A Dependency-Autonomy model for personal and professional development planning

The challenge of framing employability in relation to personal and professional development planning has been a constant consideration for the team I am leading to support an integrated view of employability in the curriculum. The natural inclination of academics, in thinking through the challenge of communicating employability to their students, is to design learning outcomes within the articulation of constructive alignment. Assessment and its expression through the learning outcomes seem to be the obvious way of rationalising any form of engagement in learning. However, the challenge in thinking about an integrated view of employability is that it concerns a student’s engagement within their core curriculum, their co-curriculum, and their experience of life while at university in general. Expressions of learning outcomes, therefore, are limited in terms of a student’s sense of being can be informed and influenced more holistically.

While reviewing the formal experience through a framework of learning outcomes, methods of assessment and learning activities is undoubtedly part of an approach, we need to find ways of engaging students habitually to reflect on their whole life experience. We need to think what about will drive a student beyond their classroom experience to make sense of the value of their day-to-day experiences in relation to who they are becoming and their personal aspirations. This is essentially the challenge of the Personal Development Tutor (PDT). The PDT facilitates the reflective process for the student in their role as a life coach.

Similarly, if we look at the role of a student portfolio, its purpose is to create a space in which there is an appropriate structure to aid the reflection of a student through their study and life, and how these relate to each other as the student becomes a graduate.

In both cases, therefore, it would be useful to have something of a framework beyond the expressions of learning presented in the form of learning outcomes with which to frame the value of their transition through their experience of learning in and out of the classroom while at university.

The following dependency-autonomy model may provide a simple starting point for a conversation.

Dependency-Autonomy model


On transition into university, a student feels an overwhelming sense of dependency. The new undergraduate student expects direction. Learning at university, however, requires independence and readiness on behalf of the student to accept responsibility for their own learning. In addition to the depth and consequent fluency on their knowledge, the benefits to the student of accepting greater responsibility for their learning are the feelings of being empowered, being self-motivated, and becoming critically astute. The autonomous learner can enjoy their course more fully as their confidence grows and they develop a sense of flow or command over what they come to know. The tutor, from first point of contact, must be prepared to direct but must also clearly communicate to the new student that study at this higher level requires self-direction while it provides the rewards that are intrinsic to a personalised learning experience. That is, the student can enjoy their learning when it has intrinsic meaning due to their self-construction of the knowledge they encounter and their growing understanding of how it can be applied in the world as they see it.

While the learner’s conception of knowledge at this point may be that it is indisputable (and therefore a matter of simple transfer), the active curriculum will demonstrate how knowledge is essentially dynamic and interpretable, ready to be challenged through its evaluation by applying it to a range of scenarios and problems. The meaning of knowledge to the student can be enhanced when these scenarios and problems can be seen to have a real-world authentic dimension; one in which the student’s self-conception and future aspirations can be found.


The active, authentic curriculum creates a space for self-direction in which conceptual knowledge can be situated and evaluated around open-ended scenarios and problems in a social context.

In this way, a student’s experience of the curriculum is both personal and socially situated (Brown, 2006; Lave & Wenger, 1999; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Knowledge is both personalised and socially constructed (Rule, 2006). Learning is an outcome of the challenge and opportunity established by the academic facilitator and negotiated and navigated by the learner and their peers.


A graduate is capable of making decisions through life based upon a practiced evaluation of complex situations. At university, therefore, opportunities must be created for practice. As a learner matures, their sense of self-responsibility, ownership of learning and their confidence should lead them to exploit opportunities through a sense of self-determination. Self-determination, or heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon, 2013), reflects a confidence to safely take risks while exploring ideas and knowledge. The autonomous learner knows that the value of learning is its process rather than its final explication. A student project, for example, is an opportunity to learn by developing knowledge through enquiry and its application through the positing and testing a personal hypothesis. The autonomous learner knows the value of learning is not in its final presentation, but through what is learnt as they navigate and negotiate their enquiry and their continuous testing of and reflection on ideas and conceptual knowledge.


This Dependency-Autonomy model presents a continuum that describes a student’s dynamic metacognitive context (i.e. a changing, personal learning context) as they progress through their undergraduate course. Postgraduate students, typically, exemplify a strong sense of self-determination as they learn to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge.

For the PDT, the model is intended to present a useful way of explaining to the learner how they will be supported at university and why a student must fully appreciate the opportunity to develop their capabilities both through the taught curriculum and life beyond the classroom and its assessed activities.


Brown, J.S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Brown, J.S. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: exploring the edge. Change, September/October, 18-24

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2013). Heutagogy fundamentals. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge

Rule, A. (2006). Editorial: the components of authentic learning. Journal of Authentic Learning, 3 (1), 1-10.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
This entry was posted in Applied Learning, Belonging, Employability, Learner Engagement, Personal & Professional Development Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Dependency-Autonomy model for personal and professional development planning

  1. Pingback: Promoting learner autonomy and the question of fail-safe strategies | Tactile

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