Heutagogy: Changing the paradigm: toward self-determined learning

April 30, 2020

Dr. Amnon Glassner is a senior lecturer and pedagogic mentor at the Kaye Academic College of Education, Israel.

Professor Shlomo Back, former president of Kaye Academic College of Education, Israel, is a professor of philosophy of education and head of the M.Teach program.

The COVID-19 pandemic phenomenon forced countries to close the physical environments of schools and higher education institutions, and to move into online learning.
This situation emphasizes the need to develop self-determined learners who take responsibility for their learning to enrich their knowledge, capabilities and personalities.
Heutagogy (self-determined learning) enhances such development.

Heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon, 2013; Blaschke, Kenyon & Hase, 2014; Glassner & Back, 2020) is a student-centered approach which lets the students decide what and how to learn a general subject or a specific course, with whom (as individuals or as groups) to learn and from what resources.
The students decide what to share from the knowledge they create and how to present it.
They design their expectations about the process and its outcomes, and they reflect and evaluate their learning.
The students learn to perform high level reflections of double and triple loop (Hase, 2014; Glassner& Back, 2020).
In the second-loop reflections, they write about what they transfer from their learning into their professional and/or general life.
In the triple-loop reflection they write about what they can learn about themselves as learners.
The self-determined learning can be described as learning by wandering in the different network types they encounter (Glassner & Back, 2020).

The teacher's role

The teacher/lecturer has two main roles:
At the beginning of the learning the teacher exposes the students to the general subject of the course to in order to motivate their interest and curiosity to keep learning some aspects of the general subject (e.g. questions, issues) by themselves.
Some students (especially school students) had not even heard about the subject before and about its potential to be interesting for them.
During the self-determined learning itself, the teacher’s role is to be a facilitator.
The teacher meets the students to help them to think about how to cope with the challenges they experience during their learning.
In addition to face-to- face dialogical meetings, the teacher may use some different a-synchronic and synchronic connection tools (e.g., videotelephony, online chat or email correspondence).
Heutagogy is not an "all or nothing" approach.
The teacher may decide to limit the freedom of the student only to the choosing of 'how to learn', or 'how to present the knowledge' they create.
In this case, the students are not allowed to choose what to learn. In other cases the teacher can present a list of sub-subjects and the students are required to choose what to learn from this list. The teacher may decide to let them learn about any issue which interests them but demand that they learn about all of the listed sub-subjects.

There are many options available for teaches to integrate some elements of heutagogy in their courses.
It seems that all of the students can be self-determined learners (Glassner and Back, 2020).
At the beginning of the course it is more difficult for the older learners (i.e., high-school or higher education ones).
In traditional education they are not used to take responsibility for their learning.
They are used to following the teacher’s precise instructions about what and how to learn in order to earn high grades in tests or well-structured works.
At the beginning of the first heutagogy course, most of the students feel some vagueness and confusion in coping with the challenge of deciding what and how to learn.
Gradually, they experience the power of heutagogy.

Findings from our studies (e.g., Glassner & Back, 2020) show that it is better to experience more than one heutagogy course to feel how the power of heutagogy enhances the students' basic needs for self-capability and self-autonomy (Deci and Ryne, 2000).
Supporting such needs advances the intrinsic motivation for learning and increases the probability to experience meaningful learning.
The success of developing self-determined learners is mostly teacher-dependent (Glassner & Back, 2020).
Most important, the teacher has to trust the students and to loosen control of their learning.
The teacher has to let the students experience the joy of discovery and to be a flexible person and look for alternative ways to facilitate the students in an ongoing process.
It is necessary for the teacher to know how to manage a symmetric dialogue with his/her students.
In addition, the teacher needs to use creative thinking in order to design the exposure of the general course subject to the students in a way that will motivate their curiosity to learn more about it.
In teacher education courses students can experience heutagogy as learners in order to motivate them to use this teaching-learning approach as teachers.


Glassner, A., & Back. S. (2020). Exploring Heutagogy in Higher Education: Academia Meets the Zeitgeist. Springer Nature Singapore.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268.

Hase, S. (2014). Introduction to self-determined learning (Heutagogy). In L. M. Blaschke, C. Kenyon, & S. Hase (Eds.), Experiences in self-determined learning. Kindle Edition: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 

Updated: Apr. 30, 2020