Learner Agency

Learner Agency “Stage Set”

A “learner-centered” focus is at the core of customized learning. Such a focus reflects the fundamental belief that learners are better equipped and prepared for a lifetime of learning if decisions regarding teaching and learning are based on data and considerations about the individual learner—rather than the tradition and administrative convenience of the assembly line school.

This systemic shift challenges the age-old model of schools as it has existed for decades. While it is still essential for learners to gain subject area knowledge, it is also critical that they develop the capacity to be their own learning advocates. At TIE, this advocacy is referred to as “learner agency” and is defined as possessing the mindset and know-how to act in a manner which empowers and positions learners for a life-time of learning.  

At the root of learner agency is the concept of self-efficacy as put forward and championed by social cognitive theorist Albert Bandura and his contemporaries. In the 90’s, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick’s seminal work Habits of Mind captured and illuminated a set of dispositions addressing the know how to behave intelligently when engaged with learning. Thus, concepts closely related to learner agency are valued and continue to evolve.

As an investment and contribution to this effort, a team at TIE is working to clarify and build shared understanding around the term learner agency as it relates to learners in the context of schools committed to the implementation of customized learning. The terms, phrases, and descriptors found in the accompanying document echo and complement much of what educators read in education literature related to this topic. However, the developers have attempted to coalesce the wide range of terms into a cohesive definition which brings more clarity to the term learner agency. By emphasizing three overarching characteristics and each of those supported by a few defining characteristics, the developers empower the term learning agency with meaning that educators can get their arms around more readily. The overview of learner agency which appears on the first page of this document is accompanied by a profile for each of the three major characteristics. The intent of the profile is to offer educators and learners a tool for building a shared understanding about the importance and value of learner agency. Also, the profile serves as a lens to facilitate conversations with individual learners about their status and progress with specific characteristics.

The accompanying document is viewed as a work in progress, including the Learner Agency Reflection Tool. As the work continues, the developers will refine the tool and consider applications of the tool to support and enhance the success of learners and educators engaged in a customized learning environment. For TIE, this work reflects a systemic shift in how schools serve and prepare learners. Thus, it is a priority and driver for TIE’s role as an innovative and empowering partner with progressive schools across the region and across the country.