Promoting Self-Determined Learning in the Special Library

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

December 03, 2019

One of the things I have spent a lot of time learning about over the years is different learning theories. Andragogy and experiential learning are two theories I frequently use and have written about on this blog, but one additional theory with application for special libraries is heutagogy: self-determined learning.

What is Heutagogy?

The theory of heutagogy has many applications for our work; it recognizes that many adults are capable of complete self-directed learning and are also capable of self-determined learning. While the theory of andragogy sees adults as independent learners that strive for self-direction, heutagogy sees adults as interdependent with the ability to determine what they need to do in order to learn. Additionally, heutagogy theorizes that adults are able to manage their own learning and seek out new ways of educating themselves through social experiences and exploring their interests.

In today’s technologically focused environment, adults must be able to approach new learning opportunities on their own. Even though we may wish to, we cannot teach each new employee and stakeholder in our organizations all they need to know to use the library effectively. Therefore, incorporating principles of heutagogy in our interactions with special library users and when creating learning resources (i.e. tutorials) can help our stakeholders learn while also reaching more individuals.

Not all adults are ready for the type of autonomous learning promoted by the theory of heutagogy. However, for those who are, the capacity for self-determined learning means that adults have the following characteristics as identified by Blaschke:

  • “self-efficacy, in knowing how to learn and continuously reflect on the learning process;
  • communication and teamwork skills,
  • creativity, particularly in applying competencies to new and unfamiliar situations and by being adaptable and flexible in approach;
  • exhibiting positive values (Hase & Kenyon, 2000; Kenyon & Hase, 2010; Gardner et al., 2007).”

Applications of Heutagogy in the Special Library

So, what does this mean for us as special librarians? How do we create environments where our stakeholders can learn to use the library and learn information from the library on their own? How we do promote self-determined learning?

Here are some ideas I want to try to promote heutagogy:

  • Create tutorials and other learning resources that are available at the time of need. Library users can access these resources when they need to know something. The key to making these resources useful is to frame them around immediate needs the users may have.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to ensure learning opportunities align with user wants and needs.
  • Develop bite-sized learning opportunities that are available asynchronously.
  • Let users start at various points in tutorials. Content in tutorials does not need to be linear. Instead, let users choose how to move throughout the content in order to learn what they are interested in. This is a way to increase motivation.
  • Frame support for a request from a library user as an opportunity for collaboration.
  • Include additional resources that may interest users.
  • Create online communities or interest groups where library users with similar needs and work projects can collaborate and share findings.


I am excited to incorporate heutagogy into my instruction and learning resource creation. It is a theory that has a lot of applicability for adults and can motivate them to take charge of their own learning. Special libraries are places where a lot of learning can occur, but as we all know, there are not always opportunities to teach as directly as we may wish. Additionally, because many people are fully capable of self-determined learning, incorporating heutagogy may motivate some individuals to learn how to use the library and its resources when they would not attend a training session.

Recommended Resources

Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(1), 56-71.

Gardner, A., Hase, S., Gardner, G., Dunn, S. V., & Carryer, J. (2008). From competence to
capability: A study of nurse practitioners in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(2), 250-258. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.206. 0188.x

Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ulti-BASE In-Site.

Kenyon, C., & Hase, S. (2010, June). Andragogy and heutagogy in postgraduate work. In Meeting the challenges of change in postgraduate education (pp. 165-177). London: Continuum.

Schroeder, R. (2018). Pedagogy, andragogy, and now heutagogy. UPCEA. Retrieved from

<a href="" target="_self">Lauren Hays</a>

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Previously, she worked as an Instructional and Research Librarian at a private college in the Kansas City metro-area. Please read more on Lauren’s skills for special librarians, and you may want to take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterprise.


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