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5 of the Most Misunderstood Ideas About Learner Agency

Learner agency is a cornerstone of modern education, aiming to empower students to take charge of their learning journeys. This concept goes beyond mere choice, advocating for a holistic approach where learners have a voice in what, how, and why they learn. Despite its significance, learner agency is often misunderstood, leading to ineffective implementation in classrooms. We're going to delve into five common misconceptions about learner agency and offer alternative perspectives to foster a more effective learning environment.

Understanding and promoting learner agency is crucial for developing students who are not only knowledgeable but also capable of thinking critically, solving problems, and continuously adapting to new challenges. When learners are genuinely engaged in their education, they become more motivated and invested in their success. Thus, educators need to embrace and correctly implement learner agency to prepare students for the complexities of the modern world.

1. Agency is purely about choice

While providing choices is a component of learner agency, it extends far beyond that. True agency involves learners in the planning, execution, and assessment of their learning. This means students should have a say in what they learn, how they learn it, and why it matters.

Look at it this way instead: Educators can deepen learner agency by incorporating student input into curriculum design, creating opportunities for learners to set their own goals, and encouraging self-assessment. This approach boosts motivation and enhances critical thinking and decision-making skills. By actively involving students in their educational process, teachers can help them develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.

2. Agency equals independence

Agency is often mistaken for independence, suggesting that learners should work in isolation. In reality, learner agency involves a balance between independence and interdependence, fostering collaboration among students and between students and teachers.

Learner agency is a cornerstone of modern education, aiming to empower students to take charge of their learning journeys.

Look at it this way instead: To nurture agency, teachers should create a classroom environment where students feel safe to take risks and express their ideas. Group projects, peer reviews, and cooperative learning strategies are essential in promoting both individual and collective agency. By working together, students learn to value diverse perspectives and develop the social skills necessary for collaborative problem-solving.

3. Agency is only for older learners

A common misconception is that young learners cannot handle the responsibility associated with agency. However, even young students can exhibit agency when given appropriate support and opportunities.

Look at it this way instead: For younger learners, agency can be cultivated through structured choices and guided decision-making. Teachers can start with simple decisions, such as choosing a reading partner or selecting a task from a set of options, gradually increasing complexity as students become more confident. This gradual approach helps young learners build decision-making skills and a sense of autonomy.

4. Learner agency undermines the teacher’s authority

Some educators fear that emphasizing learner agency might diminish their control and authority in the classroom. In reality, agency complements the teacher's role by shifting from a directive approach to a more facilitative one.

Look at it this way instead: Teachers should view themselves as facilitators of learning rather than mere deliverers of content. By adopting a coaching mindset, teachers can guide students through their learning processes, providing support and feedback while allowing them to take charge of their education. This role transformation helps students become more self-directed and empowered in their learning.

5. Agency is too time-consuming to implement

Implementing learner agency can seem daunting due to the perceived increase in preparation time and the need for ongoing adjustments to teaching practices. However, the benefits of developing self-motivated engaged learners far outweigh the initial investment.

Learner agency involves a balance between independence and interdependence, fostering collaboration among students and between students and teachers.

Look at it this way instead: Start small by integrating elements of choice and voice into existing lesson plans rather than overhauling entire curricula. As both teachers and students become more comfortable with the dynamics of agency, these practices can be expanded and deepened, leading to a more engaging and responsive learning environment.

Why Agency is Crucial for Learning Today and in the Future

Why is fostering agency a vital commitment for today’s learning environments and beyond? Learner agency is not just beneficial but essential in preparing students for a rapidly changing, complex world. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Preparation for a Changing Work Environment: The modern workforce requires individuals who are proactive, can manage their own learning, and adapt to new situations. Promoting agency prepares students to be lifelong learners who continuously acquire and apply new skills.
  2. Enhancing Engagement and Motivation: Students with agency are more engaged and motivated. They feel a sense of ownership over their learning, leading to deeper learning experiences and improved academic outcomes.
  3. Developing Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills: Agency encourages students to think critically and solve problems independently. These skills are invaluable for tackling personal and professional challenges in the future.
  4. Supporting Personalized Learning: As education shifts towards more personalized learning models, agency allows students to take control of their learning paths, tailoring their education to their interests and needs.
  5. Encouraging Social and Emotional Growth: Agency supports the development of social and emotional skills, including resilience, self-regulation, and collaboration, crucial for personal and professional success.


Focusing on learner agency is essential for developing lifelong learners equipped to navigate their educational journeys and beyond. By rethinking and clarifying common misconceptions, educators can more effectively integrate learner agency into their teaching practices, enhancing educational outcomes and student satisfaction. Embracing learner agency not only prepares students for future challenges but also fosters a more dynamic, engaging, and responsive learning environment.