning.  But the concept of pedagogy, some would argue, focuses too much on the role of the instructor and the classroom environment they build for the student.  In many pedagogical situations, the instructor has the power and orchestrates the learning for the student.  But some educational theorists are examining other ways that students learn.  Knowles (1975) developed the concept of “andragogy” to describe the self-paced nature of how adults learn.  Andragogy, Knowles writes, is:

a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.

Andragogy describes how many of adults, later in life, take on new hobbies or develop new interests.  It also captures how adult learners expand their work skills by working with knowledgeable mentors and tutors.  In andragogical situations, the role of the “instructor” takes on more of a coaching role and works with the student to develop a capacity to oversee and direct their learning.

Heutagogy builds on the concept of andragogy with one major philosophical difference.  Defined by Hase and Kenyon (2001) as the study of self-directed learning, heutagogy changes the power relationship of the learning environment.  In her review of heutagogical practices, Blaschke (2012) writes:

“As in an andragogical approach, in heutagogy the instructor also facilitates the learning process by providing guidance and resources, but fully relinquishes ownership of the learning path and process to the learner, who negotiates learning and determines what will be learned and how it will be learned.”

One of the key elements of pedagogy vs. andragogy vs. heutagogy is the ability and willingness of the learner to take on responsibility of their own learning.  In heutagogical situations, students must “own their learning” and must embrace their autonomy as learners.  This can be difficult for some students.

But it can also be difficult for some instructors.  As a colleague shared in a recent workshop I was facilitating, it can a little intimidating to open the classroom and share power with students.  While instructors may lose some of the control over where a lesson may lead, incorporating more heutagogical practices in classes can foster more lifelong learning and help students see that their role and activity as the most critical indicators for their learning.

Articles cited:

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. United States of America: Cambridge Adult Education.

Hase, S. & Kenyon C. (2001) From Andragogy to Heutagogy. Ultibase Articles retrieved from

Blaschke, L. (2012).  Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 13(1), p 56-70.




One thought on “Self-directed learning? There’s a word for that.

  1. Pingback: Top Posts from 2014 – Part 1 |

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