A major theme during the Educon 2.8 conference in Philadelphia during the last week of January, 2016, was learner empowerment. Here is a Storify of tweets about empowerment from the conference: https://storify.com/jackiegerstein/what-conditions-are-necessary-for-empowerment-in-s. Highlighted Tweets include . . .
The conference and Twitter discussions motivated me to write this post on learner empowerment. Thomas and Velthouse offered a specific description of learner empowerment by identifying four dimensions:
- Meaningfulness – This describes the value of the task in relation to individual beliefs, ideals, and standards. If the work you need to do doesn’t have much or any meaning to you, doesn’t seem to hold much or any importance, then there isn’t much or any motivation to work hard and produce quality work.
- Competence – Here’s the confidence piece. Empowerment derives from feeling qualified and capable of performing the work. You can handle what you’re being asked to do.
- Impact – The more impact you believe you will have, the more motivation you feel to work hard. You are empowered if you believe you’re doing work that makes a difference—work that matters and is important.
- Choice – This dimension relates to whether you get to determine the task goals and how you will accomplish them. The more choice you have, the more empowered you feel (http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/whats-empowered-student/).
Sadly, most educational institutions from Kindergarten through College do not create conditions for empowerment. They are often the antithesis of empowerment. Students of all ages are told what to learn, how to learn it, and how they will be assessed for what they are supposed to learn. Way too often there is a lack of opportunities for meaningful learning and choices for individual learners. Competence only comes for the best traditional students, ones who thrive in these drill and test environments. Too many learners often feel that whatever they do within school doesn’t matter.
In a school climate of empowerment, educators become purveyors of hope.
Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empowerment).
With the assistance of educators, learners can develop feelings of empowerment within their school settings. This often translates into increased hope for their educations, their lives, their communities, and their futures.
Some strategies that educators can do for setting up conditions for learner empowerment include:
- Provide learners with opportunities for authentic voice. See Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice.
- Provide forums and venues for learners to tell their own stories. See Providing Opportunities for Learners to Tell Their Stories.
- Implement passion projects. Visit this Passion Project – Genius Hour Pinterest board for ideas.
- Give learners lots of choices and options. See Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice.
- Model the democratic process in the school environment by giving learners the power to make school-related decisions. See Alfie Kohn’s Choices for Children Why and How to Let Students Decide.
- Implement self-evaluation and self-assessment processes. See Strategies to enhance student self-assessment.
- Help learners learn the skills and strategies for service and social activism. See Social Media a Cause: Learning Activity.
- Encouraging learners to publish their work in public platforms (blogs, video and photo sharing sites) in order to get feedback from an authentic audience. See 4 Paths to Engaging Authentic Purpose and Audience.
As a parting shot, here is a video of one of the Educon 2.8 panels on empowerment: