Autonomy and Education

Educators appear to have an incomplete and inconsistence awareness of autonomy as a factor that affects learning. Blumenfeld, Kempler, and Krajik (2006) define autonomy to include the “perception of a sense of agency, which occurs when students have the opportunity for choices and for playing a significant role in directing their own activity” (p. 477).  Autonomy is implicit in many of the pedagogical strategies that are replacing the Standard Model and that are associated with 21st century skills. It is reasoned that learners who have autonomy are more motivated to study and more engaged with the curriculum than those who have little autonomy. Autonomous individuals approach situations with:

  • The ability to recognize a problem, which is typically a gap between the current state and the desired state;
  • Knowledge of how to resolve the problem or close that gap;
  • The capacity to solve the problem or close the gap;
  • The authority to implement their solution.

Despite the value of autonomy in creating classroom that promote deeper learning, there is evidence teachers are allowed to exert little autonomy over instructional practices (Range, Pijanowski, Duncan, Scherz, & Hvidston, 2014).


Blumenfeld, P., Kempler, T., & Krajcik, J. (2006). Motivation and cognitive engagement in learning environments. In R. Keith Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Learning Science (pp. 475–488). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Range, B., Pijanowski, J., Duncan, H., Scherz, S., & Hvidston, D. (2014). An analysis of instructional facilitators’ relationships with teachers and principals. Journal of School Leadership, 24(2), 253+.