What has autonomy done for me?

I recently had a conversation with Phil Windley and others at BYU where we discussed the importance of autonomy. Why do we even care about it and how can it help students learn? Having always been a major proponent of autonomous learning, I got on my soap box and shared the deep impact that autonomy has had on my life.  Phil challenged me to put into words my testimonial of autonomous learning. All the content in this blog post, and all that I am as a learner, teacher, and individual is because of two very special individuals. I am forever indebted to Bryan Jackson and Quirien Mulder ten Kate for their dedication to their students, for their efforts that enable the T.A.L.O.N.S. program, and for our now shared loved of lifelong learning.

I believe that every learner benefits most from forging their own path to self-actualization. I was empowered to find my path through the George Betts autonomous learner model. At 13 years old, I entered a high school program that was centered around this model, and it has become increasingly difficult to separate any of my personal challenges or triumphs from this experience. There were days of direct instruction, and content that had to be delivered as mandated by the province, and all of those instances of learning were quite ordinary. There were times, however, when I knew I was working and something significant was happening. I was engaging, learning, and performing in a way that I thought was beyond my capacity and beyond the boundaries of a curriculum. I remember almost audibly asking myself how can this be learning if I’m having so much fun? I don’t know when I wrote learning off as an unenjoyable activity, but between self-created science experiments and semester length studies of Bob Dylan as an eminent individual and literary figure, I saw a change in how I interacted with my learning. It began to seep into my personal time in a way that I welcomed with open arms. The stakes for my learning skyrocketed. It was not longer an activity driven by compliance; it was an activity driven by engagement. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, observes this phenomenon and states that it is only through engagement that we can achieve mastery. I found myself enthralled with not only the content I was learning, but with the learning itself. I observed that all my peers were discovering themselves in a similar manner. There were those who threw themselves into music, political studies, environmental endeavors, and the list goes on, but for me it was always learning. I continued to pursue my areas of interest, and kept learning at the forefront of those interests. It was in class that one day that I discovered ds106radio through Bryan and began spending class time combining my interests of music, technology, and, of course, learning. I spent my class time interacting with a group of instructional technologists, and became enthralled with the fact that such a career path existed. Bryan let me play, fail, learn, and most importantly create my own curriculum. Class time wasn’t something that was focused on a government regulated outcome. Class time became about pursuing interests and fitting the outcomes into those interests so they could be learned through engaged mastery. It was through this autonomous program that my lifelong love of learning was kindled, and my path to self actualization was forged. Although I can’t pinpoint the first time I learned “autonomously,” and I hope there never is a last time, I can (try to) put into words what learning autonomously has done for me. Autonomy has allowed me to pursue personal goals through classroom-based learning. It has helped me see assignments and activities through a personal lens. It has encouraged exploration and opened me up to meaningful learning experiences and self-actualization. It is because of autonomy that I am an instructional technologist, and it is because of autonomy that I will continue a lifelong pursuit of learning.