What is agentic learning and why should you be encouraging it?

A young girl sitting at a desk and a piece of paper. She’s holding a pen and looking happy.

Published: July 25th, 2022

“Agentic”, meaning “having agency”, refers to having the power to act. In the context of the classroom, agentic learning is a type of learning that encourages active engagement in the learning process. This means that learners are empowered to take control of their learning and proactively seek new knowledge and skills.

Agentic theory

Bandura’s Theory of Human Agency suggests that humans are proactive agents in their socialisation and learning. This means that we have the power to influence our own behaviour and the events that happen to us. We are not passive victims of our circumstances; instead, we actively shape our lives through our choices and actions.

According to this theory, there are four core features of human agency:

Intentionality: We act with a purpose and have goals we want to achieve.

Self-regulation: We are aware of our thoughts and feelings and can regulate our behaviour accordingly.

Self-efficacy: We believe we can influence the events that happen to us.

Forethought: We think about the future and plan our actions.

Agentic theory in the context of learning

Agentic theory, when applied to learning, suggests that learners can actively shape their learning through their actions.

For example:

Intentionality: Learners have goals that they want to achieve. They are motivated to learn new things and improve their skills.

A student with high intentionality might set a goal to learn how to code and then actively seek out resources and opportunities to achieve that goal.

A student with low intentionality, on the other hand, might passively wait for a teacher to assign a coding project.

Self-regulation: Learners are aware of their own thoughts and feelings and can regulate their behaviour accordingly, meaning they can direct their efforts towards specific goals. 

Self-regulating students know when they need to focus on their studies, can set short and long-term goals, check progress towards those goals, manage their time, and develop positive learning strategies.

Students with low self-regulating abilities are at the mercy of their impulses and are easily distracted. They may struggle to set goals, track their progress, or manage their time effectively.

Self-efficacy: Learners have confidence in their abilities and believe they can influence the events that happen to them. They know they can control their learning and achieve their goals if they work hard enough.

Students with low self-efficacy may feel threatened, anxious, angry or frustrated when they’re assigned complex problems or activities they don’t think they can accomplish.

Students with high self-efficacy do not feel threatened by challenging problems. They know they can work through them with effort, drawing on their self-confidence.

Forethought: Learners think about the future and plan their actions. They set goals for themselves, and they make plans for how to achieve those goals. They know that they need to put in the work now to reap the rewards later.

A student with high forethought might plan out their studies for the week, setting aside time each day to work on specific topics.

A student with low forethought, on the other hand, might wait until the night before an exam to start studying.

The benefits of agentic behaviour

It encourages learners to take ownership of their own development

Agentic learning encourages learners to set goals and plan how to achieve those goals. Student ownership and responsibility have been shown to result in better learning outcomes.

It builds motivation

Agentic learning helps learners stay motivated because they know they are in control. Rather than encouraging students to study by setting an exam or test, giving students autonomy, responsibility and ownership of their learning helps them build intrinsic motivation to learn. 

It helps learners develop a growth mindset

Agentic learning helps learners develop a growth mindset – the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and practice. 

Learners with a growth mindset are less likely to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. They are more likely to persevere when faced with challenges because they have confidence in their ability to grow and learn, and they know that making mistakes is a natural part of learning. 

It leads to a deeper understanding

Because agentic learners are actively engaged in the learning process, they’re more likely to achieve a deeper understanding of the material, retain information, and be able to apply it in real-world situations. 

For example, an agentic learner will think critically about a problem and what approach they will take to solve it. Doing so makes them more likely to develop a thorough understanding of the problem and its potential solutions.

It sets learners up for life

Encouraging agentic learning in students sets them up for life-long learning. Learners are more likely to continue learning throughout their lives when they are used to taking control of their learning. They will be more likely to seek new opportunities and continue growing and developing as individuals.

Encouraging agentic engagement in students

There are several ways that you can encourage agentic learning in your students

1. Encourage students to set their own goals

One of the best ways to encourage agentic learning is to encourage students to set their own goals. Allowing students to choose their own goals gives them a sense of ownership over their learning and helps them stay motivated.

For example, you could ask students to choose one thing they would like to learn about in the next unit. Then, you could help them to create a plan for how they will learn about that topic.

2. Provide opportunities for students to take charge

Another way to encourage agentic learning is to provide opportunities for students to take charge of their learning. Similar to the goal-setting exercise, this might involve giving students choices about what they want to learn or allowing them to create their own projects. 

While you might need to stick to a pre-set curriculum, you can still ask students what aspect of a topic they’d like to focus on. For example, if you’re learning about The Australian Gold Rush, ask your students to choose a topic that most interests them – it could be the Eureka Stockade, the working and living conditions for miners, or the impact that The Gold Rush had on indigenous communities. Then have each student research their chosen topic, design a presentation, and present it back to the class. 

In addition to giving students the power to choose what they learn, it’s also important to give them the power to choose how they learn – whether through online research, asking questions, group discussions and brainstorming, or by reading their textbooks. This allows students to think critically about what they’re working on and how they should approach a problem. 

Letting students take charge gives them the agency to choose what they wish to learn and how they wish to learn it. This approach also creates a level of responsibility and personal investment in the project.

3. Use collaborative learning

While agency relates to the capacity of individuals, it can still be developed through collaboration and teamwork. Collaborative learning and collaborative problem-solving allow students to build self-confidence, a critical building block of agency. EdTech can open up numerous avenues for encouraging greater collaboration in your classrooms and building students’ confidence.

During collaborative problem-solving, students build confidence in expressing their ideas and thoughts to a group. When students are working together, they are also more likely to be engaged in the learning process. 

4. Encourage exploration and risk-taking

Being supportive of your students is crucial as they take control of their learning. Offer encouragement and praise when they take the initiative, think outside the box, or try new things. When students feel safe to experiment, they are more likely to be creative and take ownership of their learning. 

Taking academic risks in a safe environment can also improve self-confidence because it helps students develop confidence in their decisions and choices. And even if ultimately the student fails in their endeavour, risk-taking can encourage resilience and perseverance, encouraging students to learn from their failure. 

5. Give feedback that’s focused on effort

To encourage student agency and the development of a growth mindset, it’s important to give feedback focused on effort rather than on ability or outcome. This helps students to understand that they can improve their skills with practice. 

For example, rather than praising a student for an accomplishment, praise them for the effort they put into attempting the task. Encourage students to work through problems, and if they don’t get it straight away, encourage them to keep trying. Improving their understanding is more important than getting the correct answer straight away.

ClassFlow’s extensive toolkit for collaboration can make it easy to provide ongoing feedback to pupils, encouraging effort and persistence.

6.Celebrate mistakes

Similarly, it’s important to normalise any struggle and celebrate mistakes as a learning opportunity. This helps students to understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. When mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning, students are more likely to take risks, experiment and not give up when things get challenging.

7. Encourage students to ask questions

A crucial part of encouraging agentic learning is encouraging students to ask questions. When students feel comfortable asking questions, they are more likely to take the initiative in their education and seek answers for themselves.

One way to encourage students to ask questions is to create a safe and supportive environment in which they feel comfortable doing so. This might mean having regular class discussions or setting up a question and answer session at the end of each lesson. Promethean’s Whiteboard app can be used to keep track of students’ points and effectively facilitate class discussions. You could also encourage students to ask questions during one-on-one meetings or set up a system where students can submit questions anonymously.

Ready to build a classroom of agile learners?

Building agency in your students will empower them to take control, setting them up for a lifetime of independent, self-directed learning. 

One of the most important things educators can do to encourage agentic learning is to give students the tools they need to design and drive their own learning. 

Give your students access to the internet, search engines, online research tools and other software, and teach them how to use online resources to support their learning. Introducing interactive displays and teaching software into the classroom is the first step to empowering your students to take control of their education.

If you’re interested in learning more about how technology can help you build a classroom of agile learners, get in touch for a demo of the Promethean’s ActivPanel Interactive Display. 

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