Learning Ecologies: Transformational Soft Systems Growth

As an educator and instructional designer, my personal learning theories support my beliefs and aspirations to create a world full of self-determined, self-fulfilled, process-focused lifelong learners taught to use the essential learning spaces, tools, materials, and resources required to navigate their journey toward a rich, meaningful, limitless life.

Questions: What is a self-determined lifelong learner? What ins the world are heutagogical evidence-based methodologies?

What are Lifelong Learners?

Let us begin with a few definitions. Cendon (2018) loosely defined lifelong learners as individuals interested in updating and enhancing their skills and competencies throughout their working lives (Cendon, 2018). Peters and Romero (2019) noted that the phenomenon of lifelong learning is gaining traction worldwide and that it primarily is being driven by the rise of a digitally transformed modern society. Easily accessible, flexible, and mobile online and computer-assisted learning technologies are also playing a role in driving adults to re-enter educational programs  supporting the idea of lifelong learning as a process. No longer confined by brick-and-mortar boundaries, adults are now free to return to colleges and universities to seek new knowledge and new skills in pursuit of increased feelings of self-efficacy and deeper self-actualization (Peters & Romero, 2019).

Self-determined lifelong learners seek a wide range of process-focused, spiral-loop, holistic learning experiences that transition from learning experiences to real-world skills. However, to fully embrace and engage lifelong learners, institutions of higher education should understand that the needs of these students are uniquely different and more demanding. (Cedon, 2018; Peters & Romero, 2019).

In other words, lifelong learners need heutagogy.

Heutagogy: Self-Determined Transformative Learning Experiences

What in the world is heutagogy? Blaschke (2012) defined heutagogy as “… a form of self-determined learning with practices and principles rooted in andragogy” that requires an approach to teaching and learning emphasizing the development of learner competencies, capacities, and capabilities based on the learner’s own experiences and purposes. As such, heutagogical instructional strategies should include competency-based skills-building within learning environments that promote self-efficacy, collaborative teamwork, creativity, and positive values (Blaschke, 2012). Such learning environments are best designed as heutagogical learning ecologies.

Learning Ecologies: Adventures in Human Soft System Ecosystems

Jackon (2013) defined learning ecologies, or ecosystems, as temporal or spatial learning spaces that include inhabitants, processes, contextual learning opportunities, collaborative relationships, and interactions intertwined to create personalized learning life-courses (Jackon, 2013). (Huh?)

Okay. Let’s try this again. Jackson’s point of view is that learning ecosystems are self-regulating spaces with overlapping territories or boundaries where various species that interdependently co-exist within stable relationships that share consumable resources. Such spaces must be adaptive, dynamic, and responsive and offer a variety of physical and virtual learning activities in interesting, relevant, and unique configurations. The ecosystems should also include interdependent instructional processes underpinned by dynamic learning theories and instructional designs. (Sounds good. But – how?)

Jackson advocates learning ecosystems include educational approaches and strategies that progressively lead a lifelong learner from an assessment of their learning needs to how they best learn and then to a self-directed path of instruction. Along the way, the learner should critically reflect on the learning experiences encountered, the activities completed, and the formative and summative performance assessments passed to deepen their learning experiences.

According to Jackson, each lifelong learning ecosystem should include five parts:

  • Microsystems that include learning operations, situations, relationships, and communications;
  • Mesosystems where instructors provide guidance and resources that support self-determined learning;
  • Exosystems where those events that impact learning reside until they are adopted or embedded into the learning process;
  • Macrosystems where the wider society exists within socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts; and
  • Chronosystems where the transformative learning experiences and learning assessments occur (Jackson, 2013).

Jackson suggested that learning ecosystems and their various characteristics and components should be largely determined by the lifelong learner under the guidance of teachers and institutions. According to Jackson, the learner should be the navigator that charts the path between specific independent concrete, immediate, and confined task-conscious learning. He also suggested teacher facilitated learning-conscious tasks using performance goals, instructional processes, resources, and strategic communications and relationships. Learning ecosystems, whether conceptual or virtual, should be practical and grounded by the learner’s values while also encouraging and empowering the lifelong learner to maintain the conditions and performance of their pathways as they navigate. In conclusion, Jackson inferred that teaching learners to design their individualized learning ecosystems ensures lifelong learners to follow a path that includes rich, meaningful, lifelong learning experiences that repeatedly add value long after lessons have been completed (Jackson, 2013).

Jennie’s Perspective

As originally stated, I aspire to create a world full of self-determined, process-focused lifelong learners. While creating these types of learners will require me to obtain the skills necessary to create individualized learning ecosystems, I am willing to accept this challenge and prepare myself to meet the demands of heutagogy heuristics.

Plus, as a lifelong learner myself, I am enjoying my own journey through a doctoral student instructional ecosystem by following the well-planned path created for me which is littered with delightful, challenging, and self-fulfilling learning experiences at every twist and turn.

Yes. To the more enlightened, my journey along this path, which only requires the essential things of self-determination, is indeed privileged traveling.


Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning13(1), 56–71.

Cendon, E. (2018). Lifelong Learning at Universities: Future Perspectives for Teaching and Learning. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research7(2), 81–87.

Jackson, N. J. (2013). The concept of learning ecologies. Lifewide learning, education and personal development e-book.

Kay, J. (2008). Lifelong learner modeling for lifelong personalized pervasive learning. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies1(4), 215-228.

Moore, T., & Shaffer, S. C. (2017). Awakening the Learner Within: Purposeful Prompts and Lifelong Learning Measures in a First-Year Composition Course. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning17(4), 67–82.

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