I learned a new word today. And it is an ugly word. At least that’s what David Price calls it. Price, who introduced the word in his book, Open: How We’ll Work, Live, and Learn in the Future, calls it one of the “three ugliest words in the English language”.
But I—I thought it beautiful. I thought it powerful. I thought it captured in one swoop an idea I’ve been pondering for years.
The word is heutagogy.
My spell checker doesn’t even recognize it as a word and the average person like me wouldn’t begin to guess the meaning just by looking at it, but I think it is jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
I’ll let Price explain it, as he does so beautifully.
“There must be some unwritten academic maxim somewhere that if you want to dissuade people from attempting to understand how learning works, you give them the worst names you can think of. I will attempt to explain this in simple language, but let’s start with a technical announcement:
Though it was happening anyway, ‘open’ has accelerated the shift from pedagogy, to andragogy, to heutagogy.
There, aren’t you glad I told you that? Notwithstanding the fact that I managed to combine the three ugliest words in the English language in a single sentence, I like to think there’s quite a profound thought in there. The word pedagogy derives from Greek and, literally translated, means ‘to lead the child’; andragogy is translated as ‘to lead the man (adult); heutagogy means ‘to lead to find’. I know that’s not much clearer. But, if we look at commonly-used interpretations, it gets better.
In pedagogy, the learner is led to a conclusion determined by the teacher, informed by the teacher’s knowledge and beliefs—it could be termed ‘instructional learning’. In andragogy, though the destination may be decided by the tutor, the route involves greater learner involvement, acknowledging the importance of relevance, motivation, and problem solving. Although andragogy is a term open to many interpretations, let’s use it here to denote ‘self-directed learning’. In heutagogy, there is not necessarily a defined destination, nor a prescribed route—it is self-determined learning.”
Price writes about the shift from pedagogy to andragogy to heutagogy as if there was a hierarchy with one level being better than the next, but I see it a little differently. I see these three ways of looking at my role as a teacher as three tools in my tool belt. Three tools that I can master and then choose which one to use depending on the needs of the learner.
The schools and teachers of today need access to all of these types of ways of thinking about teaching and learning. We have invested heavily in training ourselves in pedagogy. When that is the only tool we use, however, learners suffer. Learners who are never given the freedom to choose what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, or how fast they must go when learning will begin to invent unhelpful stories about learning and their own capacities as learners.
I hear it all the time:
“Math is stupid.”
“I hate reading.”
“Why do I have to learn this? I’ll never use it”
“I can’t do this. It’s too hard.”
“This is boring.”
Some people might say that learners who say these things just have an attitude problem. If they’d just change their mindset, they might find they liked reading or math. But I say that learners develop these unhelpful stories when the learning environments we create for them do not match what their brains need. I have seen these stories change as the learning environment changes and we allow learners to start where they are-without judgement-and progress at their own pace.
Yet, given too much ‘self-determined’ learning or even ‘self-directed’ learning when we’re at the low end of the learning curve doesn’t work well either. How many of us have shied away from learning because we didn’t have someone to guide us through the process? We didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know what we needed to learn. I have put off for years (or abandoned altogether) learning about things—things I knew I could be passionately interested in if I could just develop a little skill—because I didn’t know how to teach myself.
Singing, Zumba, ballet, piano, videography—all abandoned almost as soon as I started because I didn’t have enough skill or enough of a growth mindset to persist through the tough beginning stages of learning.
Sometimes we need a little pedagogy.
But, often, we need more than that. We need pedagogy, and andragogy, and heutagogy. We need all three beautiful tools in our tool belts.