Learner agency

CORE Education 2015 ten trends infographic


A key trend that has characterised the move away from industrial-era schools is the move from teachers completely owning the learning process to learners owning more of it. When learners have ‘the power to act’ in their learning, they have what is known as ‘agency’.

Agency can take many forms from being empowered to make decisions about which activity to move onto next through to learners being empowered to take positive social action in their communities. Providing choices in learning (whether to work individually or in a group; whether to evidence of learning using a piece of writing or a diagram) is an important factor in engagement, which is in turn a contributor to student learning and success.

One of the implications of this rise of student agency is that schools are seeking new ways to invite, honour and act on student voice, both in learning and across the wider life of school.We see a number of schools allowing learners to exercise agency by focusing learning on local environmental and community-based problems. Schools located near waterways growing and replanting riparian ecosystems; schools near beaches learning about coastal erosion as part of the Science curriculum and so on.

Examples and links


Strategies to develop student agency

This resource is the result of a literature scan and a series of conversations with students and teachers from three New Zealand schools. The schools involved in this resource feature innovative learning environments (ILE). Students and teachers were asked similar questions about agency, and reviewed one another’s responses. Our approach identified ten conditions that foster agentic learners to support teachers, leaders, and learning communities to shift the ownership of learning.

We hope you will use these conditions to:

  • explore new ideas, communicate challenges, and prompt learner focused discussions
  • use the ‘shifting the ownership of learning review tool’ to “take the temperature” of learner agency within your school or community
  • identify priorities and implement practices or systems that enable learner agency.

Shifting the ownership of learning

This resource is a practical tool for teachers or learning teams, leaders, educators, and learning communities to support the process of change and shift the ownership of teaching and learning, placing it firmly in the hands of the learners themselves.