An Introduction to Heutagogy

As technologies and our methods of communicating evolve, societies change, and so too do our perspectives on education. In this article an introduction to heutagogy, we’ll be looking at an educational philosophy that in theory integrates very comfortably with the technologies and techniques of eLearning, but poses some challenges in practice: heutagogy.

What is Heutagogy?

Heutagogy is a philosophy of “self-determined learning”, first set out by academics Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon in the year 2000. Hase and Kenyon had grown increasingly frustrated with what they perceived as the failures of the conservative teaching regime prevalent in higher education. They felt a need for a more dynamic approach, in keeping with the pace of developments in society and technology.

In a self-determined model, learning takes place when the student is ready for it, rather than at the convenience of an instructor.Heutagogy is centred on the learner, and learning typically occurs outside the confines of a traditional classroom or workshop setting. It becomes more of an experience-based process, occurring spontaneously and at unpredictable points. The student must be able to identify when a learning moment has been reached, and the challenge is then to take advantage of the opportunity.

The Double-Loop

box with double loop

In their work of 1996, Arguers & Schon describe a process known as “double-loop learning” – a kind of feedback process in which learners study a problem in terms of the actions required to resolve it and their consequences, in addition to the effect that solving the problem has on their own actions and beliefs.

This resonates with users of the heutagogic learning process, who must be constantly assessing themselves, the problems they face, and their actions. Put another way, when we learn something new, it has an impact on what we knew previously, and how we view that knowledge. This in turn affects the way we view things in the future.

Competent and Capable

According to the heutagogic model, learning occurs mainly at two levels.

When we first acquire knowledge or new skills, we gain new “competencies”. In the early stages of education – much of which is formal / traditional – these competencies are largely obtained from a teacher or instructor, who has the benefit of greater knowledge in the subject area, and more life experience.

As we grow to adulthood, our base of knowledge and experience increases to the extent that we can now rely more on ourselves and our memories, and take less of a subordinate role to formal methods of instruction.

A “deeper learning”experience becomes possible as we gain even more knowledge and experience, and it’s at this second level of heutagogic learning that education becomes more learner-directed and intensely personal. Associations with past knowledge and new connections stemming from fresh experiences make this level much less structured and more unpredictable. It’s also more exciting, as identifying learning opportunities becomes as much a part of the process as the knowledge acquired, itself.

Heutagogy, Web 2.0 and Associated Tools

The connected technologies of Web 2.0 and the proliferation of online resources provide a host of tools that support heutagogy or self-directed learning.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter give learners a forum for the discussion of chosen subjects, and opportunities to share ideas, documents, and opinions with peers, subject matter experts, and users from across the globe. Within the social conversation, ideas and projects may be incubated, and learners can work together or individually, as they choose.

Tools for social bookmarking like Delicious allow learners to create libraries of useful online resources that can be shared and added to in collaboration with other people having similar interests. Content can be pooled, highlighted, and annotated – and learners can create communities based on common ideas and practices.

Books in library

Online educational resources such as free courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) give learners access to new knowledge on any topic under the sun, and can be accessed on mobile devices from practically anywhere on Earth. Services like Udemy and iTunes U bring several of these resources together under one roof, so that learners can choose from a full range of available courses and materials.

Heutagogy in eLearning

Self-determination in learning assumes that we can learn throughout our lives, and through real-time interactions with our environment and the people in it. This is a non-linear, largely informal approach that also lends itself to eLearning and corporate training.

A well-structured eLearning environment will provide for continuous feedback from learners, and give them opportunities to share ideas, gain access to resources, and collaborate with others to facilitate their learning experiences.

Likewise, a well-planned and executed corporate training programme conducted in the actual environment where day to day work is done will allow trainees to identify gaps in their knowledge or skill-sets that the training may fill. And having access to co-workers, supervisors and senior management provides the support and supplementary resources that learners may turn to at any time.

Heutagogy in Community


Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon have set up a WordPress site celebrating the heutagogy movement, and its adherents. It’s a community affair, to which contributions of ideas and commentary are invited. If you’d wish to learn about heutagogy in more depth, it’s a good place to start.

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