Continuum of Ownership: Developing Autonomy

Chris Watkins, an independent consultant and leading authority on meta-learning in the UK and former reader at The Institute of Education, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, has been a researcher on learning over the last two decades. In his research article, “Learners in the Driving Seat”, he developed a metaphor to better understand the concept of ’driving’ our learning. When driving we have an idea for a destination – perhaps a bit of a map of the territory; we have hands on the wheel, steering – making decisions as the journey unfolds; and all this is crucially related to the core process of noticing how it’s going and how that relates to where we want to be. Watkins makes these four points of what happens when learners drive the learning. When learners drive and take ownership to their learning,

  • it leads to greater engagement and intrinsic motivation for them to want to learn,
  • learners setting a higher challenge for themselves,
  • learners evaluating their own work, and
  • better problem-solving skills.

continuum of ownershipContinuum of Ownership TM by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on work at bit.ly/continuum-ownership.* Graphic design by Sylvia Duckworth


Barbara McCombs, PhD, from the University of Denver, states in her research Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students that motivation is related to whether or not learners have opportunities to be autonomous and to make important academic choices. Having choices allows children to feel that they have control or ownership over their own learning. This, in turn, helps them develop a sense of responsibility and self-motivation.



Compliance means that learners do not own their learning or may not believe they are the ones that have to do the work to learn. This is what most of us as learners experienced because “school” was designed for “students” to follow instructions. Since the late 1800’s, school has been designed so that the teacher is responsible and accountable for learning. When you walk in a class where the teacher owns and drives the learning, they usually tend to be the hardest-working person in the classroom. You will see walls covered with materials the teacher purchased or created. They are doing most of the talking and learners contribute by doing what is asked of them.



In the Understanding phase, learners share how they learn best with the teacher. In the next chapter, we’ll introduce a new tool, the Personal Learning Plan (PLP), which will help learners think through and articulate how they learn best. Being able to write how they learn, their interests, talents and aspirations, gives the learner a voice. These conversations with the teacher help validate them as a learner that begins to shift responsibility for learning from the teacher to the learner. In this phase, learners also consult with the teacher to determine their learning goals, for which we’ve provided the PLP. The learner shares evidence of their learning as they learn with the teacher and their peers.



Investment is when learners build confidence in developing the skills they need to work independently and with others. They see the value of goal setting. They refer to the PLP with guidance from the teacher to determine action steps they will need to progress in their learning. They are now more invested in their learning and know how to identify and choose the best evidence of their learning that demonstrates mastery. Walking in a room where learners are invested in their learning looks different. Learners are focused on completing tasks, talking about their learning, and excited about sharing the process and evidence of what they are learning.



Autonomy is when learners have the confidence and skills to work independently and with others. In using innovative and creative strategies, learners extend their goals to now pursue their interests and passions and include those in their learning goals. They are determined to self-monitor progress as they adjust their PLP as they learn and meet their goals. Learners identify and create passion projects that they showcase and exhibit the process and products to peers, family, and possibly a global audience.

When learners feel a sense of ownership, they want to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning. If teachers and learners are learners first, then responsibility comes with being a learner. Learners of all ages become responsible for their learning when they own and drive their learning so they can be more independent and eventually self-directed learners.



Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth (http://sylviaduckworth.com) from Crescent School, Toronto, Canada for designing the graphic of the Continuum of Ownership 4/17/2016.

*This page including the chart was created by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey of Personalized Learning, LLC (c) April 6, 2106. The Continuum of Ownership is also copyrighted in our publication, How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper (Corwin, 2016). For permission to adapt, distribute copies, or to use in a publication, contact Kathleen McClaskey at khmcclaskey@gmail.com.


Other Continuums

Continuum of Choice
Continuum of Voice
Continuum of Engagement
Continuum of Motivation
Continuum of Purpose
Continuum of Self-Efficacy




McCombs, B., Ph.D.. Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.apa.org/education/k12/learners.aspx

Watkins, C. Learners in the Driving SeatTeaching Times, 1.2, pp. 28-31.


Cross-posted from www.personalizelearning.com/2016/04/continuum-of-ownership-developing.html