Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning
by Stewart Hase
The Chalet at Close Luce in Amboise in France was the last home of Leonardo De Vinci. As well as the restored building there is a wonderful garden that is set up as a tribute to this remarkable genius. Throughout the park there are life size demonstrations of some of the amazing mechanical inventions found in his drawings. There are water wheels, an Archimedes screw, winches, flying machines, all sorts of weird and wonderful gadgets. It is also a botanical treat with herbs and flowers to touch and smell.
Yesterday morning I went to walk and commune with Leonardo. After a while there arrived a busload of school children. Organised into small groups, these 7 to about 11 year olds began wondering around the garden with their teachers, workbooks in hand. They were having the time of their lives. It was worth putting up with the noise to watch what was happening. These kids were exploring, experimenting, touching, smelling and playing., using all their senses. They were asking questions and helping each other. They were working in groups. Some were guiding others while others watched. Each was learning in their own way with some thinking before touching and others touching before thinking. The teachers were guiding and telling the excited children to be quiet, which seemed to be a useless enterprise. The after messing around with a particular piece of machinery the group would sit down and consolidate what had been learned.
I frequently get asked what heutagogy is, particularly by academics who are eager to tell me that it isn’t anything new. Of course its not new but it is a neat package of ideas that have yet to get universal acceptance despite being around for a long time by virtue of the constructivists and humanists idea of human agency. Heutagogy places the learner at the centre of the learning process not at the end of a linear process starting with the curriculum, through the teacher, to the resources and finally ending with the learner.
Well, what I saw at Close Luce was heutagogy. We are hard wired to learn. The recent research on neuroscience tells us how, in considerable detail. As children we are experts. Then as we move through the education system we learn something new. We learn how not to trust our experience, our ability to aggregate and disaggregate, to make judgements, to test our hypotheses about the world, and to synthesise. We become narrowed in our interests by a system that recognises only certain abilities that will make us into useful members of the workforce, the economy. Mostly, at best, education aims at competence when there are much richer levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
As adults, most of our learning is informal. As much as 70% in workplaces, the research suggests. The Internet has given us unprecedented access to knowledge and skills. Like the kids at Close Luce, adults too can go out and play to our heart’s content. What we need to do is to relearn those judgement skills and the capacity to follow something through, to test hypotheses rather than blindly accept what we are being ‘told’ or what we ‘see’. We only need teachers, learning leaders, to guide us, perhaps, to support, and to remind us not to be too accepting.
Many practitioners, like the teachers with these kids, already know how people learn but our politicians and other policy makers don’t. They are stuck in mental models that are of a different time. The problem is that this is where the real power to change exists. Education is a conservative system, prone to being a closed rather than open system. Politicians and bureaucrats are by nature conservative. Their disinclination to change abetted by an inherent distrust of science means that this is where any revolution in education needs to be fought.
Good onya Leonardo!