What “Student Agency” is Not

Bill Gates:

“And the idea of personalized learning is you always know yourself where you are on a topic, that you have the sense of what the tasks are, how much there’s left to do to achieve certain levels. So there is more personal agency.”

Lots of us in the eduspace talk a lot about expanding “student agency” over learning. Yet, as with almost every other term or phrase that gets bandied about in change or, god forbid, “reform” conversations, agency seems to have many interpretations. The relevant dictionary definition, it seems to me, is: “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” In a learning context, that suggests to me having the power to act, to choose the what, when, where, who, how and why of our learning. Much like anyone reading this has the agency to choose this post or another, has the power to create their own learning path.

That’s obviously not what Bill Gates is talking about, however. (Shocking, I know.)

“Personal agency” is not having a “topic” given to you to learn.

“Personal agency” is not having an option of “how” to move through the curriculum.

“Personal agency” is not always knowing where you are on a “topic.”

“Personal agency” is not learning something that is limited by “how much there is left” to learn.

“Personal agency” is not what the people making the “products” to support it want it to be.

Real, sticky learning only happens when we have to power to choose, and we facilitate that in schools by creating the conditions and the space for that to happen at a student (and a teacher) level. It’s not something you buy off the shelf.

(Image credit: Laith Abuabdu)


Originally published at willrichardson.com on April 27, 2016.

Follow me at @willrich45 on Twitter

Want to explore more of these ideas around learning and education? Check out my latest TEDx Talk “The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools,” my blog at WillRichardson.com, or checkout my Amazon author page.

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