February 7, 2022

Self-Managed Learning | Tools to Boost Your Development

Melissa Malec

Heutagogy. It’s a word you’ve probably never heard before. So, what is it, and what does it have to do with the professional development of your workforce?

Let’s take it back to your primary school days. The approach to how people learn used to be fairly straightforward. Individuals would sit in a classroom and do as the teacher instructed, but progressive educators have begun to adopt a new learning approach — called heutagogy, and it's all about self-managed learning.

While this concept is usually only seen in academia, it can still play an integral part in transformative workplace learning and development. In fact it might be the tool that finally frees your people to fully own their development and practice self-learning.

Man drinks coffee at a table while reading about heutagogy and self-managed learning

Heutagogy is an approach to learning which is self-directed and reflects the way an individual learns. I’m sure you’ve noticed that personal development and lifelong learning are having a moment. You see people talking about it on social media, you hear about it at work and, with recent current events, there’s been a greater push to educate ourselves on issues outside of our social bubble. 

It’s essential for the Learning & Development (L&D) world to know how people learn best because it impacts both our personal and professional lives. 

Progressive HR departments, the ones who work to better their people and company through L&D initiatives, should be familiar with heutagogy because it has an uncanny knack for turning employees into self-driven and motivated workers. 

Learnerbly is no stranger to looking at learning differently, we even wrote a whole blog about how we approach learning & development from a new perspective. That's why we're so excited by the process of self-managed learning and the educational shift to heutagogy. We want to share this self-directed approach to learning so that HR and management can support and enable self-learners. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s to come:

🤔 What is heutagogy & self-managed learning?

💼 Implementing self-managed learning in the workplace

💝 The benefits of self-managed learning in the workplace

What is Heutagogy & Self-Managed Learning?

Self-managed learning lives under the umbrella of heutagogy. ‘Hyoo-tuh-goh-jee’. Yeah, it’s a weird one, and I was saying it wrong for weeks after I first learned what it was 😅 but now that I know AND how to say it, I can’t get enough. 

A chart comparing pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy for the management of self-managed learners

Remember when I mentioned how we were taught in primary 🏫 school? Those lessons on Henry VIII’s six wives and photosynthesis were built around a pedagogical approach to learning where resources, curriculum and motivation were externally sourced through a teacher. Children are afforded limited autonomy in life and the arguments around this are ongoing. 

We go through a shift in secondary and higher education through to adulthood where a more free-willed learning theory known as andragogy takes hold.

Andragogy is a reactive process centred around tasks of problem-solving, motivated internally and led by individuals. Andragogy sounds pretty good, right? But it’s lacking a key element. Andragogy doesn’t prompt the individual to evaluate the process of learning itself and it doesn’t create a pro-active learner. There’s something better. 

Heutagogy: The Learning Theory of L&D Dreams

Heutagogy is a student-centred instructional strategy that emphasises the development of autonomy, capacity and capability of the individual. It sets itself up as the ideal learning approach for people who want to be more than reactive learners. In heutagogy, we know that education doesn’t need to take place in a classroom, doesn’t need to be orchestrated by an overarching organisation, and is focused entirely on what the individual wants to learn.

Through this learning approach, people become self-directed learners who determine their own goals, learning paths and processes. Self-managed learning is really just heutagogy in practice where ‘students’ choose what they learn and how they will go about learning it. They understand or are seeking to understand how they learn, which is crucial because every person learns differently.

Me? I’m a visual learner. So listening to podcasts is something I enjoy but not something I retain a lot of information from.  

While heutagogy 🌱  roots itself in the academic world, it extends well into professional learning, blooming 🌻 when undertaken by people who work to nurture their development in a journey to become lifelong learners.

What Does Lifelong Learning Mean?

Lifelong learning is the idea that education, in some form, continues beyond the traditional and formal structure of academia, which is primarily experienced by young people. It’s a practice that has to be sought after by individuals and organisations. 

This type of learning doesn’t have to take one form, cover specific topics, or be proven through traditional examination ✏️ . It is a self-motivated engagement with learning resources which enhances social inclusion, employability and personal development.

We all want to be lifelong learners.

Heutagogy and becoming a self-directed learner is the answer to achieving goals in the workplace as well as it is the answer to developing as people outside of work. But what we want to focus on here is how lifelong self-managed learning helps us and our people get the most out of professional development.

How Can Self-Managed Learning Be Used at Work?

If we think of employees as heutogogical learners, then we can think of managers as heutagogical teachers 🧑🏫 and really, not doing much teaching at all. We want staff development that your people actually want and need, this is how you do it.

Let’s look at the role of teachers from the image comparing heutagogy, pedagogy and andragogy: 

A manager with a heutagogical approach works with each individual employee to identify their professional development goals. While the manager helps direct what skills or topics an employee wants to learn, it is up to the employee to decide the curriculum, aka the courses, books, podcasts and any other resources they deem appropriate. 

For some employees, a curriculum may be based on set objectives but that isn’t the case for every learner and managers should keep this in mind when working with their people to find what suits each individual. 

Autonomy is everything in self-managed learning. Before an employee can be an experienced heutagogical learner, they need to find out how they learn best and always re-evaluate that. Managers can support this. 

What Can Managers Do?

A manager, and more broadly L&D managers, should support employees in discovering learning opportunities and methods of learning. They don’t lead the way but they do help clear the path by having conversations which reflect upon past learnings, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Learning is amplified by reflective actions and managers can integrate sessions where reflection is the main topic. Part of the personal development plan process is centred on reflection and can be a way for managers to regularly touch base.

Collaboration between colleagues within the organisation will create a well-rounded heutagogical learning environment. On the Learnerbly platform, this is achieved by providing users with the opportunity to share, review, and recommend resources. 

What Are the Benefits of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace?

Your company’s L&D approach can define which of these three learning theories takes root. And once they grab hold, the results can have a lasting impact. To see high engagement, a greater return on investment and leverage over attracting the top talent in the industry, you’ll want to encourage self-learners.

A pedagogical company spoonfeeds its people mandatory, one-size-(doesn’t)-fit-all training. Remember the subjects you didn’t think were relevant to you in secondary school? It’s just like that. The employees here are unengaged and maybe even a bit resentful of the training. I certainly was when sitting through Calculus. 

The andragogical company will fare a bit better. They’re nearly there in the world of optimised L&D. They know learning should be led by people. When they introduce their blanket subscription licenses to their workforce, they’ll see some engagement. But there's an issue. 

Andragogical companies react to problems, and only solve them when they become so apparent they can’t ignore them. This means you’ll always be playing catch-up to the competitor who is pro-active; the competitor who is heutagogical.

Better is Best

It’s the heutagogical company that reaps the rewards and sees a greater return on investment. They see sustained engagement, empowered workers and a self-learner in each employee. Their people reach their potential and regularly speak with managers about what they’re learning and how it’s going. They are supported by proper resources to develop skills. These companies have an edge when hiring, an engaged team ready to tackle challenges as a unit and people proactively developing skills that take them into the future.

The issue is that creating heutagogical learners requires time, resources and proper training for managers who will guide the process.  Learnerbly has already built a learning culture and our platform can support you. We can’t do it all but what we can do is offer our expertise in making this culture change, a network of companies to help you do it and the resources to support and empower your employees. 

You can book a demo to learn how we support self-managed learning and read about the three things you should know when building an L&D function at your company at this link.

You can also help your workforce get started by identifying and reflecting on their learning styles here!

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