Learner Agency: Students Driving their Own Learning

In the past year, more students have engaged in self-directed, independent learning than ever. One organization, Griptape, has been perfecting their approach to cultivating Learner Agency through their work with over 12,000 students during Learning Challenges since 2015. 

After completing an application describing their passion project, selected students (teens ages 14-19, most of whom are from urban or rural locales) are given decision-making autonomy, a budget, and an adult champion who engages in check-ins with the student.

Five years in, here are some of the most critical lessons learned to enhance Learner Agency:

  • You need all three ingredients: The combination of decision-making, money, and a Champion are all critical to the success of the program. 
  • Failure can be success: Some of the deepest and most enduring learnings have come from failure and the chance to make meaning of that.
  • Helping can hurt: Parents and educators often think that youth need us to impart knowledge, direct them, give advice. The Champion role is powerful because it explicitly and intentionally bucks this dynamic.
  • Interrogate for access: Commit to providing this experience to young people who don’t have the resources to get it otherwise, eliminating barriers to participation.  
  • Being a great Champion takes practice: Rely on a smaller group of adults with a larger cohort of Challengers, dedicating real time to increasing the effectiveness (and efficiencies) within this role.
  • Sweat the logistics: In pursuit of putting young people in the driver’s seat, you’ll likely run into some tricky operational hurdles. For example, most systems are not set up to be able to just give youth money. Ironing out these details takes time, but matters greatly in creating a seamless and empowering experience.
  • Don’t force it: This experience works with a wide range of youth across contexts and backgrounds. It does not work when they’re forced into it by an adult.

For more information, see Griptape’s Learning Challenge overview at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ugRxPl0Qw9tWI5Z2SSs9pvG6nfxWOFbQ/view