Learner Agency and Growth Mindset

Learner Agency is quickly becoming the latest educational buzz word. If you haven’t heard much about it yet, you soon will! It is appearing in educational policy documents around the world, so expect to hear it mentioned at the next conference you go to.

 At this point, you may be thinking, “Oh no! Not another new thing!”

But don’t worry. Like most important ideas in education, you’ll probably find you’ve (kind of) been doing it already. And if you’ve been following my work on Growth Mindset and Learning Agility, you’re definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to Learner Agency.

Learner Agency relates to a student’s ability to navigate their way through life and positively impact their circumstances.

It’s about ensuring they are the master, not the victim, of their circumstances, and it is about students being powerful, not powerless, in the face of adversity.

In many ways, Learner Agency is at the heart of what education is all about: – preparing students to succeed in a rapidly changing and complex world. So, I suspect it will resonate strongly with you and what you want for your students.

And this is where your work with Mindset comes in. You see, preparing students to take on the challenges of a rapidly changing, increasingly complex world is what a Growth Mindset is all about.

From a Mindset perspective, when learners are confronted with challenges, they basically respond in one of two ways.

1. Fixed Mindset Response:

This is when students look inside themselves and ask, “Do I have the abilities to deal with this challenging situation?”. If the answer is, “No, I’m not that type of person. I’m not good at this kind of thing,” they will see their actions as futile. They’ll lack the will to act. As a result, the world will happen to them, and they will end up being the victim of their circumstances. In short, they’ll lack agency.

2. Growth Mindset Response:

Students recognise that they don’t currently have the abilities to deal with this challenging situation. They respond with, “I can take action to grow and change, to develop new abilities so I can overcome these challenges.” In this situation,  learners are more motivated, and have the will to positively impact their circumstances. They want to act upon the world, rather than let the world act upon them. They are more likely to have agency.

The work we do in the Growth Mindset Masterclass is directly connected to the concept of Learner Agency. As we fill our schools with Growth Mindset Movers, we develop more growth-oriented Mindsets in our learners. This gives students the understanding that although their current circumstances may be challenging, they can develop their abilities to positively influence their world. They can become powerful, not powerless, in the face of challenge and adversity. We increase their agency.

A Growth Mindset, therefore, is a critical component of Learner Agency. It gives learners the will to act and attempt to influence their world. Without a Growth Mindset, learners become the victims of their circumstances, unable to see the possibility of change when confronted with a challenge. 

Defining Learner Agency

One of the problems with Learner Agency is that there isn’t one clear definition. The definitions that do float around tend to tell you what it is, but don’t help teachers know how to develop it.

That’s why I’ve drawn on research and the broad use of the term “Learner Agency”, to offer this definition

You’ll notice that we cannot adequately address the issue of Learner Agency without addressing the issue of student Mindset. To have agency is, in part, to have the will to act. This means learners understand they are capable of developing abilities that will allow them to positively influence their world – a Growth Mindset.

The two other elements of the Learner Agency puzzle are the environment to act and the power to act. The power to act relates to becoming an Agile Learner and the concept of “Learnership”. The environment to act relates to our school and classroom environment. I’ll discuss these ideas next week.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about Learner Agency, I invite you to download my latest white paper, – Learner Agency – A Guide for School Leaders.

Best Wishes,


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