The industrial-age model of instruction (note the emphasis was not on learning) assumes a curriculum with set outcomes, written by a subject-matter expert or by an instructional designer, delivered by a teacher or teacher-surrogate (such as asynchronous eLearning), with criterion testing to confirm attainment of the outcomes, and a defined physical or virtual space for delivery. This set of assumptions gave us the ISD (instructional systems design) approach to education and training. We call education and training “learning and development” now, but it's still all about instruction.

That model is working less and less well in the twenty-first century as traditional ways of working evolve and as technology facilitates access to information and access to other people. Because of their familiarity with “Web 2.0” and changes in primary and secondary education, the next generation of workers will probably assume and expect an approach to learning that supports self-determined processes and outcomes. It may be true that expert- and instructor-driven instruction (lecture, curricula, most eLearning) will always have a role to play in the development of skills and knowledge, but it is being complemented, even pushed off of center stage, by the appeal of new media and the affordances of new technologies that support more effective learning.

In this article, I present two closely-related concepts that offer a path to effective learning as we leave the industrial age further and further behind.

Transforming learning: Heutagogy

The first of the concepts that is transforming learning has an alien-sounding name: heutagogy. This is a term that originated in the 1990s with Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon at Southern Cross University in Australia. (See the References at the end of this article.) The term is new, but it describes a very old human learning strategy. Hase and Kenyon define it as “the study of self-determined learning” or “the strategy of self-determined learning.” Most significantly, according to Hase and Kenyon, “Heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces.”

Heutagogy is a kind of complement to two earlier concepts, pedagogy (a strategy for teaching children) and andragogy (a strategy for teaching adults). The key difference is that heutagogy is self-determined strategy—an instructor, teacher, or other arbiter is not necessarily involved, unless the individual chooses to involve one at some point. It is important to think of it as self-determined learning, not “informal learning” as contrasted to “formal learning.” It is also important to reflect on the fact that everyone with access to the Internet has, to one extent or another, already adopted heutagogy as a key part of their personal learning strategy. Before the Internet, for that matter, anyone with access to a library, a newspaper, a correspondence school catalog, or a social network did the same thing. Further back, Ben Franklin and many other individuals found their own paths to self-determined learning. It's just the word itself that is new.

Many who read this article will be employed as instructional designers or training managers in some kind of organizational context. Heutagogy is clearly a personal strategy of individuals. If yours is an organizational context, how can you support heutagogy in a way that both satisfies business requirements and at the same time allows for self-determined learning?

Transforming learning: Personalization

The second concept, directly answering that question, is personalization. George Couros, an education blogger who is division principal for Parkland School Division in Canada, points out that people mean different things by “personalized.” Not only that, people get different concepts of individualized learning and of “personalized” mixed up. You can read about this in his blog entry, “Individualized and Personalized Learning” (see the References).

Couros thinks of individualized learning as “...having students go through different paths to get to the same end point. How you get there is different, but the destination is the same.” He looks at personalized learning as “...having students go through their own paths to whatever endpoint they desire. How you take the path and where you end up is totally dependent upon the strengths and interests of the learner.” In his blog entry, he provides a couple of examples. He based this distinction on comments by Dr. Yong Zhao, presidential chair and director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon.

Dr. Zhao makes a helpful differentiation between two types of personalization. Most educators, he says, think of personalization as a matter of personalizing the learning process. The destination (objective, competency, etc.) is set by the organization or institution, but the learner selects his or her individual path to it, using resources and guidance provided by the instructor or other support system. Zhao claims that this can actually improve learning. The other form of personalization goes beyond predefined curricula by allowing the learner to determine the outcome based on personal strengths and passions, using a path (or paths) of the learner's choosing. Dr. Zhao believes that this approach may better prepare the learner for the future, and also addresses the question of “learning how to learn.” In his blog entry of July 20, 2015, he provides several examples of how these two forms of personalization can be and have been implemented. (See the References.)

Putting the ideas to work

The examples provided by Hase and Kenyon, Couros, and Zhao are taken from education, but they should spark some ideas as to implementation in other settings. You will also find the 2012 article by Lisa Marie Blaschke, “Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning” (see the References) helpful in providing additional background on the concept and examples.


Blaschke, Lisa Marie. “Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning.” The International Review of Research in Open & Distributed Learning. January 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2016 from

Couros, George. “Individualized and Personalized Learning.” 18 February 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2016 from

Kenyon, Chris and Stewart Hase. “Moving from Andragogy to Heutagogy in Vocational Education.” Research to Reality: Putting VET Research to Work. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED456279. 2001. Retrieved 1 March 2016 from

Zhao, Yong. “Outcome vs. Process: Different Incarnations of Personalization.”
20 July 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2016 from