Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning
I came to the role and processes of facilitation through technology first. I had not experienced it face to face – this came later, as did blending the environments – so on/off-line became of no matter, just a focus on facilitation. This has greatly shaped my beliefs in how we learn, and upon finding the concept of heutagogy a couple of years ago, I was taken with how it chimed with my own experiences and practice.
In educational leadership we talked a great deal about intentional change – or self-directed learning. This came to life through the work of Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee – particularly in their publication on Resonant Leadership. As a concept it was used more as an androgogical perspective of how we create and tailor our learning agendas as adults, as professionals, as leaders at every level, and the need for dialogue and collaboration to achieve our aspirations. Initially it explored less the double loop adopted by heutagogy – i.e. thinking about learning, reflecting about thinking! It relied on a set ‘discoveries’ about who we are now, who we wish to be, and who can help. It introduced practicing new behaviours towards developing fresh mastery. A frequent assumption was the role of the facilitator being a guardian of the learning and a content specialist; this could lead to hierarchical, directive relationships where the balance between learner and facilitator was out of kilter – anecdotal moments where solutions were provided, not generated.
Over time, however, the really good facilitators recognised the need to empower learners through metacognition and double loop learning, and it became an integral aspect of process. Many of these facilitators were practicing coaches and took a non-directive stance towards their relationship with learners. I saw this as fundamental to their own development as facilitators too, where a great deal of time was being given to reflection on what happened during an event, how it happened, and how learners’ needs were being met through the behaviour of facilitators. Impact became very important – not just on the leadership learners, but on children and young people they served. A stronger moral agenda developed its voice. As many began to adopt technologies, there too began some fascinating practice whereby learners were being encouraged more and more to follow their own path, effectively use technology that supports their learning and collaboration, whilst being given opportunities to reflect on the paths they traveled together. A change of mood toward heutagogy and open spaces for learning.
Foundation stage.. remembering how we can learn when we are little!
I love the feel of a learning space for early years and foundation stages in UK schools. Great spaces, designed for three-year olds and filled with textures, role-playing, building, reflections of life. Dropping my daughter off in the morning was always interesting. First thing that the children were asked to do was find something they wanted to do. Then the class teacher and other associate staff would move around the room asking children about what they were doing and how they were doing it – facilitation. This isn’t pedagogy in its formal guise, its mini-heutagogy in action, and as adults we need to learn from this too!
The children’s minds were untethered and so they could enter into the zone and choice of method for themselves. I often worry that we lose this freedom and creativity as adults, and there is a lot of unlearning or reframing of ourselves that needs to be done before we get to self-determination. Perhaps we could do with more time with 3 year olds, and they could ask us too: “what do you want to learn today?”
A colleague of mine asked this question with a group of leaders visiting from India. He had a workshop to deliver, and began with giving them 30 minutes to do something they really wanted to do individually. No constraints, just using the technology at hand. For 30 minutes the freedom they experienced unshackled them from a possible fear of learning, the new space and cultural context they were in, and they were motivated, many in a state of absolute flow. Then the group shared some of their outcomes and revisited the nature of the process they had experienced – he described it as a powerful moment for himself as facilitator and them as leaders. I feel this is a great example of how we can promote and develop understanding of heutagogy – it does not need to be complex, but does need freedom.
ABOUT TAM MASON
I lead design and development projects that create new solutions, deliver leadership development provision, and create organisational and system change processes. I define leadership from an inclusive and distributed perspective where individuals are enabled to connect and personally lead according to their role and responsibility. I have a strong belief in developing innovative products and provision that are appreciative, personalised, meaningful and impact driven. I am a specialist in employing technology to enhance learning. I work with the National College for Teaching and Leadership on their International Provision and Online Facilitation and Tutoring Programmes. As a consultant, coach and facilitator I work with a range of clients in across the public and voluntary sectors.
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