In order to enhance learner autonomy and to provide a superordinate and stretching goal at the end of a Masters Programme in Human Resource Development (HRD), I presented students with the challenge of planning, advertising, presenting, assessing and evaluating a conference on the Future Directions of HRD.
This session is designed to provide lecturers with a forum to discuss the joys, issues and problems involved in enhancing and managing learner autonomy. Issues will be linked to John Heron's work (1989) on the three modes of using and/or sharing power in groups: hierarchical, co-operative and autonomous.
|The full monty||The phrase "the full monty" anecdotally originated in the second world war. Field Marshall Montgomery, a famous leader in the British Army reputedly insisted on a full English breakfast ie fried eggs, bacon and bread even in his campaigns in the desert. This became a joke amongst his troops and a phrase developed: "the full monty" meaning "going the whole way".|
|Learner autonomy||Learner autonomy refers to students having a direct say in and control of one or more of the following: the content, process, assessment and evaluation of their learning.|
Why therefore has there been a movement away from teacher centred learning to student centred learning or autonomy? Candy (1991) argues that there has been interest in self directed learning through the ages, and that this interest increased from the 1960s and has accelerated in more recent years. Heron (1993) believes that there are many arguments for autonomy in learning. Firstly, he argues that learning by its very nature is autonomous, that is, nobody can make you learn and indeed no one can memorise facts, understand ideas or practice skills for you. Heron maintains that interest and commitment are self generated and any attempts to impose or negate them interferes with learning. Secondly, he believes that compliance with a programme completely directed by others leads to conforming behaviour in order to survive "the system".
Thirdly, Heron cites the doctrine of natural rights formulated by Locke in the 17th century now described as "human rights" as being the right of children, workers, research subjects and also students in higher education to participate in decisions that relate to them. Fourthly, Heron believes that learning should involve the whole person "a being that is physical, perceptual, affective, cognitive (intellectual, imaginative, intuitive), conative (exercising the will), social political, psychic and spiritual" (Heron 1993:15). This he believes is achieved best through learner autonomy.
Figure 1: Facilitative interventions (Heron 1977:3)
In the 1970s Heron saw these dimensions as "types of facilitator intervention". I contacted John in June 1997 and asked him how, when and why he made the conceptual leap and added the "three power or decision making modes" to his model (see Figure 2). He replied:
I think it was at a radical education workshop which I ran at the University of Surrey sometime in the middle eighties. A whole day or more of the programme was devoted to an autonomy lab, in which I was a participant along with everyone else. One of the sheets I posted up at the start of the lab was about my needs to clarify facilitation issues. Several other people signed up and we had a long session sharing views and perspectives. I had for some time been aware that the bipolar model, which I had used in many training workshops and in self and peer assessment, was effective as far as it went, but that the X - non X scheme missed out too much. The broad outlines of the new scheme clarified in my mind as I was taking my turn in the autonomy lab subgroup. (Email 29/06/97)Hence, the theoretical framework for the 18 possible facilitator dimensions (Figure 1 below) was born ironically as a result of an autonomy lab (Heron 1989:61, Owen 1992). Heron added the power modes:
By openly ensuring that participants know how power is being used, Heron was encouraging all facilitators to make open, ethical political statements to groups in how power could/would be used in the classroom.
There is a big difference I believe between a facilitator who works with students in autonomous mode and lazy lecturers. Consider a story I heard of a lecturer who in the first class delegated to each student a chapter of the text book and asked each individual to lead the class discussion each week. This lecturer also had a mark for "student participation" and sat at the back of a class making a mark beside each student's name as he/she said something!
Figure 2: Heron's Model of Facilitation Styles: dimensions and modes (1989:23)
For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the six dimensions in the autonomy mode. However, note before using any mode, it is necessary "to decide who decides" the various elements of the course ie you alone or you with students? Also, you need to think about what will happen if students decide to do something which you perceive is too risky physically and/or emotionally. It is important, I believe, to contract regarding the roles and responsibilities of students and facilitator to ensure that the learning processes and use of power are open and understood from the start. Below are examples of autonomous dimensions:
|Planning dimension||the facilitator delegates course design to the students|
|Meaning dimension||the facilitator delegates interpretation of ideas, feedback and reflection to the group incorporating assessment and evaluation|
|Confronting dimension||the facilitator delegates the role of defensive and avoidance behaviour to the group ie self and peer confrontation|
|Feeling dimension||the facilitator delegates the handling of feelings to the group members|
|Structuring dimension||the facilitator delegates the structuring of learning experiences, class exercises and supervises the running of them|
|Valuing dimension||the facilitator delegates the affirmation of self worth to the group|
Figure 3: Examples of autonomous dimensions
Moving to increased learner autonomy requires:
|Lecturer in hierarchal mode|
|Facilitator in autonomous mode|
|Expert||Mentor, tutor, co-learner|
|Lecturer focus||Student focus, peer learning|
|Structure||Ambiguity, fluidity, uncertainty|
|Questioning to test understanding||Teaching students how to question|
Figure 4: Changes in behaviour from lecturer to facilitator
The change to autonomous mode results in higher degrees of risk and ambiguity so I always keep a journal of hunches, questions, ideas about the resulting complex group dynamics. This helps me to "make sense" of what is happening. It has also taught me that group dynamics can swing quickly both within a meeting and between weekly meetings. It taught me to expect the unexpected.
Some students "seize the day" and relish the opportunity to design their own assignments and assessment schemes. Some rush off and work totally alone, others seek guidance and support from the lecturer. I think the most difficult part is when some students have an unrealistically high expectation of their work and have not sought lecturer guidance. They then react negatively to constructive feedback.
Some lecturers comment on the resistance to learner autonomy by students from Confucian backgrounds in South East Asia. I believe it is important not to generalise about any group of students. I was particularly impressed during my two years in Hong Kong by Chinese students who designed their one year Liberal Studies programme in the first year of their degree. Coming straight from school and participating in a two day Search Conference in a camp situation, they energetically threw themselves into their group projects culminating in a student organised visit to China (Hogan 1982).
If lecturers are involving students in co-operative and autonomous course planning then they need I believe to use a "robust" process like the "Search Conference" (Emery 1976, Emery and Purser 1996, Hogan 1994).
|Facilitator:||Good evening and welcome to this unit in Strategic Human Resource Development. In order to maximise your learning this semester you will be involved in deciding on a super ordinate goal for the whole group and designing strategies to achieve that goal ie you will be working in autonomous and co-operative modes to plan this unit to meet your learning needs. This unit is based on a philosophy of learner autonomy which involves...|
|Student:||Excuse me, I just paid $ XXX for this unit and you are asking me to do all this work! In my last unit the lecturer put everything on the web and gave us handouts of all her power point lectures...|
|Facilitator||What opener have you prepared?|
|Facilitator||You've missed a couple of weeks|
|Student||Yes, but everything is OK, I know what I'm doing, trust me (ie seizing learner autonomy).|
|Lecturer||OK (with some misgivings)|
The student launches into a totally inappropriate opener (in autonomous mode). As he had missed two weeks the opener is not appropriate to the content/subject focus of the class that week. The facilitator and students had renegotiated the content the previous week. The students look puzzled. You feel frustrated. What would you do?
Emery, M and Purser, R. E. (1996). The Search Conference: A powerful method for planning organisational change and community action. Jossey-Bass Inc. San Francisco.
Emery, M. (1976). Searching : for new directions -in new ways -for new times. Occasional Papers in Continuing Education, No 12. The Australian National University, Canberra.
Heron, J. (1997). June 26, Facilitation model. E-mail to Christine Hogan. [On line]. Available E-mail HoganC@cbs.curtin.edu.au
Heron, J. (1993). Group Facilitation: Theories and models for practice. Kogan Page Ltd. London.
Heron, J. (1989). The Facilitator's Handbook. Kogan Page, London. UK.
Heron, J. (1975). Six category intervention analysis. Human Potential Research Project. University of Surrey. UK.
Hogan C. F. (1997). The Study Buddy System: You are not studying alone. Training and Management Development Methods, 11(3).
Hogan, C. F. (1994). The Search Conference Process. School of Management, Curtin Unviersity. Perth, Western Australia.
Hogan, C. F. (1982). Education ... What for? Report on a Search Conference. Hong Kong Polytechnic. Hong Kong.
Lewin, K. (1951). Field Theory in Social Science. Harper and Rowe. New York.
Owen, H. (1992). Open Space Technology: A User's Guide. Abbott Publishing, Maryland. USA.
|Please cite as: Hogan, Christine (1998). The Full Monty: What are the issues involved when we enhance learner autonomy? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 133-138. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/hogan-ch.html|