I apologize for my very late post. I have been on work travel for the past week and as a result, my day was spent in discussion and workshops while my evening was spent doing my real job. Now that I have returned from sunny Bloomington, IN, I can rejoin the land of the living. As an aside, the workshop I was participating in was an excellent example of heutagogy with a focus on “student”-directed learning, reflection and re-application of learning, and a focus on developing learning skills (in this case around leadership and strategy).

As I’ve mentioned, I recently took a course on andragogy, and many of the principals I learned aligned well with my target student audience. I was not familiar with heutagogical learning (Blaschke, 2012)., but having read about it, I see a lot of potential in using it as an approach for some of the assignments I am developing. In particular, the drive towards double-loop learning (Argyris, 2005), is one which demonstrates the higher levels of learning taxonomies. Since my goal is to enable students to apply the classroom learning in multiple context, this self-driven, self-reflective approach appears to offer a lot of potential.

For adult learners, I see three principals of self-directed learning which I would want to highlight in the assignments I developed. First, I think that adult students are often best equipped to understand how the lessons and theories in the class can be applied in their own context. Assignments need to be such that students are able to focus on specific areas, rather than the whole. This can make rubric development extremely difficult, but I see a lot of potential in increasing the quality and value of the final products. For instance, while there may be several leadership theories students are supposed to learn, assessing their knowledge of all of them may not be as practically useful as allowing them to focus on one which can be applied in their workplace. In addition, this offers opportunities for students to teach one another the ones which they have become experts.

Second, adult-learns they often have richer scenarios for analysis than generic ones which the instructor can provide. In my experience, adult-learner students were able to create much more dynamic and interesting case studies and discussions than the instructor alone could have provided. In addition, they bring a lot more passion to the subject. Having assignments which set the framework, but allow students to determine the specifics may allow for higher engagement as well as more valuable knowledge generation. For instance, instead of offering a stock case-student for assessment, allowing the students to submit their own case study from their experience. I may be bias to this approach as such an assignment led to the genesis of my dissertation J

Finally, since the purpose of learning is more towards application than strict assessment, these two aspects of self-directed learning allows the students to best apply it in areas which provide the most value as well as bring their own motivation and drive to the class.

The next step of the process where I think this can be applied is in the collaboration focus of online classes. Since the students become, in essence, the subject matter expert of the assignments, the discussion can become real-world problem solving efforts with each student taking the role of a scholar as well as practitioner. I’ve seen examples where students have worked on classroom assignments and then gone on to apply the solutions other students have offered in their organizations. Designing papers and projects where students can operate in this manner allows for effective assessment of learning, better student engagement, and reflection back to the instructor to help further develop the course.

In these cases, the instructor’s role becomes that of a facilitator, gently guiding the students. There is still a need to ensure that students are staying focused on the assignment, applying the theories and principals of the class, and not going too far off the rails. This can be very challenging for the instructor to allow the right amount of room for students to explore in a self-directed manner, while still maintaining the integrity and learning objectives of the class.

Joseph Drasin

Argyris, C. (2005). Double-loop learning in organizations: A theory of action. In K. G. Smith & M. A. Hitt (Eds.), Great Minds in Management: The Process of Theory Development (pp. 261-279). New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 13(1), 56-71.

22 thoughts on “

  1. Joseph,

    I appreciate your delineation of three principles of self-directed learning for adults. I also have had most of my teaching experience in a seminary setting, where we typically get more advanced students who have had more life experiences. Your comments ring true with that demographic. Students come in with a clearer expectation of where they would like their learning to be applied, and empowering students to take a particular aspect of a theory and actually use it in their respective setting is more effective than a recall of the “10 top leadership theories” or the like.

    I also found your comment about having the students contribute their own case studies very intriguing. Again, students coming from ministry settings have sometimes “seen it all,” and having them contribute scenarios from their own experience both increases the relevance of the content they will learn and also proves instructive to other students who might have less “real-world” experience.

    Very helpful observations!


  2. Aubrey,

    I had not thought of it in the context of a seminary (I’m quite ignorant of such things), but from you describe it is a very good parallel. Most of my ‘students’ are adults who are professionals and often have more expertise than I do in their domain. So my job becomes to facilitate conversation and providing them with more/new tools and theories to reinterpret what they already know. I’m not teaching them facts so much as tools to interpret the facts they already have.

    Thank you for your comments,
    Joseph Drasin

  3. I really like the idea of having students focus in on one topic as well. I have read a lot of leadership books and many of them recommend focused skill, talents, energies as a way to become successful. I think that helping students become “experts” in one area will benefit them more in the long run that simply exposing them to lots of different concepts that they never really master. Great point!

    1. Adrianne, I also find that letting students become ‘the expert’ gives them a point of pride in their work. They like being the person others come to to learn. Again, it fits in well with the triangle we discussed at the beginning of this course (and again this week).

      Joseph Drasin

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