Heutagogy: 21st Century Academics
EDU501, Basic Principles of Online Teaching
John M. Muehl
A course paper presented to the Teaching in the Virtual Classroom Program
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Fielding Graduate University
The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.
William Gibson (1948 - )
The world is changing. The advent of the Information Communication
Technologies (ICT’s) and the World Wide Web has changed the way that humans
communicate, govern, barter, work, and socialize. This phenomenon has propelled
the Education community to seek new methods of teaching and learning in order to
prepare students for this new world order. Research into teaching and learning
suggests that the tried and true methods of the past may not be appropriate for the
globalized world. The tried and true method of the teacher led classroom is not
efficient in the current technological climate.
Hase and Kenyon (2000) state “the rapid rate of change in society, and the so-
called information explosion, suggest that we should now be looking at an
educational approach where it is the learner himself who determines what and how
learning should take place” (p. 1). Heutagogy is defined as self-directed or self-
determined learning. Heutagogy begins with students taking responsibility for their
own learning from reading to researching, reporting, reflecting on, and assessing
their own work. The expected result of heutagogy is for the student to learn the
material related to the course and to build life skills encompassing a whole of
learning philosophy towards people, workplaces and communities in order to
succeed in life. (Ashton and Newman, 2006).
Online learning is a booming business. Students are looking for new ways to
fit their college education into the busy lifestyles that they lead. Heutagogy places
the power in the hands of the learner and looks to a future where knowing how to
learn will be a fundamental educational skill (Ashton & Newman, 2006).” Self-
determined learning empowers the individual to think independently and critically.
It enables students to share power in a collaborative environment provoking an
atmosphere of critical thinking and effective communication. Students bring their
own life, educational, social and cultural experience to classroom. Working together,
“knowledge is produced and flows through diffuse and distributed networks
collaboratively with the knowledge broker encouraging a sharing of expertise and a
testing of the validity of previously uncontested knowledge claims” (Contractor &
Monge, 2002). The role of the teacher has become guidance of the formation of ideas,
not the force-feeding of ideas to students.
The teacher now must accept the role of a learning facilitator. This is the
overarching characteristic of Heutagogy. The facilitator’s job is to nurture student
involvement and initiative, encourage self-management, and help students attain a
high degree of self-efficacy. Ashton and Elliot (2007) believe that heutagogy leads to
higher commitment, critical thinking and idea generation among the students
involved. While the facilitator provides some information to the learning
environment, she will also encourage students to add to the resources and
collections. The bulk of the learning is accomplished through the individual
synthesis of student feedback. The facilitator becomes a co-learner sharing power
with the students: reading, writing, thinking, reflecting, assessing, and editing each
other’s contributions to the class. This double loop learning process characterizes the
heutagogical approach to learning.
The typical use of (ICT’s) makes Heutagogy the ideal approach for blended
or online teaching and learning. These non-traditional classroom settings
acknowledge a learner’s complex student, work, and family responsibilities.
Lifelong learners in our current knowledge- based economy need to develop ideas
rather than physical abilities and develop skills in the application of technology
rather than the transformation of raw materials (Ashton and Newman, 2006). The
online classroom “is a collaborative medium, a place where we could all meet and
read and write" (Carvin, 2005, ¶ 3) making it a perfect medium for heutagogy.
The most significant strength of the heutagogical teaching and learning
approach is flexibility. Many students work long hours, are responsible for parents,
children, siblings and other family members, travel long distances to the university
and are anxious about their studies because of their weak academic skills (Ashton &
Elliot, 2007). The online classroom allows for rapid 24/7 access to course and
materials, self-paced learning, less of a distinction between teacher and learner, and
a collaboration with peer group that brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to
the table. These strengths are often linked to student retention in the online
• Development of lifelong learning skills
• Learner or self-directed
• Encouragement for student to take responsibility for learning
• Development of independent critical thinking skills
• Emphasizes holistic development
• Facilitated Learning
• Double looped learning – non linear
• Valued interaction among peers
• Builds good communication skills
• Builds learner confidence
• Empowerment of the learner
• Development of creativity
• Encouragement for reflective process
• Preparation of student for the 21st century working world
Heutagogy is not for the feint of heart or lazy of mind. Everyone is not
necessarily prepared or educationally skilled enough to learn on his or her own.
While students have the freedom to attend class at their leisure, flexibility carries
with it increased responsibility and the need for independence. Unprepared
students may confuse self-directed learning with self-paced learning. The online
classroom has deadlines for turning in assignments and accomplishing tasks.
Students quickly get left behind when deadlines are not met. Students who demand
a face-to-face connection with teachers and fellow learners may find themselves
feeling disconnected and isolated. Also, students who struggle with technology may
find themselves overwhelmed navigating the online environment and mastering the
tools needed to complete assignments. While student dropout in the online
environment is most often linked to more personal issues, the heutagogical
approach does have limitations that contribute to student dissatisfaction. They are:
• Requirement of excellent time management skills
• Less structure than traditional classroom
• Time consuming process
• Facilitators’ refusal to be flexible
• Facilitators’ reluctance to empower learners with course direction
• Assumption that learners know "how to learn"
• Assumption that students can self regulate
• Students’ reluctance to share range of experiences
• Student’s reluctance to self assess
While Heutagogy may not be the best teaching and learning approach for
every one, it is rapidly becoming the preferred learning approach for adult learners,
especially in non-traditional classroom settings. The study of heutagogy is a recent
practice and the literature on the subject is spartan. However, the increased
awareness of differences among learners suggests that the possibility to personalize
the learning process, at least to some extent, will give every learner the chance to
achieve their full potential and therefore lead to better learning outcomes (Delfino et
al, 2008). The future is upon us.
Ashton, J., & Elliott, R., (2007) Juggling the balls—study, work, family and play:
student perspectives on flexible and blended heutagogy. European Early
Childhood Education Research Journal, 15(2), 167-181.
Ashton, J., & Newman, L., (2006) An unfinished symphony: 21st century teacher
education using knowledge creating heutagogies. British Journal of
Educational Technology, 37(6), 825-840.
Carvin, A. (2005, February 1). Tim Berners-Lee: Weaving a semantic web. Toronto,
Ontario, Divide Network: http://www.digitaldivide.net/articles/
Contractor, N.S., & Monge, P.R., (2002) Managing knowledge networks.
Management Communication Quarterly, 16 (2), 249-258.
Delfino, M., Dettori, G., & Persico, D. (2008, October). Self-regulated learning in
virtual communities. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 17(3), 195-205.
Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. ultiBASE publication.
Retrieved May 28, 2009, from http://www.ultibase.rmit.edu.au/