Heutagogical Learning: Engaged Learned

After reading the article on self-evaluated and self-directed heutagogical learning by Blaschke (2012), and reading the feedback on how to engage students online from colleagues reviewing my syllabus draft, I realized I needed to focus my blog this week on learner-centered learning and assessment.  I also was encouraged to try this in light of work in nursing education by Bhoyrub, Hurley, Neilson, Ramsay and Smith (2010) who found heutagogy to be a learning framework that addresses clinical education needs of nursing students who need to learn in complex and constantly changing environments; and need to be lifelong learners.  Bhoyrub et al (2010) also addressed challenges for faculty using a heutagogical approach including, letting go of control of learning experiences, and facilitating the self-directive adult learner to accumulate learning experiences within dynamic and unpredictable clinical environments (p. 322).

I think back to my most engaged learning as a student and my first and last formal educational experiences come to mind and as I reflect on these I think they have a flavor of heutagogy.  First, as a freshman at Florida State University in 1974 I took an experimental history class with Dr. Rubanowiz that allowed us to select and contract for our learning and evaluation in course (e.g., write a diary as the person in the period we were learning about).  My last formal educational experience, my dissertation, was my own creation with expert guidance.  In the qualitative study I conducted I used relevant theories to inform my interpretation of my results and Inadvertently, through miscommunication with my dissertation chair I selected a psychoanalytic scripting theory from experiences in my youth that was not the sexual scripting theory the chair had in mind, but was relevant to the youth participating in my grounded theory study.  As any great qualitative mentor would do my chair encouraged me to take my own path.

The heutagogical framework seems especially relevant to my current course development, a series of 3 DNP Project Development courses.  I think this framework could be used in a progressive manner over the courses allowing for students and faculty to become familiar with the approach in the first course maybe using it with one assignment and then move to a more full course approach in the other two courses.

To begin I could use some of the design elements Blaschke (2012) outlines.  For example, I might start with, “Learner-defined learning contracts: Learning contracts support students in defining and determining their individual learning paths. These individualized contracts, such as those used at distance education institution Empire State College (see www.esc. edu), define what will be learned (e.g., scope), how it will be learned (e.g., teaching and learning approaches, learning activities), and what will be assessed and how it will be assessed (p. 64).  As noted by Blaschke, online teaching methods “. . . support self-directed learning and the instructor role is already one of guide-on-the-side (fits heutagogy) . . . the instructor becomes a facilitator in the learning students’ learning process . . . and ensure that they explain this type of learning to their students from the very start of class” (p. 66).

The 9 key changes made when using a heutagogical approach described by Ashton and Newman (2006) seem worthwhile to share:

1. re-envisioned our conceptual base, examined our students and ourselves and reflected on our personal and group teaching philosophies;

2. set up a process for mapping our entire course and all units embedded within it;

3. embedded learning skills and ICT based approaches into units;

4. outlined the maps already completed for staff and students, who must take responsibility for learning at each point in order for student success in each unit;

5. given students some responsibility for their personal and group learning while initially scaffolding them in this process;

6. acknowledged that staff can learn much from students and that students can teach each other;

7. recognised the value of online teaching to give greater transparency and offer greater support than traditional teaching modes;

8. acknowledged students’ need for face to face interactions alongside online heutagogies; and

9. engaged the professional field in planning and decision making. (p. 835)

Ashton, J., Newman, L., 2006. An unfinished symphony: 21st century teacher education using knowledge creating heutagogies. British Journal of Educational Technology, 37(6), 825e-840.


Bhoryrub, J., Hurley, J., Neilson, G.R., Ramsay, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Heutagogy: An alternative practice based learning approach. Nurse Education in Practice, 10(6), 322-326.



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    • Susan Hylen on July 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristy,
    Since I read your syllabus this week, I was interested in your ideas here. I think this makes a lot of sense for your 3 courses. What a great opportunity to get to work with students on a project over such a long period. It would make me want to front-load into this first course a bunch of the basic skills and frameworks that students will likely use no matter what they do. You may even be able to layer the courses, so that in a later semester you have students look back to what you did in this course and think about how their project uses those skills. That way they can also be engaged in some of the “self-assessment’ of our other readings for this week.

    Your post also makes me think about my students’ final projects, which I’m not in charge of. But it makes me wonder what we are doing to prepare them in a step-by-step way to produce a successful outcome. Thanks for the ideas!

      • Kristy K Martyn on July 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm
      • Reply

      Great ideas, Susan. As usual! Your comments on my syllabus re: highlighting why learning community and interaction with peers is important in the DNP Project courses encouraged me to frame the course activities around a “Peer Project Team” approach. I planned this as a start for “front-loading” that will be carried through the 3 courses. And introduced it in the syllabus with more details about how they wold benefit from peer involvement and by stating that “Through this learning community you will function somewhat like project team to assist and support each other in developing your projects.” I like it! Hope it works! Thank you! Kristy

  1. Thank you for your insights and ideas, Kristy. I particularly like that you thought back to your own learning experiences to assignments that were memorable to you as a learner. I would encourage others to do the same. This reflection on our own learning experiences can be very powerful.

    The nine changes you outline also brings to light the importance of pre-planning. Did you notice that about half of the changes you list involve some sort of pre-planning component? Do you think that this would discourage some instructors from trying this approach?

      • Kristy K Martyn on July 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you for your response, Stephanie. I do think the pre-planning required would discourage faculty from fully using this framework. Although, maybe they would use components or the flavor of heutagogy in their teaching to increase learner-centeredness. For example, after reading and reflecting on the heutagogical framework, I really was interested in developing my syllabus for this course using it, but I did not. Mostly, because of time constraints and in part because I think I would need to start by engaging our whole DNP faculty team in this to make it work. More food for thoughts. Thank you for yours. Kristy

      1. Absolutely, Kristy. I agree with you. I think most instructors have their hands tied by time constraints and sometimes it is too late in the process to implement the ideas we get halfway through. However, I think many times we can try out small ideas here and there, and then save our big ones for the next time around.


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