Agency and Autonomy as a Learning Outcome: Distinguishing the Notions

Agency and Autonomy as a Learning Outcome:
Distinguishing the Notions

Dobryakova M.S.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), Senior Expert of the Institute of Education of the HSE University, Moscow, Russia.

Yurchenko О.V.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), PhD, Senior Researcher of the Institute of Sociology of FCTAS RAS, Moscow, Russia.

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For citation:

Dobryakova M.S., Yurchenko О.V. Agency and Autonomy as a Learning Outcome: Distinguishing the Notions. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2023. No 11. P. 80-92


The article explores conceptual difference between the notions of “autonomy” and “agency” in relation to students’ learning outcomes. These concepts are often used as synonyms. We argue that distinguishing them is more productive for practical pedagogy. Unfolding the essence of agentive action in 9 theoretical theses based on sociological and psychological approaches, we trace its prerequisites and outline the forks where agency and autonomy diverge. Agency implies a desire for change based on a consciously constructed identity and values. Independence focuses on achieving mastery within existing roles and social norms. In a social sense, in the continuity/change pair, independence aims at continuity, while agency aims at change. Distinguishing these concepts will help consciously design learning situations and set realistic learning outcomes. However, can agency be a realistic measurable learning outcome in the conventional sense? Probably not, since it is tied to identity and personal attitudes towards social situations, and will therefore be very individual. Autonomy as a learning outcome is simpler, for ultimately it requires comparing the student’s skills to those of an adult. The key factor differentiating autonomy and agency is the nature of the individual’s identity – its orientation towards reproducing the existing or towards individual search and change.

autonomy; agency; education; distinction; learning outcomes


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Content No 11, 2023