The Tyranny of the Urgent

Functioning in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions creates a sense of infinite urgency.   Furthermore, ubiquitous exigencies make learning more difficult as the pressure to work seems to never cease. In such conditions, what is the learner to do? “Although we need more and more learning and training, the irony is that we have less time to acquire it” (Marquardt, Banks, Cauweiler, and Ng, 2018, p. 19).

Puzzle Black Man

Gagne (1985) proposed nine instructional events that provide a framework for creating optimal learning conditions. However, each instructional event requires time, something that learners lack. How then will the instructional designer construct optimal learning conditions for learners while maintaining fidelity to Gagne’s nine instructional events? The answer is with a heutagogical stance rather than a pedagogical stance. Blaschke (2012) defined heutagogy as “a form of self-determined learning with practices and principles rooted in andragogy” (para. 1).

Gagne’s nine instructional events include the following:

  1. Gaining attention
  2. Informing learners of the objective
  3. Stimulating recall of prior learning
  4. Presenting the stimulus
  5. Providing learning guidance
  6. Eliciting performance
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Assessing performance
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer

Gagne proposed these nine instructional events during the industrial age, when training was very much trainer-centered and less learner-centered. Hence, Gagne’s nine instructional events are pedagogical in nature, which helped to set a pattern for traditional education. When a pedagogical stance is utilized in training, the trainer makes the assumption that learners need external factors such as Gagne’s nine instructional events to occur in order for learning to happen.

On the contrary, when a heutagogical stance is utilized in training, the learner takes ownership of his or her learning, thus Gagne’s nine instructional events become nine heutagogical learning events. Heutagogy encourages learners to challenge their theories in use, their values and assumptions rather than providing a basic response to tasks. Gagne’s nine instructional events through the lens of heutagogy shifts learners into action by having them “study the process of how they came to their conclusions, how this process can lead to other solutions, and how their own assumptions changed through the process” (Eberle, 2009, para. 7). In my view, heutagogy converts Gagne’s nine instructional events into nine learning events. They are as follows:

  1. Learners awareness is raised towards observing a task or problem
  2. Learners choose or construct their learning objective(s)
  3. New learning is created with different solutions or strategies
  4. Meaningful, purposeful learning experiences are provided which are relevant to the learners’ needs
  5. Independent and collaborative learning with peers and colleagues is encouraged and supported
  6. The instructor facilitates exploration, collaboration, and self-actualization
  7. Critical reflection, universal feedback from peers, colleagues, and instructor are provided
  8. Learners are encouraged to self-diagnose his or her learning via knowledge application
  9. Facilitator promotes action learning for solving complex problems of the 21st century

As stated earlier, more and more learning is necessary because of the “turbo-speed changes created by technology” (Marquardt, Banks, Cauweiler, and Ng, 2018, p. 18). As such, the instructional designer should consider designing optimal learning environments using a heutagogical stance. The tyranny of the urgent will probably never end, so, the response to this phenomena should be with more open-ended learning and less conditioned learning.


Blaschke, L. (2012, January ). International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning. Retrieved July 2019, from

Eberle, J. (2009). Heutagogy: What your mother didn’t tell you about pedagogy and the conceptual age. In Proceedings from the 8th Annual European Conference on eLearning, October 29-30, 2009. Bari, Italy.

Gagne, R. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th Ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Marquardt, M. J., Banks, S., Cauweiler, P., & Ng, C. S. (2018). Optimizing the power of action learning: Real-time strategies for developing leaders, building teams and transforming organizations.

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