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Why Learner Agency Belongs in Every Modern Classroom


What we know as he traditional model of education, characterized by teacher-centred instruction and passive student roles, is increasingly being replaced by a more dynamic and learner-centric approach. One of the key components of this shift is the concept of learner agency.

Agency has gained prominence in recent years as educators recognize its profound impact on student engagement, motivation, and overall learning outcomes. This blog post will delve into the importance of learner agency in the modern classroom, exploring its definition, benefits, potential strategies for implementation, and its capacity to transform education for the better.

Defining Learner Agency

In the book Agents to Agency, I describe the concept of learner agency in this way:

“Agency is the antithesis of oppression. Like literacy, agency is not a pedagogy or a subject; it is an outcome of an educational system that places autonomy, individual development, self-determination, and self-direction at its foundation.” (Crockett, 2022).

Student agency is characterized by, among other things, learners making meaningful and autonomous choices and decisions about their learning journey. It involves granting learners a degree of independence and responsibility over their education, allowing them to take ownership of their learning experiences. In essence, learner agency empowers learners to become active participants rather than passive recipients of knowledge.

What Are The Benefits of Prioritizing Learner Agency?

The question at the forefront of making the shift in instruction to incorporating learner agency concerns how it can ultimately benefit our learners. Fortunately, there is no shortage of advantages to achieving an increasing capacity for agency and autonomy over learning, and we’ll briefly examine a few of them below.

  • Increased Motivation and Engagement: When students have a say in what and how they learn, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in the educational process (Skinner & Belmont, 1993). The intrinsic motivation that arises from having a sense of control over their learning fosters a deeper commitment to their studies. This heightened engagement can lead to better retention of information and a greater willingness to persevere through challenges.
  • Personalized Learning: Every learner is unique, with varying interests, strengths, and learning styles. Learner agency enables educators to tailor instruction to individual needs. Learners can choose topics of interest, learning resources, and even the pace of their learning, resulting in a more personalized and effective educational experience.
  • Developing Critical Skills: Empowering learners with agency nurtures essential life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making (Zimmerman, 2015). These skills are not only valuable in the classroom but also in real-world scenarios, preparing students for future success.
  • Ownership of Learning: When learners are actively involved in setting goals and determining their learning pathways, they develop a sense of ownership over their education. This ownership instils a sense of responsibility and accountability for their learning outcomes.
  • Improved Collaboration and Communication: Learner agency encourages collaboration among peers, as students often work together to achieve their learning objectives. This collaboration fosters effective communication skills, teamwork, and a sense of community within the classroom (Crockett, et al., 2011).
  • Lifelong Learning: By experiencing the benefits of agency, learners develop a growth mindset and a love for learning. They become self-directed learners who are better equipped to adapt to new challenges and continue learning throughout their lives.

10 Simple Strategies for Implementing Learner Agency

Implementing learner agency in the classroom requires careful planning and a commitment to creating an environment that fosters autonomy and responsibility. Here are ten strategies for educators to consider using.

1. Choice in Learning Topics

Agency and autonomy are all about choice, so offer students a range of intriguing topics or themes to choose from when working on assignments or projects. The caveat here, of course, is that what we offer must be relevant to them. This strategy allows learners to explore subjects that genuinely interest them and increases their motivation to learn.

2. Self-Paced Learning

Learners must have as many opportunities as possible to learn at their own pace. This can be achieved through approaches like differentiated instruction, where learners are given options for completing assignments or assessments over a flexible timeframe.

3. Learner Goal-Setting

One of the most effective ways to develop responsibility and agency over learning is to engage learners in the practice of setting their own goals (Crockett, 2022). This can be done in collaboration with the teacher, with goals aligned to curriculum standards. Regularly revisit these goals and adjust them as needed to ensure progress.

4. Project-Based Learning

Incorporate project-based learning (PBL) into the curriculum. PBL allows learners to work on projects to solve real-world problems, providing them with a sense of purpose and the opportunity to make decisions about project design, research methods, presentation formats, and more.

5. Flipped Classroom

Utilize the flipped classroom model, where learners are provided with learning materials and resources to review outside of class, freeing up in-class time for discussions, collaborative activities, and problem-solving.

6. Student-Led Conferences

The goal of this strategy is to let learners facilitate learning discussions with their educators and parents, which requires them to regularly evaluate and reflect on their work (Benson & Barnett, 2005). It's also an effective way to assess your learners' abilities while simultaneously fostering agency.

So actively involve students in parent-teacher conferences by allowing them to share and discuss their achievements, goals, and areas of improvement. This practice has been proven to significantly increase and enhance self-reflection, accountability, oral communication skills, self-confidence, and parent participation (Hackmann, 1995).

7. Self Assessment

It may surprise you when you experiment with this strategy just how meticulous and insightful learners can be about how their own work can be improved. Through self-assessment, a student learns to independently construct and connect new knowledge, understanding, and skills with what they already know, resulting in meaningful learning, increased motivation and confidence, and of course, the development of learner agency (McMillan & Hearn, 2008).

8. Reflective Journals

Have students keep reflective journals to record their thoughts, challenges, and progress throughout the learning process. This promotes self-awareness and metacognition.

9. Student Councils or Advisory Boards

Establish student councils or advisory boards that meet regularly to discuss classroom policies, curriculum choices, and school-related decisions. This provides students with a voice in shaping their educational environment.

10. Professional Development for Teachers

Provide professional development opportunities for teachers to learn about and implement student agency practices effectively. This may involve workshops, mentoring, or collaboration with experienced educators.

Research Supporting Learner Agency

The importance of student agency is not merely anecdotal; it is supported by a growing body of research. A few notable studies and findings include:

  • A study by J. Hattie (2009) revealed that student self-reporting grades had one of the highest effect sizes on student achievement. When students assess and take ownership of their learning, it positively impacts their performance.
  • Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory (2008) emphasizes the significance of autonomy in motivation. According to this theory, individuals are more motivated when they feel a sense of autonomy and control over their actions, a principle that aligns closely with student agency.
  • Research by Dweck and Leggett (1988) highlights the importance of fostering a growth mindset in learners. Student agency promotes this mindset by encouraging students to view challenges as opportunities for growth and development.
  • A meta-analysis by Anderson et al. (2001) found that student agency practices, such as goal setting and self-assessment, have a positive impact on student performance, with effect sizes ranging from moderate to large.


In the modern classroom, the concept of learner agency has become a pivotal factor in creating effective and meaningful learning experiences. By empowering students to take an active role in their education, we not only enhance their motivation and engagement but also equip them with essential skills for success in an ever-changing world.

Educators must recognize that learner agency is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it requires thoughtful planning, flexibility, and ongoing support. When implemented effectively, learner agency transforms education from a passive, teacher-centred model to an active, learner-centred one, fostering a lifelong love of learning and preparing students to thrive in the complex challenges of the 21st century. As we continue to explore innovative pedagogical approaches, let's remember that the true power of education lies in the agency of the learners themselves.



Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Benson, B. P., & Barnett, S. P. (2005). Student-led conferencing using showcase portfolios. Corwin Press.

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st-century fluencies for the digital age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 

Crockett, L. (2022). Agents to agency: A measurable process for cultivating self-directed learner agency. Future Focused Learning. 

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 182.

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological review, 95(2), 256.

Hackmann, D. G. (1995). Student-Led Conferences: Encouraging Student-Parent Academic Discussions.

Hattie, J. A. C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

McMillan, J. H., & Hearn, J. (2008). Student self-assessment: The key to stronger student motivation and higher achievement. Educational horizons, 87(1), 40-49.

Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of educational psychology, 85(4), 571. 

Zimmerman, M. (2015, July). The value of student agency. In Phi Kappa Phi Forum (Vol. 95, No. 2, p. 21). National Forum: Phi Kappa Phi Journal.