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Getting at the heart of the empowered learner

Getting at the heart of the empowered learner

With the ISTE Standards for Students revolving around the concept of empowered learning, it is important to move beyond the surface of the tag line and get into the nuts and bolts of just how you can empower your learners.

[a blog post for ISTE by Jody Britten see the original online here]

The ultimate goal of our educational system is to develop students as college-, career- and life-ready individuals who can thrive in a global, high-tech world. This goal can be supported or discouraged based on the learning environment, materials and instructional choices that are made for students. Even more so, this goal be supported and/or discouraged based on how students are empowered to co-construct their learning environment, interact with content, make sense of and draw meaning from resources, and demonstrate knowledge and understanding.

ISTE’s Empowered Learning Standard

ISTE’s Empowered Learner standard (core to the ISTE Standards for Students) takes some thinking and reflection to really understand. A quick search of social networks will find all kinds of discussion on empowered students. What’s lacking is a discussion of what it truly means to empower our learners and what core, shared definition we use to capture the complex, multifaceted process of empowered learning.

With ISTE’s new partnership with Metiri Group, the empowered learner standard is being defined, deconstructed and framed within quality research. Identifying criterion that supports the development of empowered learners, via research-based rubrics, further develops this contribution to the ISTE Standards for Students. Within the Digital Learning Pathways, empowered learner is defined as a student who has significant opportunities, voice and choice for purposeful engagement in deep, authentic learning.

Students who are not empowered (i.e., where all decisions are made for them) report surface learning as their goal — learning enough to meet the teachers’ expectations but no more. In the ISTE Standards PD that ISTE and Metiri Group are co-designing, surface learning is defined as acquiring facts, skills and methods that result in automaticity.

Understanding Empowered Learning in the Classroom

Students who are empowered learners are eager to pursue learning, both in and out of traditional school settings. The ISTE Standards PD, known as Digital Learning Pathways, is focused on helping teachers understand research-based strategies that actually build the capacity of students to demonstrate the skills necessary to be empowered learners. This PD builds a framework for the empowered learner that adds a powerful new dimension to learning that can deepen and enhance student agency in ways that learning sciences research says will ultimately lead to deeper, more authentic learning.

By addressing key components that support the development of students as empowered learners the Digital Learning Pathways is focused on helping teachers move the needle in student readiness. After completing just one section of Digital Pathways, teachers will understand why meeting the Empowered Learner standard is so important. They’ll explore what types of learning environments and technology supports students as empowered learner, access criteria and rubrics for assessing students as dynamic empowered learners, and understand how to develop students in their classrooms as empowered learners.


Jody Britten, Ph.D., is a senior associate at Metiri Group assisting educational stakeholders in the use of research-based strategies and tools to advance digital learning in PK-20. Jody has experience as a classroom teacher, district administrator, university professor, and international educational consultant. Metiri Group is currently working in collaboration with ISTE to articulate the research-base and associated strategies for implementing the ISTE Standards for Students.