The “Secret Sauce” of Education Transformation: Agency - Digital Promise

The “Secret Sauce” of Education Transformation: Agency

February 20, 2019 | By

Before my decade-or-so in education technology, I was a Fortune 500 executive with the responsibility of leading an organization and developing my employees to their greatest potential. But my passion was creating a workplace where people not only performed to their highest level, but also loved their work. A place that was, as Papert calls it, “hard fun,” rather than an unending grind. 

Students with agency learn more deeply, persist longer in their tasks, and enjoy school more. They are more likely to perform well academically and be better prepared for the requirements of the modern workforce

Thanks to what was at the time new research in the field of self-determination theory, that passion was realized. We had a workplace where people truly enjoyed their work, with essentially no politics, little management, and self-organizing, high-performing teams. As I had children and shifted my career toward education, I wondered why schooling had to be a grind when working didn’t. Was it possible to make school as motivating as the best workplaces?

The answer is, “yes.”

It turns out that this is something that the field of education has known for a long time, even though it is rare for classrooms to take advantage of this knowledge. Education has evolved fantastic approaches to motivating learning experiences, including project-based learning, problem-based learning, making, inquiry, game-based learning, design thinking, and many more that focus on students engaging in meaningful ways with real challenges that support content learning.

What these approaches all have in common is that when they are implemented authentically, they foster student agency. And when student agency is fostered, it improves learning for all teaching approaches, including the often tedious skill-building practices.

Student agency is when students, of their own volition, improve their learning, their learning environment, or themselves. Exploring topics that are adjacent to an assignment; working extra on a project on Saturday because they have ownership, not because they are expecting a reward; or proposing alternate ways they can demonstrate their knowledge are all examples of agency. Students with agency learn more deeply, persist longer in their tasks, and enjoy school more. They are more likely to perform well academically and be better prepared for the requirements of the modern workforce. More than one teacher has declared feeling guilty because now the students are doing all the work. In reality, however, both students and teachers are working harder than ever—it’s just that the work feels like “hard fun,” not a punitive grind.

Student agency has two parts: will and skill—or motivation and metacognition.

Agentic Learning’s micro-credential stack has a micro-credential for each element. The motivation micro-credential recognizes teachers who foster high-quality student motivation, while the metacognition micro-credential recognizes teachers who demonstrate how they teach students to know themselves as learners and how to set, monitor, and reflect on their learning goals.

The end result of fostering agency is students who are active, engaged learners who are more focused on their learning and who find their schoolwork satisfying and meaningful.

Get feedback on your professional learning and start earning micro-credentials today by visiting our website.

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