Learning Power: Learners Must Take Control - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #634

Learning Power: Learners Must Take Control

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A new model of learning power, based on 15 years of data, emphasizes the responsibility that individuals must take for their own learning. The new model unveils the complex relationships among the learning power dimensions, from mindful agency (self-determination and initiative) to openness to learning to relationship dimensions such as collaboration and belonging. 


Based on extensive research, the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory was developed in the late 1990s as an assessment tool for learning power. Specifically, the ELLI model identified seven qualities or dimensions necessary for learning: the five ‘active’ learning power dimensions of strategic awareness, creativity, curiosity, meaning making and changing and learning; the learning relationships dimension; and the fragility and dependence dimension. The results of the assessment could be graphed in a seven-spoke ‘spidergram’.

The relationships among the seven dimensions remained unexplored. Over the past several years, one of the original developers of ELLI, University of Bristol’s Ruth Deakin Crick, and several of her colleagues have revisited the metrics in the assessment tool, taking into consideration the developing research (including her own), as well as the new data accumulated since the original model was developed.

Focusing on the role of purpose in learning — which includes taking responsibility for learning purposes, processes and procedures — Crick and her team changed the name of the original ‘strategic awareness’ dimension to mindful agency. ‘Agency’ refers to the extent that one has control of an event. Mindful agency thus refers to a learner’s inclination or ability to want to learn and to take steps to learn. In this perspective, the other active dimensions — creativity, curiosity and the renamed sense-making and hope and optimism — are supporting players of mindful agency.

The team then turned its attention to the two remaining dimensions of the original model: ‘learning relationships’ and ‘fragility and dependence’.

Learning relationships, their analysis showed, consisted of three latent variables: collaborating with others, belonging to a learned community, and dependency. Collaborating and belonging are positive approaches to learning, while dependency is a state of being. For that reason, Crick identified collaborating and belonging as two new dimensions of learning. The dependency factor was relegated to the last remaining dimension of the original assessment: fragility and dependence.

Originally, a low score on fragility and dependence was interpreted as resilience. But new analysis showed that this dimension was much more complicated. Both high and low levels of fragility and dependence can result in learners closing themselves off from learning opportunities. Therefore, the dimension was changed to openness to learning.

Instead of seven independent dimensions, the new learning power model explains how its eight updated dimensions interrelate. In metaphorical terms, the original model offered its seven dimensions as ingredients on a list. The new model offers its eight dimensions as the working parts of an engine.

At the heart of the engine’s operation is mindful agency, to which creativity, curiosity, sense-making and optimism and hope contribute; mindful agency interacts with the openness to learning dimension, and both mindful agency and openness to learning interact with the two relationship dimensions, belonging and collaboration.


Leaders todays recognize that internal motivation — the kind that emerges when people love their work and believe it is important — is more effective in inspiring superior performance than external motivation that depends on financial incentive or top-down commands.

This learning power model thus fits into contemporary attitudes about engaging and motivating people. Learning occurs through the regulation of information flow and energy. This model recognizes that how much information flows to and from the learner, and how much energy the learner puts into the process, is dependent on the individual. Mindful agency is about having the confidence and self-awareness to want to learn, and taking the steps necessary to learn.

At the same time leaders (and peers) can play a role in helping learners achieve their learning purpose. For example, leaders can:

Inspire individuals to learn. Leaders must create a workplace environment that inspires individuals to want to learn — an environment in which creativity, curiosity, hope and sense-making are enabled and encouraged.

Create structures for collaboration and teamwork. The model also emphasizes two important relational components: belonging to a group that supports one’s learning, and collaborating with others. Teamwork and collaboration is especially valuable with difficult or highly complex learning.

• Keep individuals engaged with others, while maintaining their independence. Openness to learning is about dependence on others, which involves moderation. Individuals should not be too dependent on others for their learning, and thus take no control or responsibility for the process; at the same time, they cannot close themselves off from others, and lose the benefit of collaboration or access to new perspectives, skills and knowledge. Leaders can help individuals find the right balance of openness to learning.

Learning ultimately succeeds when internal drive and openness to learning is reinforced by a collaborative, supportive environment.



Developing Resilient Agency in Learning. Ruth Deakin Crick, Shaofu Huang, Adeela Ahmed Shafi, Chris Goldspink. British Journal of Education Studies (April 3, 2015). 

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Idea conceived

April 4, 2015

Idea posted

Nov 2016
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