I finished my dissertation research about learner agency in 2017. (Doctoral thesis defense PDF presentation)
Students' Perceptions of Their Learner Agency: A Phenomenographic Inquiry toThe Lived Learning Experiences of High School Seniors
Learner agency is an important concept in current education. This research described the perceptions high school seniors have about their learning experiences. Educational research indicates students’self-regulation being an important factor in academic success, yet many educational practices still rely on teacher-centered instructional models. Supporting learner agency could improve the quality of students’ engagement in their learning process, and help students become ready for the requirements of living in 21st Century. In this phenomenographic inquiry into students’ perceptions of their learner agency nine high school seniors were interviewed about their engagement and learning experiences. The analysis yielded an outcome space of four qualitatively different ways of perceiving learner agency 1. detachment from learning, 2. belongingto the school community, 3. synergy of learning ownership, and 4, unbound ubiquitous learning. The outcome space was organized into a visual conceptualization of the hierarchical relationship between intentionality, agency, and quality of learning. Based on the findings of this research, the recommendations for educational policy and practice include crediting informal learning, embedding choices into learning experiences, and supporting both students’ and teachers’ individual learning process.
TheIntriguing Diversity of Learning Experiences
I never wanted to be a teacher. What led me to study learning and education was taking care of my own children and recognizing their diverse learning preferences. Signing up to study education and psychology in Open University was the first step on a path that eventually took me abroad to teach and study in other countries. My studies at the University of Jyväskylä were an eye-opening experience that led me to understand the subjectivity of learning, and to value the situationality and contextuality of education. It is agreat mystery: while being exposed to the same content and instruction, every individual student has a different take-away we call learning.
Learning is a fundamental phenomenonin our lives, everyone has experienced it. Researching learning is complicated because there is no single variable to pinpoint as a measurement for it to have happened. Even providing a comprehensive definition forlearning is hard because each experience is extremely individual, situational,and contextual. Some things are granted,though. Learning includes a change, an update in knowledge structure (Barron et al., 2015). This change does not happen in a vacuum but is supported with interactions, both socially and physiologically. From the neurological viewpoint, “learning changes the structure of the brain” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking,2000, p. 103), thus being an essential part of human development. Measuring learning outcome solely as information acquired is inaccurate because of the focus being on the end state of activity instead of the change in knowledge or skill. Learning is subjective and requires both acquisition and elaboration (Illeris, 2003).
The centralresearch question and four sub-questions were designed to help understandingand describing of learner agency, as perceived by the high school seniors.
Central question. What are students’ perceptions of their learningexperiences?
Sub-questions. What kind of learninginteractions do students experience in the classroom? How do students choose to engage in theclassroom, and how do they describe the intentionality of their ownlearning? What are students’ perceptionsof life-long learning? Whatinstructional choices do students describe as being impactful for theirself-direction and self-regulation?
The central research question focuses onstudents’ conceptions of learning in order to understand how they perceive learner agency. In order to support active engagement, it is important to know what students think about theirlearning experiences (Säljö, 1979; Boekaerts, 2011). The sub-questions have been chosen to illuminate students’ experiences of “intentionality of learning,forethought, self-reactiveness, and self-reflectiveness” (Bandura,2006, p. 164). These four core properties of agency are crucial to understanding what students’ agency in the classroom looks like. The learningexperience is considered to be constructed from the processes of interaction between the student, the content and the environment followed by acquisition and elaboration of learning (Entwistle, 1997; Illeris, 2003).
Summary of the recommendations for practice and future research. Six recommendations were made based on theresults of this research. First tworecommendations –engage in learner-centered practices and support deeper learning – have implications for teacher training and professional development. These recommendations are aligned with the contemporary research about educational psychology, including motivation and the learning process (APA, 2015). Furthermore, in order to increase learner agency, it is important to find more legitimate ways within educational structure to engage in deeper student-centered learning. The two recommendations for policy changes – acknowledge students’ subjective experiences,personal goals and interests and credit informal learning – suggest decreasing the domination of learning within educational structure. Students’ future success to thrive in the rapidly changing world depends on their unbound learning skills. Education should not overemphasize standardization and compliance, but empower students to learn more. This recommendation also applies to teachers’learning and professional development. The two recommendations for future research – strengthen the synergyof learning ownership and prevent detachment and negative agency – extend this inquiry to students’perceptions of their learning experiences into a larger context of contemporary research in education. The social structure of classroom learning and students’ experience of agency are imbalanced when students choose to be a “classroom sheep”. Much more research is needed to make students’ voices heard about their own learning experiences and engagement
Some sources used in the thesis:
Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on psychological science, 1(2), 164-180
Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2006).How is agency possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. University of Exeter School of Education and Lifelong Learning, Working Paper, 5.
Giddens, A. (1984). The construction of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Lodge, C. (2008)Engaging student voice to improve pedagogy and learning: An exploration ofexamples of innovative pedagogical approaches for school improvement, International Journal of Pedagogies andLearning, (4)5, 4-19, doi: 10.5172/ ijpl.4.5.4
Marton, F., & Pong, W. Y. (2005). On the unit of description in phenomenography. Higher education research & development, 24(4), 335-348.
Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: I—Outcome and process*. British journal of educational psychology, 46(1), 4-11.
Nevalainen,R., & Kimonen, E. (2013). The Teacher as an Implementer of CurriculumChange. In Transforming Teachers’ Work Globally (pp. 111-147).SensePublishers.
Niemi, R.,Kumpulainen, K., Lipponen, L., & Hilppö, J. (2014). Pupils' perspectives onthe lived pedagogy of the classroom. Education 3(13), 1-17. doi:10.1080/03004279.2013.859716
Priestley, M., Biesta,G., & Robinson, S. (2014). Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter?.
Säljö, R. (2012). Schoolingand spaces for learning: Cultural dynamics and student sarticipation andagency. In E. Hjörne, G. van derAalsvoort, & G.de Abreu (Eds.). Learning,social interaction and diversity–exploring identities in school practices (pp.9-14). Rotterdam: SensePublishers
Trigwell,K., Prosser, M. & Ginns, P. (2005). Phenomenographic pedagogy and revised Approaches to teaching inventory. Higher Education Research &Development 24(4), 349-360.