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Heutagogy:  It Isn’t Your Mother’s Pedagogy Any More

Jane Eberle
Emporia State University

Marcus Childress
Emporia State University

    While many educators refer to all teaching as pedagogy, this is a term that limits the scope of what teaching can and should be. Hase and Kenyon point out that learners need to be proactive rather than reactive if they are to become involved citizens (2000) or what Stephenson and Weil describe as capable people who know how to learn; are creative; have a high degree of self-efficacy; can apply competencies in novel as well as familiar situations; and can work well with others (1992). The term pedagogy is defined by its teacher-centeredness: I teach; you learn, but if learners are to become more responsible for their learning, there is a need to change the paradigm in which we teach and learn. 
Knowles described the term, andragogy, in the 1970s and based it on several assumptions to be made about learners – adults in particular - that are different from those of the pedagogical model:

  • The need to know
  • The learner’s self-concept
  • The role of the learner’s experience
  • Readiness to learn
  • Orientation to learning
  • Motivation  (Knowles, 1984)

    Knowles popularized andragogy as a means to address specific needs of adults that may not be seen to be inherent in children as learners.  However, with the move toward theories such as, constructivism, discovery learning, and generative learning, facilitating learning for younger learners is certainly important as is promoting self-directed learning to the extent that their developmental abilities allow. Kearsley, again with the adult learner in mind, states that andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning:

  • Adults need to know why they need to learn something.
  • Adults need to learn experientially.
  • Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and
  • Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. (2003)

These assumptions can be made for all learners, including the elementary and high school students.  The more one knows about why something is important, the more relevant the material becomes. The following table compares the assumptions of pedagogy vs. andragogy:
(See Table 1)
            Andragogy is self-directed learning; that is, the teacher facilitates learning by providing guidelines and some structure while the learner takes those cues and follows his own need to know.  Heutagogy takes this a step further and promotes self-determined learning.  In addition, there is a double-loop component that encourages learners to not only determine their learning needs but also to reflect on how the learning has affected values, beliefs, and ideals the learner has held and to contemplate ways in which to branch out and study these effects in and of themselves.
(See Figure 1)
Cooper gives the following definition of double-loop learning:

A higher order of learning is when the individual questions the goal structures and rules upon detecting an error.  This is more like “coloring outside the lines” to solve the problem or error.  This is referred to as “double-loop learning.”  This is more creative and may lead to alterations in the rules, plans, strategies, or consequences initially related to the problem at hand.  Double-loop learning involves critical reflection upon goals, beliefs, values, conceptual frameworks, and strategies. Argyris believes that this way of learning is critical in organizations and individuals that find themselves in rapidly changing and uncertain contexts (2004).

Double-loop learning is non-linear and not necessarily planned.  It involves formative evaluation in that learners may develop questions as they progress, questions that are not just a reaction to problems but that may be a reflection of their existing theories, values, or assumptions that they feel are being challenged.
Hase and Kenyon (2000) state that heutagogy is, “the study of self-determined learning, may be viewed as a natural progression from earlier educational methodologies – in particular from capability development – and may well provide the optimal approach to learning in the twenty-first century“(2000).  With the current trends away from mere dissemination of information as a teaching strategy and more toward self-actualized learning, heutagogy can benefit learners who are ready to become capable people.  Jones states,

By understanding who your students are you can redesign your course to build a sustainable community whereby students develop the skills within that society to explore their own values, the values of the community and ultimately the values of society at large (2003, para. 13).

The following table illustrates the design of pedagogy vs. andragogy:
(See Table 2)
    In a heutagogical approach to learning, the teacher serves as the facilitator allowing students to inquire, research, discover, analyze, and evaluate according to their needs and what is being studied.  This is not a lesser role for the teacher but, rather, a different role from that of the pedagogist.  The emphasis shifts from giver of knowledge to one who supports, encourages, challenges, questions, and promotes intellectual curiosity with the learner being held responsible for what is accomplished.  Student-directed discussions that allow freedom of expression and thoughtful reflection promote clarity of ideas.  Healthy debate is encouraged as a means to discovery of opposing views.  Students are helped to narrow their interests in a topic, to reflect on what they have learned, and produce sound projects, papers, or whatever culminating activity is assigned or agreed upon.  Along the way or after the fact, they may branch into other areas as a means to further challenge their own ideas and values.  The sharing of activities increases
the collaborative inquiry among students so that they may expand on what they learn from others, as well.
The following table compares traditional and heutagogical learning:
(See Table 3)

        Assessment in a heutagogical environment can be accomplished at several levels.  Rubrics that assess discussion skills, quality of work, outcomes, collaboration, academic soundness, and knowledge of material are especially effective.  These can be determined collaboratively between teacher and student to assess skills that both acknowledge to be important.  Self-scoring can provide the opportunity for students to take responsibility for their own assessment, again based on a mutually determined set of outcomes and, perhaps, in conjunction with instructor- based scoring or peer review. 
    While face-to-face teaching lends itself especially well to heutagogy, online learning can also be self-determined.  This is no more difficult to facilitate and empowers students to design their own learning.  The asynchronous nature of online learning allows for reflective thinking since the students have time to respond to peers and to form questions of their own.  Parameters can be set by the instructor while students can determine the scope and creativity of the projects, activities, or papers based on their own particular needs for relevance, time concerns, need to know, past experiences, and readiness to learn.
     Heutagogy is not for the feint of heart or lazy of mind.  Instructors must be facilitators who have the confidence to be able to let go of the ownership of learning.  Rigidly structured environments are not conducive to heutagogy.  Heutagogy does allow instructors and students alike to be creative and to enjoy a mutual respect of ideas.  Students are encouraged to be introspective, open-minded, and cognizant of past experiences and their relevance to future learning.  They share, reflect, debate, question, and take responsibility for making their own learning meaningful.  In a world of rapidly evolving information, heutagogy can be the catalyst for students to explore avenues of learning in ways that help them to be capable people who are prepared for their roles in society.  

Table 1.
Assumptions:  Pedagogy vs. Andragogy






Increasing self-directedness


Of little worth

Learners are a rich resource for learning


Biological development, social pressure

Developmental tasks of social roles

Time Perspective

Postponed application

Immediacy of application

Orientation to learning

Subject centered

Problem centered

Knowles, 1984

Figure 1. Double-Loop Learning

Table 2.
Design:  Pedagogy vs. Andragogy





Researcher-oriented, formal, competitive

Mutuality, respectful, collaborative, informal


By teacher

Mechanism for mutual planning

Diagnosis of Needs

Biological development, social pressure by teacher

Mutual self-diagnosis

Formulation of   Objectives

Postponed application by teacher

Mutual negotiation


Logic of the subject matter; content units

Sequenced in terms of readiness; problem units


Transmittal techniques

Experiential techniques (inquiry)


Subject-centered by teacher

Mutual re-diagnosis of needs; mutual measurement of program

Knowles, 1984

Table 3.
Comparison of Traditional and Heutagogical Learning


Traditional  Classroom

Heutagogical Learning Environment

Student Role

Share information

Self-determined learning

Teacher Role

Present information;
Manage classroom

Empowers student learning and provides resources


Basic literacy with higher-level skills building on lower-level skills

Meaningful, purposeful learning experiences which are relevant to learners’ needs

Curriculum Characteristics

Fact retention
Fragmented knowledge and disciplinary separation

Flexible curriculum with double-looped learning opportunities

Social Characteristics

Independent learning

Independent and collaborative learning

Role for Technology

Drill and practice
Direct instruction

Facilitates exploration, collaboration, and self-actualization


Fact retention
Traditional tests

Self-diagnosis; knowledge application

Adapted from Grabe & Grabe (1998).  Integrating Technology for Meaningful Learning        


Cooper, S. (2003). “Interactive” online courses: fact or fiction. Retrieved October 14, 2003, from

Hase, S. & Kenyon, K. Heutagogy and developing capable people and capable workplaces:
            Strategies for dealing with complexities.  Retrieved May 10, 2004, from

Hase, S. & Kenyon, K. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Retrieved April 29, 2004, from

Kearsley, G. (2003). Explorations in learning & instruction: the theory into practice database.
Retrieved April 29, 2004, from

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: a neglected species (3rd edition). Houston, TX: Gulf

Stephenson, J. & Weil, S. (1992). Quality in learning: A capability approach in higher education.
London: Kogan Page.

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