Based on original image by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

Students have a sense of “agency” when they feel in control of things that happen around them; when they feel they can influence events.

The concept of learner agency has been a significant focus of attention in education over the past decade. It includes a range of pedagogical considerations including self-managed, self-regulated and self-directed learning – often facilitated through project or inquiry-based approaches in the classroom.

Learner agency develops when learners/ākonga  are involved in the whole learning process – including decisions about the curriculum itself, involving learners/ākonga  a lot more in the choices about the what as well as the why and the how of what is being learned.

The primary motivation for this comes from the desire to empower learners/ākonga  and enable them to better understand and negotiate the perspectives and values of others, contributing towards more productive and inclusive workplaces and societies. It provides a philosophical alternative to the traditional ‘teacher-led’ and ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches that dominated our system in the past.

Developing agentic learners/ākonga  becomes even more important in a hybrid learning environment, where the learners/ākonga  are required to demonstrate a greater degree of ownership over their learning. Some examples of successful practices that were used by educators during the COVID lockdown illustrate this:

  • Increasing opportunities for one-to-one learning support.
  • Promoting student independence by increasing choices of tasks and areas of focus.
  • Involving learners/ākonga  in programme design, including choice of topics/themes etc.
  • Increasing the use of detailed individualised learning plans and tailored work tasks in response to students’ interests and needs.
  • Clearly articulating learning goals and assessment approaches from the start so that learners/ākonga  can use these to guide their decisions about how they will approach their learning, and parents/whānau can act more supportively.
  • Communicating with each student (and parents/whānau as appropriate) regularly to assess levels of support required.
  • Providing individual mentoring sessions and conferences that are focused on helping students to manage their work programme, assessments and supporting students to adapt or renegotiate their learning pathways.
  • Giving students choices to work independently or with others.

Fundamentally, agency involves  a ‘shift in the ownership of learning, and involves the learner taking more responsibility for her/his own learning. We must design learning (whether in-person or remote) so that there is an intentional shift from us being the font of knowledge and our lessons being primarily about the learners/ākonga  following the path we’ve planned for them (however exciting we think we may have made it) – to where we offer our learners/ākonga  far greater ‘ownership’ of what is happening.

Questions you could use to help identify the practices in your context to help develop learner agency include:

  • To what extent and in what ways are learners/ākonga  involved in decisions about their learning? (e.g. what is learned, how it is learned, where it is learned, who with etc.?)
  • How do you foster and support the development of self-directed learners/ākonga  (including managing, self-monitoring & self-regulation)?
  • How do you ensure learners/ākonga  are famliar with the purpose/goals of learning and use this for personal motivation?
  • How do you accommodate and provide support for different learners/ākonga  engaging in their learning in different ways and pursuing different pathways?

For additional resources on Learner Agency check our my resources page on the FutureMakers website.

This post is one of a series of ten being published on this blog that are taken from the document “Codifying Teacher Practice”. This document has been written to provide educators with some guidance on how to approach the challenge of shifting their pedagogical approach as they embrace hybrid learning and includes templates and activity to help educators and leaders explore this in their own context. This paper follows two previous thought pieces relating to hybrid learning, both of which can be found on the FutureMakers website. If you’d like to receive an advance copy of this paper please email derek@futuremakers to have one emailed to you.

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