Deviation and self-determination #activelearning

A learning constellation

In a previous post I suggested that the art of teaching to an active learning philosophy is about creating loose structures so that each and every student has the space to bring their own knowledge, experience and imagination to their learning. Designing for learner deviation is about valuing learning as an ecology, therefore; the learner, whether they know it or not, brings value to the learning situation and the teaching challenge is to accommodate and orchestrate the riches that students bring. Students are not inert; each learner represents a wealth of knowledge, experience, motivation, ideas, and answers.

The learner is part of the assemblage of the learning environment; part of the dynamic constellation (Delander, 2016). They will find their own way.

Deviation – finding your own way

The use of ‘deviance’ to describe learning may grab your attention. I have selected it purposefully, not in its rebellious, oppositional or moralistic sense (though that is healthy too), but in its psyschogeographical sense; that is, to deviate or wander, perhaps aimlessly, and certainly without recourse to provided structure in the spirit of the flâneur. It is the most extreme form of self-determination reaching beyond intention, accepting the innate desire to observe and be part of life. It is where wander and wonder collide, and establishes a space to be curious.

Heutagogy and self-determination

In education, deviance is more often known as self-determined learning. Self-determination Theory (SDT) was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and provides a theory of motivation in psychology. It highlights three innate psychological needs of human beings: for competence, for autonomy and for relatedness. (Ackerman, 2021) It is sometimes referred to as heutagogy although, strictly speaking, this means the study of self-determined learning (Hase & Kenyon, 2015). In a heutagogical approach,

“Teachers don’t teach, I have long believed. Learners learn. ‘Teachers’ (the quotes are deliberate) provide a context within which learning is encouraged and enabled.”

Dick, 2015, p. 51

Heutagogy is “where the learner has the autonomy to determine and direct his/her own learning path and process.” (Hase & Kenyon, 2000, p. 86)

Blaschke looks at the web as a context for self-determination.

“the learner’s ability to be self-determined is inherent in the system: the web is non-linear, allowing the learner to decide in a random way what and how she will learn.”

Blaschke, 2013, p. 57

The routes beyond the confines of the classroom clarify and make prescient ideas about wandering as learning. It suggests a connective infinity, and makes digital and spatial fluency aa relevant and important matter for educators.

Creating a space for deviance

That space, for me, is encapsulated in the idea of studio: a place of connectivity and curiosity. A place to wonder/wander. Learning involves encountering problems and conducting inquiries, facing and embracing the challenge of inspiring your peers or ‘publics’ (people who represent an authentic audience) and your teachers. It involves making things: written, visual, time-based media, or events. It involves working in isolation, in collaboration, and through co-operation (‘learning alongside’). It involves negotiating and defining your own terms (and criteria). It involves being aware of (and open to be inspired by) your peers navigating similar territory, albeit in their own way.

“teachers do not play a less significant role; they play a different role and it is one that is at the heart of good teaching.”

Eberle, 2015, p. 149

As I work with academic teachers on developing active learning strategies, that point is so important. The role of the teacher is much more than the lecturer. It requires the knowledge and credibility that we associate with lecturing, but it also requires an artistry for designing learning situations and a commitment to the continuous exploration of knowledge.

The teacher, then is game-maker, guide and agitator. Deviant learning does not threaten formal learning: it recognises the value of curiosity, intrigue, and scratching an itch as part of the act of building one’s knowledge, as well as learning how to develop and use those important deviant tendencies wisely through life.


Ackerman, C. E. (2021, 15-02-2021). Self-Determination Theory of motivation: why intrinsic motivation matters. Blog post, online at:

Blaschke, L. M. (2012) ‘Heutagogy and lifelong learning: a review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, l(13), pp. 56-71.

Delander, M. (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh University Press.

Dick, B. (2015). Crafting learner-centred processes using action research and action learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Eberle, J. H. (2015). Lifelong learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 145-15

Garnett, F. & O’Beirne, R. (2013). Putting heutagogy into learning Eberle, J. H. (2015). Lifelong learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 131-143 .

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2015). Heutagogy fundamentals. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Narayan, V., Herrington, J. & Cochran’s, T. (2019). Design principles for heutagogical learning: Implementing student-determined Learning with mobile and social media tools. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, August 2018.

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 Active Learning, Creativity, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Studio and Studio-based Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s