Principle #7 – Agency

Principle #7 – Agency. Learners are not passive recipients of learning, but active agents with the ability to choose how they will apply their attention and effort, and to choose what learning activities they will engage in. Others may exercise their agency to promote or inhibit the agency of the learner, and may play a role in facilitating or impeding successful learning. As shown in Table 12, the principles-of-learning framework distinguishes between four agent roles: (a) learner, (b) peer, (c) mentor, and (d) administrator. The learner is assumed to be an active agent, able to determine his or her own learning targets, practice models, contexts of practice, and reasons for engagement. A learner is also able to choose whether or not to engage with learning opportunities that are determined by others, and to decide what level of effort to give. The roles of peer, mentor and administrator are defined with regard to their impact on the learner. The terms mentor and peer are used here in a broad sense, defined by their function in this relationship, as opposed to any concomitant connotation of occupational or enrollment status in a formal institution of education.

When a person is co-experiencing learning with the learner and working toward the same or very similar learning goals, they are acting in the role of peer. Peers can be a major determinant of learner engagement by providing motivation in the form of pleasant affiliation and positive validation or inhibition in the form of unpleasant affiliation and negative validation. Peers may also provide examples of emerging or successful models of target performance, and function as observational models to facilitate vicarious learning. Interactive models of practice might also involve peer participation. In some cases, peers will function as human participants in the learning context, without any direct interaction with the learner.

 

 

Table 12

Four Roles of Agency in the Principles-of-Learning Framework

Learner   Peer   Mentor   Administrator
 

Determine own learning targets, practice models, contexts, and reasons for engagement

 

Choose whether or not to engage with learning opportunities determined by others, and level of effort to give

 

   

Provide a primary source of motivation or inhibition by way of pleasant or unpleasant affiliation and positive or negative validation

 

Function as participants in practice models

 

   

Determine learning targets, practice models, motivation, and context with regard to current capacity and individual nature of the learner

 

Provide proximal feedback and guidance

 

 

   

Determine learning targets, practice models, motivation, and context without regard to current capacity and individual nature of the learner

 

Provide distal feedback without guidance

 

When a person determines learning targets, models of practice, motivators of engagement, and context of practice with regard to the current capacity and individual nature of the learner; and when they provide proximal feedback, assistance, and guidance directly to the learner; they are acting in the role of mentor. In contrast, a person that determines learning targets, models of practice, motivators of engagement, and context of practice without regard to the current capacity and individual nature of the learner; and provides only distal feedback (e.g., grades, certificates of completion or graduation); is acting in the role of administrator. Though agents in both roles set the parameters of the overall learning experience, mentors do so with attendance to the specific needs of the individual learner, while administrators do not. The completed principles-of-learning framework is shown in Figure 9.

 

Figure 9. The completed principles-of-learning framework

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