Help yourself

This is number 15 in my series on learning theories. I'm working through the alphabet of psychologists and theorists, providing a brief overview of each theory, and how it can be applied in education. In my most recent post I featured Richard Gregory's perceptual hypothesis and its applications to education. In this post, we take a look at an emerging theory of learning proposed by Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon, known as Heutagogy. As usual, this is a simplified interpretation of the theory, so if you wish to learn more, please read the associated literature.

The theory

Heutagogy is a theory that focuses on meta-learning (learning to learn), double loop learning (reflection on learning), and non-linear forms of learning, but ultimately it is about the study of self-determined learning. I would like to argue that technology plays a key role in this process. There is a sense that personal technologies encourage learners to be self-determined in their approach to education. Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon’s (2007) conceptualisation of self determined learning places the emphasis on non-linear, self-directed and self-regulated forms of learning, and embraces both formal and informal education contexts. The central tenet of heutagogy is that people inherently know how to learn, and will pursue that learning if they are interested enough.

The role of formal education is to enable them to confidently develop these skills, encouraging them to critically evaluate and interpret their own personal reality according to their own personal skills and competencies. The ethos of heutagogy extends to learner choice, where students can create their own programmes of study, a feature often seen in the loosely aggregated and unstructured aspects of some Massive Open Online Courses. In many ways, heutagogy is aligned to other digital age theories, in that it places an importance on ‘learning to learn’, and the sharing rather than hoarding of that knowledge. It is not difficult to see that such sharing of knowledge can be easily achieved through social media and the use of personal digital technologies.

How it can be applied to education

Clearly, heutagogy is a specific kind of learning theory, in the sense that it points out the distinction between self-determined learning and learning that is more likely to be driven by formal pedagogy. In essence, it highlights the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the potentially different learning outcomes each might yield. Heutagogy can of course be viewed as an explanation of learning that occurs both inside and outside of formal contexts, but really comes into its own when applied to informal learning.

The question that is often uppermost in the minds of good educators is how to inspire students to go 'the extra mile' and begin to take the responsibility to learn for themselves. Independent learning, one of the central tenets of heutagogy, usually becomes evident when students become so fascinated by their topic that they can do nothing else but continue to pursue a deeper understanding of it. The era of personal technologies is one of the most important factors in the rise of heutagogy, and will be instrumental in sustaining it. Teachers should consider that students' personal technologies should not be banned from the classroom, but could instead be integrated into lessons and embedded as mind tools to extend and enrich the experience of learning.


Hase, S. and Kenyon, C. (2001) From Andragogy to Heutagogy. Available online here (Retrieved 6 June, 2014).

Previous posts in this series:

Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
Argyris Double Loop Learning
Bandura Social Learning Theory
Bruner Scaffolding Theory
Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory
Dewey Experiential Learning
Engeström Activity Theory
Ebbinghaus Learning and Forgetting Curves
Festinger Social Comparison Theory
Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Gardner Multiple Intelligences Theory
Gibson Affordances Theory
Gregory Visual Perception Hypothesis

Photo by Baratunde Thurston on Flickr

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Help yourself by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Michele Ricci said…
"[...]how to inspire students to go 'the extra mile' and begin to take the responsibility to learn for themselves[...]"... I would guess that this mechanism begins in a student mind when the learning points to something that they can construct. Every time we learn or we feel we need to learn more is becasue we want to build something either material or intellectual. Maybe sometimes the teachers that are most successful are those that renounce to the overload of information towards their students, typical of an old school system, and keep the information at a "lower" level of detail... so that the desire to learn to build something concrete triggers the deep need of immediately acting to go and get what is lacking. In that, maybe, we can find the role of a new teacher as a facilitator more than somebody that teaches... What do you think Steve?
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comment Michele. I agree with much of what you say. I tend to facilitate environments where students can create things and decide for themselves in what directions they wish to take their learning. It's no co-incidence that the new ground swell of change in education is being driven partly by the maker culture. Indeed, later in my learning theories series on this blog I intend to feature the work of Seymour Papert on constructionism - learning through building and making. Recently on Twitter I saw a remark that if teachers present less, learners will give more.
Great timing on this post Steve, just as #ocTEL is reflecting on assessment and learning design. I agree with you that heutagogy is in tune with the digital age, the tutor is no longer the sole curator of learning input as was assumed in the past, the role is changing and not before time! We can help to ensure that the ZPD is optimal and support exploration and reflection. In my context, e-portfolio implementation supported this.

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