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Stages of Autonomy: growing the skills of becoming a lifelong learner

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Learning the sub-skills of lifelong learning!

People have increasingly talked about lifelong learning, learner agency and independent learning – but rarely provide any framework to help learners understand and acquire the skills that lead to strong autonomous lifelong learning. By delving into relevant neuroscience and research, Learnlife took up the challenge and an accessible framework to support individual learners of all ages emerged.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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June 2023
Lifelong learning is a core goal for all learners in a rapidly changing world. The Stages of Autonomy framework (& Stages of Readiness for primary) outlines very specific guidelines as to the relevant skills needed for autonomous learning capability and provides a detailed understanding of the indicators of growth in each domain. The framework lists multiple sub skills across the six elements.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

Despite a growing focus on learner agency and lifelong learning skills, in many cases, there is little skill development associated with the dialogue, just an assumption that these skills emerge. This may be true for some learners – but for many, the skills of autonomy are something heard, but not understood. What was needed was a clear framework outlining specific skills to guide learners.

How does your innovation work in practice?

After looking at the neuroscience of strong autonomous learning, 6 domains relating to being an independent learner were identified. All the domains require a high level of self-awareness, so this was not separated out, but viewed as integral to all domains:
• Self-direction
• Self-determination
• Self-regulation
• Self-management
• Self-responsibility
• Learner-agency
Within these domains, 4 levels of progress were identified and a rubric was created to explain multiple components and sub skills relevant to each domain. To make the framework practical, there is a description that is easily understood in 4 phases:
• Foundations
• Guided
• Independent
• Autonomous
Learners can self assess their skill levels against the rubric and framework and establish goals for specific improvements. For primary aged learners a simplified version, 'Stages of Readiness' was developed with 3 components: seeds, shoots and flowers. Specific skills are targeted e.g. managing a device well.

How has it been spreading?

The impact on the learner community has been profound - and in a relatively short timeframe. A stronger and seemingly tangible culture of learning has emerged. One that is calmer, consistent, visible, understood and aspirational. Its strengths have been the clarity of skills necessary, as well as the non-judgmental approach to self-positioning of learners on an autonomy continuum. The main goal is to embed a culture which is subliminally stronger than other cultures, so that learners adopt an evident and strong culture of learning without thinking. The individual goals form part of the regular learner-mentor conversations, also forming part of the cyclic 360 degree learner growth meetings. The learners gain an authentic vocabulary as they grow their capacities as lifelong learners.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

Contact Learnlife via the webpage. All materials are freely distributed. Survey your community to determine the evident gaps or strengths in lifelong learning skills. Implement a contextualised version of the 6 different components of autonomous learning. There is the option to join the free community hosted by Learnlife and gain inspiration from others seeking to grow a positive learning culture.

Implementation steps

1. Survey need
Communities need to analyse the learning deficits and challenges in their community. It is important to get down to specifics. In many cases, it will be clear that some students have no understanding of self-direction or self-regulation in particular.
2. Download Materials
Download the documentation. This includes (1) the six different rubric statements in secondary: Self-direction, Self-determination, Self-regulation, Self-management, Self-responsibility, Learner-agency. (2) download the 'Stages of Autonomy' outlines for mentors/students. (3) download the 'Stages of Readiness' material. https://www.learnlife.com/methodologies/stages-of-autonomy
3. Contextualise
With any material, it is important to contextualise for the immediate use. There may be some cultural aspects that need fine tuning and decisions made as to the specific skills that are relevant.
4. Train the team
The teachers or mentors need to be trained into understanding the material. It is fairly self-explanatory. The key component is to introduce the wider framework to a learner without layering a sense of failure on to them. It is important to convey that their current status on the continuum described is a result of the education and learning experiences to date. Establishing this non-judgemental mindset is key to uptake. Students can set goals for what they might like to develop.
5. Regular reviews
Students will hopefully aspire to attain a level where they have greater freedom to create or co-create their learning. As they develop the skills across the 6 domains, and grow their own self-awareness, the framework has proven to be a strong motivator in itself. It is also helpful to engage students with strong skills in some domains to mentor or coach other students and use the impact of peer to peer learning to accelerate growth.
6. Share your story
Hearing the success of other communities as they intentionally grow the skills of learner autonomy will encourage other communities. So share your story and help grow a momentum. As we all do this, the skills of lifelong learning will become more tangible for all!

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