Heutagogy + Mentorship.

by jennifermshoop

I recently came across this chart legislating the differences between pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy.  Setting aside the awful terms of art we’re facing here, I was struck by how off-putting — or, more fairly and aptly, out-of-date — the pedagogy column is and how relieved I am that revisionist educators like John Hunter and Sugata Mitra are evangelizing with a different pedagogical credo.  I mean — really, what is to be said of the statement: “The learner has few resources — the teacher devises transmission techniques to store knowledge in the learner’s head”?  The language alone makes my stomach turn: while we’re at it, please insert a chip in my head and call me a robot.  Moreover, most of the children I’ve met have two incredible resources that many adults lack — a natural curiosity and wide-roaming imagination.  (As an aside, I recognize that I’m writing with particular and perhaps unfair force on this point.  Sugata Mitra has elegantly noted that “it’s quite fashionable to say that the education system’s broken — it’s not broken, it’s wonderfully constructed.  It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.”  Elsewhere, he has commented: “The Victorians were great engineers. They engineered a [schooling] system that was so robust that it’s still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists.”  In short, we should be critical but fair when addressing the current education system, acknowledging the deep roots of our current model and, above all, avoiding at all costs denigration of the teacher.  My sister teaches K-1 at a public school in Virginia and the way she manages the multiplicity of simultaneous demands, instincts, and responses cycling through her classroom is nothing short of magic to me. )

Returning to the chart and setting this jarring “pedagogy” column aside, I honed in on the term “heutagogy” as a useful coinage to describe some of the areas of the education industry that have been generating the most buzz: the MOOC (and, to split hairs, the cMOOC, not the xMOOC), the flipped classroom, and educational gaming.  (To be fair, Maria Montessori paved the path for this art form long before we had the Internet.)  It occurred to me that the phrase also aptly describes the approach Moneythink is going for in our classrooms: not financial education, but financial mentoring, financial heutagogy. Our mentors are coaching students as they encounter–to quote my brilliant colleague Ted — “the densest concentration of life-changing financial decisions that they will ever make in their lives.”  We aren’t making decisions for them or prescribing financial products and solutions or peddling a circumscribed financial agenda–we are equipping them with the language, tools, and awareness to address decisions as they arise; we are guiding the conversation; we are listening.  I warmed to the phrasing in the chart: “managing the self-managed.”  I like the framing here and want to bring this home to our hard-working mentors as a new lens for understanding what they are doing in the classroom as a part of our soon-to-launch “Xcelerator” Google Hangout series (more on that, including a likely name change, to come soon).

As I reflected on this framing in conjunction with my experience conducting field research with our partner IDEO.org (see early thoughts from my colleague and co-conspirator on the IDEO.org team, Rafael, here), I felt a sudden jolt, a tug at the end of the fishing line.  I recalled that while I had been in the midst of an epic brainstorming session that may or may not have involved a brief photo-shoot with an IDEO.org branded stuffed animal, Rafael asked: “We should begin by asking: What’s right with these students?  What makes them unique?”  The question was arresting.  We’d talked a lot about teens in general, about how they spend money and interact with mobile.  But what about the specific slice of the demographic–low-income, urban 11th and 12th-graders–to which Moneythink caters? As an edu-nerd, I instantly thought about all I’d read on the topic of strengths-based education and found myself traveling down a long thought cycle circling around our curriculum.  But from a design standpoint, it made me realize that one of the tremendous and unique strengths of our core demographic (those that I’d spent a lot of time interviewing and observing) is just how scrappy and resourceful they are, and in the most unexpected of ways.  (I’ll explain this in full in a later post — lots of rich examples here.)  I commented that our students know how to save money and make money stretch far better than we could ever project.  The design of our solution would therefore need to be more flexible, more lightweight, even, to accommodate the miscellany of their individual financial narratives and decisions.  (PS: I realize I’ve said this a lot, but more on the overall project to come soon, too.)

As I thought about heutagogy, then, this revelation from our design discussion began to sing–what if both the technological and educational modalities we’re working on share the same design ethos: to make space for the student to learn and experiment and do on his or her own, but with support (and the occasional nudge) from either a mentor or the mobile app we’re building?  More to come…