There is a significant and growing demand for learners to be able to do more than receiving instruction, follow a learning path designed by educators, and complete problems and assignments presented to them by an adult. Learners need to develop the capacity to shape and manage their learning without over-reliance on the direction and control of others.
Too often adults treat children as though they are incapable of making decisions or holding valid opinions. As children advance through the system, they develop a form of “learned helplessness” that keeps them from advocating for themselves. The process for learning and the role learners play must be different than most adults experienced.
Why Learner Agency?
Harvard professor Roland Barth has observed that in the 1950s when young people left high school they typically knew about 75% of what they would need to know to be successful in life. Today, he predicts that young people know about 2% of what they will need to know. (Barth, R.S. (1997, March 5). The leader is a learner. Education Week, 16(23). 56.)
This shift is not because young people are learning less than previous generations. In fact, there is good evidence that they know much more. The force behind this change is the rapid and ever-increasing pace of change, the complexity of the world in which we live, and the unpredictability of what people will need to know in the coming decades – the future for which we are preparing today’s learners.
The current educational system was designed for teachers to control and manage to learn. This continues today because teachers are the ones held accountable and responsible for the learning instead of the learners. As educators, we must nurture, coach, and build in learners more capacity to initiate, manage, and maintain their own learning. Learning will be a constant and high-priority activity throughout their lives and they will need the skills and tools to manage this process.
First Grade Learners from EPiC Elementary, MO, Designing a Health Fair website
A Sense of Agency
We have a sense of ‘agency’ when we feel in control of things that happen around us; when we feel that we can influence events. This is an important sense for learners to develop. Learners must understand:
- when they need new learning and how to learn what they need
- when they need to unlearn what will no longer serve them
- when they need to relearn what they need to be successful
They must develop the capacity to engage strategically in their learning without waiting to be directed. They must take ownership of and responsibility for their learning. And, they must possess the skills to learn independently, without heavy dependence on external structures and direction.
So what is Learner Agency? Learners…
- Know how they learn best.
- Are proactive in their learning.
- Set goals and action steps for college, career, and life.
- Develop learning strategies and skills to support meeting the action steps.
- Select appropriate tools and resources for each task and is “Future Ready.”
- “Develop curiosity to learn about the world with the world.” @julielindsay
- Self-direct assessment and monitor progress in learning.
- Reflect on the evidence of learning.
- Identify their passion and purpose for learning.
- Foster an authentic and meaningful life.