On this, World Heutagogy Day 2020, I continue to be amazed at all the people around the world, in so many different contexts that are using, writing about and studying heutagogy or self-determined learning, as my good mate David Price encourages me to use rather than the ‘gogy’. Fred has been a wonderful ambassador for heutagogy and his energy and enthusiasm through his curated conversations, WikiQuals, blogs and WHD, of course are inspirational. Thanks Fred for arranging WHD 2020 and thanks to Vijay for her stunning work in India, and to everyone else who is contributing to this special day.
I’m almost certainly preaching to the converted but my thoughts may provide you with some ideas about how to respond to non-heutagogues, the bureaucrats who manage educational systems that continue to disappoint, or to teachers who are simply looking for something more dynamic to do in their real or virtual classrooms.
From the very start, right from the womb we know how to learn. Our brain is hard wired to learn. The world may well be, according to Locke and Huma, a buzzing mass of confusion but we are not helpless in the face of it: rather, we seek to make sense of what we perceive. And what we don’t immediately perceive we learn vicariously.
Teaching, pedagogic and andragogic are forms of vicarious learning where the individual, deprived of immediate experience, relies on someone to interpret the world for them. There is an act of faith in vicarious learning in which the passive recipient relies on the truth of what they are hearing or seeing. Perhaps it would be more generous to say accuracy rather than truth, as the latter implies that education systems could be guilty only of betrayal, of social engineering (which they are) where, I think it is right to say, they are capable of accurate representations of reality as well.
So, the child comes into the world, learner-ready, She explores, makes hypotheses about what is happening in her experience, tests these hypotheses, synthesises, makes mistakes-discovers what doesn’t work, problem solves, connects with others in joint experiences and compares, watches others, seeks context and meaning, self-assesses, and makes judgements.
Teachers (I prefer ‘learning leaders’) and educational systems can either use these inbuilt abilities or they can ignore them, even dampen and destroy them. Teachers and educational systems can opt for the easy solution, which many of them have, using outdated teacher-centric approaches that take away agency, that ask ‘students’ to give up their innate skills. The teacher as guru, designing interpretive learning experiences that have no real currency, no real context for the learner. The child (and adult) become open season for all manner of what we have come to know as ‘fake information’: a generation of blind followers.
Or, the learning leader can facilitate these innate skills, working with the child (or adult) in a learner-centric, heutagogic way designing learning that recognises learner agency. The learning leader can enhance what become lifelong skills that enable people to survive in a complex or rapidly changing world with a much-needed critical eye. To develop citizens able to confront the huge challenges that confront the world.
It’s a simple choice.