The modern revolution in
An extract from Chapter 1 of John Heronís book
The Complete Facilitatorís Handbook. London: Kogan Page, 1999.
There has been a radical change in the theory and
practice of higher education over recent decades (Boud, 1988; Heron,
1992; Knowles, 1980). This is most evident in the fields of
tertiary, adult and continuing professional education. The basic and
very simple premise of this change is that student learning is
necessarily self-directed: it rests on the autonomous exercise of
intelligence, choice and interest. From this many other points
unfold, which I express here in terms of my own thinking about the
basic issues involved:
1. Facilitation of learning. Teaching is no
longer seen as imparting and doing things to the student, but is
redefined as facilitation of self-directed learning. How people
learn, and how to bring about this process, become the focus of
concern, rather than the old-style pre-occupation with how to teach
things to people; and with this goes a significant shift in the onus
of responsibility. In the old model, the teacher is principally
responsible for student learning. In the new model, the primary
responsibility rests with the self-directing learner; and only
secondarily with the facilitator.
2. Manifold learning. Learning itself I see
as having four interdependent forms, which in many different ways
complement and support each other.
Practical learning. This is learning how
to do something. It involves the acquisition of a skill and it
is expressed in the competent practice of that skill. This is
the will, including the physical, level of learning.
Conceptual learning. This is learning
about some subject matter, learning that something is the case;
and is expressed in statements and propositions. This is the
intellectual, verbal-conceptual level of learning.
Imaginal learning. This is learning
configurations of form and process. It involves an intuitive
grasp of a whole, as shape or sequence. It is expressed in the
symbolism of line, shape, colour, proportion, succession, sound,
rhythm, movement. And, toward the interface with conceptual
learning, in the metaphorical, evocative and narrative use of
language, as in the work of the poet, novelist and dramatist.
This the imaginative, intuitive level of learning.
Experiential learning. This kind of
learning is by encounter, by direct acquaintance, by entering
into some state of being. It is manifest through the process of
being there, face-to-face, with the person, at the event, in the
experience. This is the feeling, resonance level of learning.
These four forms of learning are distinct; they
cannot be reduced to each other. At the same time, however, they
inform, support and enhance each other. They constitute an
up-hierarchy, with the ones higher in this list being grounded in
those that are lower.
We encounter the world (experiential learning);
identify patterns of form and process in it (imaginal learning);
these become the basis for the development of language and knowledge
(conceptual learning) which is applied in a wide range of skills
(practical learning). Henceforth, I use 'experiential learning' to
refer to the whole hierarchy. This hierarchy states what kind of
learning rests epistemologically on what other kind. The four forms
can also be construed as a cycle in which the practical skills at
the apex lead over into enriched experiential learning, thence into
imaginal and conceptual learning, and so on.
3. Holism in course design. The learner is a
whole person, and the whole person needs to be involved in learning.
Learning is extended from its traditional restriction to the
theoretical and applied intellect, into the domains of body
awareness, emotions and attitudes, interpersonal relations, social
and political processes, psychic and spiritual awareness. This means
Confluent education. The holistic,
multi-stranded curriculum which attends - with differing degress
of emphasis (depending on the primary learning objectives) - to
body, intention, action, intellect, imagination, intuition,
emotion, empathy, psychic and spiritual dimensions of the
Task-process integration. The
interweaving of a concern for human process at all levels with a
commitment to the external tasks of learning about the world and
how to apply knowledge to it.
Experiential learning cycle. This cycle
both grounds thought in practice and encounter; and generates
thought out of practice and encounter. So there are two
complementary processes within the cycle. In the first, a
concept is taken into an appropriate experience, then revised in
the light of so grounding it. In the second, a certain kind of
experience is distilled into a conceptual model, then further
developed and refined in the light of that model. Both processes
enrich each other.
4. Participation with staff. The concept of
learning as self-directed only appeared in the old approach as
students working on their own on prescribed tasks. The new approach
applies it to participating with staff in three main areas of
educational decision-making (Heron, 1988). To educate persons means
to facilitate their self-direction:
In learning what the content of a discipline
In learning how to learn that content.
In learning whether they have learnt it.
Hence the importance of the following two kinds
The learning contract. The student, at
the appropriate stage, is invited to co-operate with staff in
decisions about learning objectives, timetabling, pacing,
teaching and learning methods, and the use of human and physical
resources. Such collaborative course design may involve both
one-to-one contracts and one-to-group contracts between
facilitator and learners.
Collaborative assessment. The student
takes part with the facilitator in determining criteria for
assessment; each assesses the student's work in the light of
these criteria, and together they negotiate the final grade. I
have written about this in some detail elsewhere (Heron, 1988).
5. Co-operation with peers. Persons can only
be self-directing and become whole in reciprocal relations with
other self-directing persons who are becoming whole. The autonomy
and holism of the learner entails a context of co-operation with
other learners. Hence the importance of group-based learning, of
student interdependence with regard to both experience and
reflection, of peer problem-solving and decision-making, of peer
feedback on practice, of self- and peer assessment. The autonomous
and whole person learning group is an essential context for the new
These five points taken together constitute the
educational rationale for this book, and its account of facilitator
options. It is committed to the view that the facilitator is a
midwife eliciting the emergence of self-directed and peer, holistic
Boud, D. (ed) (1988) Developing Student
Autonomy in Learning. London: Kogan Page.
Heron, J. (1988) 'Assessment Revisited' in Boud,
D. (ed) Developing Student Autonomy in Learning.
London: Kogan Page.
Heron, J. (1992) Feeling and Personhood:
Psychology in Another Key. London: Sage.
Knowles, M. S. (1980) The Modern Practice of
Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. Chicago: Follett.