Fresh Approaches to Agency and Learning

  • Paul HagerEmail author
  • David Beckett
Part of the Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education book series (PRRE)


This chapter begins Part III by showing how the Part II (i.e. Chaps.  6 8) accounts of co-present groups, complexity thinking and the interactions between these two serve to deepen our understanding of each of the major theoretical difficulties that recurred throughout Part I (i.e. Chaps.  1 and  5) of this book. These major difficulties were:
  • The near-universal assumption that the individual agent is the appropriate unit of analysis for understanding human performances.

  • The prevalent tendency to attempt to understand human performances by atomising them into their component parts. The sum of these parts is then assumed to be equivalent to the original whole.

  • The common focus on the more overtly cognitive aspects of human performances, which results in ‘thin’ understandings that overlook many other crucial aspects of performances, such as affect, know-how, the role of judgement, and the various influences of context.

Stemming from our accounts of co-present groups and of complexity thinking, this chapter proposes that this trio of faulty assumptions be replaced by the following principles:
  • Stressing the importance of analysis at the level of groups, rather than the almost exclusive focus on individuals;

  • Drawing on complexity thinking, employing holistic, relational understandings, rather than ‘black-box’ approaches to relationality;

  • Recognising the central role of judgement (‘professional judgement’ and ‘practical judgement’), and the oft-overlooked contribution of affect, where judgement crucially involves dimensions other than the cognitive (or rational).

Using these principles, this chapter then presents novel understandings of agency and learning. Further, these novel understandings will provide the impetus for the next chapter to reconceptualise expertise, practice, skills, competence and associated concepts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Melbourne Graduate School of EducationThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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