After reading the provided resources and examining the supporting research on heutagogical learning (HL), my thoughts are mixed as to its use in educational environments, including online educational environments. Meaning, the use of HL for mature learners is probably more prevalent with mature learners than people appreciate, though in my experience and research it is almost exclusively used in an adaptive manner rather than in the “pure” or stand-alone form described by its formal definition.
Again, based on my experience, research, and review of “supportive or evidentiary” research shown for HL, it seems evident that three major ideas standout when considering HL. One, HL is extraordinarily useful and can enrich the learning experience for both the instructor and the mature learner because assessment of learning and how to best provide a learning platform is an ongoing process. Two, the idea that the learner can shape her own learning experience or “what is important to learn” is a troubling concept for several reasons, most importantly the concept that if the learner knew completely what was important to learn, then they may not have to even seek a course or instructor. Three, the plethora of misinformation and “incorrect facts” that seem to be the bane of research and “Internet-based” or distance learning can be a real danger.
HL can be a useful learning tool because, as was pointed out in the articles provided and discovered through research, the idea of the degree of an increased or heightened applicability of the materials and information being taught to the field (real world) can be invaluable to the instructor and to the learner. Feedback from the learners seems to be richer (greater in amount and detail) than in other models. This enhanced feedback can allow the instructor to augment the course content and approach (both for the current course and future iterations of the course) to more closely address the needs of the learner within the course and to stimulate the continued thinking process and desire to learn of both the instructor and the learner. One basis for the idea that HL may stimulate the continued thinking process and desire to learn of both the instructor and the learner is that based on richer and faster feedback (i.e. compared with other learning models) the stimulus of “if this is true, maybe there is more or a better way out there to be discovered”, is moved to the front of the mind.
At this point in lauding HL as a learning tool where the idea of the degree of an increased or heightened applicability of the materials and information being taught to the field (real world) can be invaluable to the instructor and to the learner, it is important to point out that HL has been in use far longer and with more frequency than many article narratives would lead one to believe. In several fields HL methodology is the prominent learning tool because of any number of factors including geography, differences based on individual physiology, cultural context, fiscal parameters, and religious and/or social morays. HL can assist in the fact that learning does not take place, realistically, in a vacuum for mature learners. As pointed out in our assigned readings, nursing and engineering are two fields where HL is used extensively and has been since the late 1970s – perhaps it was just not formally named in that particular vernacular. It should be noted that HL is also used extensively, and since at least the 1980s, in (perhaps) unexpected fields such as banking/financial services: for a banking example, one can look to instruction across an institution-wide educational need such as procedures of money laundering that need “local learner” feedback over online systems to tailor the education to the different laws, business procedures, fiscal parameters, etc. of the country or locality.
After lauding the positive aspects of HL as touched on above, it is important to consider the idea that the learner can shape her own learning experience or “what is important to learn” can be a troubling concept for several reasons, most importantly the concept that if the learner knew completely what was important to learn, then they may not have to even seek a course or instructor. My major idea here is that using a pure HL model, even with a mature learner, promotes the idea that the learner knows what there is to learn – though they are seeking instruction. This is illogical in its pure form. Meaning, conceding that a mature learner brings life and field experience and an expansive thought process to the course and thereby can assist in judging the import of course direction and materials, a major portion of her rationale in taking the course is because she needs some guidance and mentoring in what is important to learn and, importantly, she is seeking to be informed of something she does not know by an “expert” in that particular field (aka the course instructor). Succinctly, you do not always know what you do not know – and you may never know something valuable if you influence your instructor to go in a direction that impedes or prevents you from learning a new technique or method or seeing the value in a method you had dismissed because of circumstance or how it came to you to learn. This can stunt your learning and thinking process. Of note, an additional danger in this is that a concession to a particular direction that has been augmented through HL feedback or process is that it could stunt your fellow learners’ learning and thinking processes.
A third major idea when considering HL, is that the ideas, concepts, plethora of misinformation and “incorrect facts” that seem to be the bane of research and “Internet-based” or distance learning can be a real danger. As pointed out by Allyson and others in this class during Module 1, the real world has a direct effect on any learning environment. This direct is exacerbated, I would contend, with the mature learner because they have a larger amount of real world experience and have been exposed to a greater range of influences through either more education, more job experience or more life experience. This is both good and bad. It is good because the experience can focus material and help judge the import of material. It is bad (or dangerous) because it can prejudice against an approach or limit material scope based on prior “bad” experience (based on factors other than the actual approach) or steer toward unreliable information sources. Two examples of my point are: (1) many people through their business or education or social mentors were indoctrinated consciously or subconsciously in a certain, particular approach to education, execution and viewpoint. This thought process of “how it should be done” clouds the idea of alternative learning and methodologies that maybe important or even more relevant/correct. The danger is a particular learner in an HL environment may steer away from a valuable learning experience if not guided to learn the new way. , and (2) as evidenced by the debunked “science” currently swirling around the idea of pediatric vaccines, the internet and research, while usually valuable tools, can cloud a learning experience in an HL environment. Meaning, in an HL environment learners who are given freedom to augment their learning experience, focus and breath may inadvertently move toward a less rich and accurate experience and thought process due to lack of exposure to information of which they are unaware or initially dismiss (i.e. without strong instructor guidance).
While recognizing the dangers or difficulties/limitations with HL, I do believe it is a valuable tool to add to my online teaching toolbox. It is definitely something to incorporate because of the assessment of content and direction that it affords toward practical application. To me information for information sake has a place in everyone’s life to improve mental acuity. However, information for practical application for recreation or career or business or health or other purpose should be the dominant learning environment. In my opinion, HL helps an instructor help learners (and themselves) get there.