Latest thinking on police education

John Coxhead has shared two recent articles with the International Police Executive Symposium (IPES) at the American Society of Criminology Annual Conference hosted in Chicago, based on research with the Universities of Loughborough and Keele in the UK.  The two related articles explore how policing needs fresh approaches to better embed critical thinking to enable situational judgement making. The core points include recommendations to move away from didactic pedagogy and towards self-directed learning, and a merger of learning and performance cultures using praxis principles that focus on a common reference point around skills. You can read both working articles below.

The event was themed around the need for a paradigm shift for policing reform, and attracted researchers from five continents, with presentations from Africa, Australia, the USA and Canada, Europe and India. Professor Coxhead is editing a book of the diverse papers, to complement an ever growing series of IPES materials published by Routledge, whose series editor is Professor Dilip Das of New York. You can read more about IPES here: –

Professionalising Police Learning (2021)

Conference Roundtable Paper American Society of Criminology (Chicago, 2021)

Many educational and ‘training’ approaches underpinning contemporary policing learning are outmoded and misplaced, meaning many policing educational programmes are not fit for purpose to meet the modern complexity of professional policing. A lack of critical review of approaches has facilitated an undesirable obfuscation of explicit reflective practice, resulting in outdated didactic, single-loop, transactional, iterative educational approaches that lack any holistic strategic blueprint to meet the reality of the professional needs of policing practice. The lack of focus on desired and articulated outcomes, rather than inputs and processes, means that there is no cohesive learning environment for policing, and that there is a praxis disconnect. What is needed to meet the operational delivery outcomes for professional policing is a rejection of pedagogy; a critical challenge to the limitations of andragogy; yet an accelerated embracing of heutagogical approaches to enable autonomous, self-directed learning in the workplace. Professional policing relies upon the ability for situational judgement making in complex and often ambiguous situations – the ability to think on your feet – requiring a more Bayesian informed rationale and a dynamic double, or triple, loop learning culture. Without such a paradigm shift, policing risks not only letting down its own professionals but the trust, legitimacy and relevance afforded to it by the public it serves. The future of policing education must celebrate the advantages of a more collective, agile and dynamic learning culture, in order to equip the modern policing professional to serve the modern world.

Professor John Coxhead, IPES

Professor of Policing Learning and Innovation, Loughborough University, UK

The praxis of policing education

There are those who suggest teaching, and being taught, is akin to a parent child relationship (Wentzel, 2002). Indeed, in teaching and learning circles the term pedagogy is used – this word, which comes from the Greek root meaning ‘leading a child’ – concerns more the act of teaching a body (as a form of noun) of knowledge. Colloquially, some have termed pedagogy the ‘sage on the stage’ approach.

Malcolm Knowles (1968, 1984) developed theories from Alexander Kapp (1833) and Eugen Rosentock (1924), to discuss andragogy – from the Greek ‘to lead a man [adult]’ as a way of better understanding adult learning, as distinct from pedagogy. Some have termed andragogy the ‘coach in the corner’.

Is the preferred approach for professional policing education to utilise pedagogy or andragogy? Maybe neither, as heutagogy (from the Greek [approximately]) to ‘lead to discoveries’ offers a stronger form of autonomous self-determined active (as a form of verb) learning (Kenyon and Hase, 2001). This means the learner is at the centre of the(ir) action, and they, in many ways, find their own way. Shifting beyond andragogy is about taking the stabilisers off; to move beyond being receptive to help, to become self-helping.

Hase and Kenyon (2001) have done much to develop the application of heutagogical principles into professional nursing education and as such has modelled how professionals need to be equipped how (rather than what) to think critically to enable autonomous discovery and problem solving. This is in stark contrast to the notion of the ‘single-loop learner’ (Argyris and Schon, 1974) operating in a compliance structure of being told and so doing.

Kenyon and Hase (2010) chart the shift from andragogical to heutagogical practice environments as a needed adaptation based upon the complexities of professional practice. I would argue that heutagogical, as deployed here, straddles both double and triple loop (Argryis and Schon, 1974; Argryis, 1991) (mainly the latter), in that the autonomy of informed situational judgement making increasingly prevails.

Operating in a heutagogical fashion is a form of praxis (the nexus interaction between theory and practice) and offers the embodiment of a reflective practitioner (Dewey 1904, 1933; Schon, 1987). Such praxis enables more dynamic learning, and additional operationalised benefits in the form of application, innovation, adaptability and enterprise.

Practitioners in context

The heutagogical practitioner can best operate in a heutagogically supportive environment. This means a culture that enables double and triple-loop learning without seeking to use power hierarchies to insist upon single-loop compliance.

The complexities of policing can be perceived as a mixture of external and internal factors – be they shifting socio economic and crime trends or the police managerialism of structures, strategies, bureaucracy, processes and policies; through which the heutagogical practitioner needs to navigate adeptly in order to deliver professional practice.

The heutagogical professional practitioner in their context refers to the complexity of navigating through various power dynamics around them that may seek to control their practice as if they were a vessel for policy implementation. Triple-loop learning principles would suggest that the heutagogical practitioner, as a situational judgement maker, would seek to critically and ethically assess input and output directives in order to best achieve outcomes.

The context paradox here is that the heutagogical practitioner may be able to focus on outcomes, using triple-loop learning, if the environment allows it. In other words, self-autonomous learning requires a culture of permissions, listening and enablement to shift away from any compliance controls evident in single-loop learning contexts.

The role of the leader or manager in a culture of heutagogy is to enable, empower and enlist insight, and much less to control, command and instruct. Of course, leaders should have a role in setting vision and overall goals, but then stand back more from micromanaging the ‘how’ of service delivery and improvement to allow a more agile learning for continual improvement to thrive.

Whilst the complexities within contemporary policing I would argue is well overdue the heutagogical self-autonomous learning, professional practitioner, it is much less certain if current management and leadership identities and ideologies are willing to critically re-examine and surrender their exercise of power in order to enable professionals to deliver praxis (Grant and Thompson, 2018).  

Heutagogy in practice

As we all view social constructions through our own lenses, I feel some responsibility to share my stance on what heutagogical practice in action in professional policing would look like, otherwise I risk simply deploying a term that might further obfuscate what is already an overly complex topic.

Heutagogical practice offers a holistic blueprint for policing development as it is entirely appropriate for the National Decision-Making Model (NDM) (College of Policing, 2013); focuses upon the practitioner in the workplace and their continuing learning; and is not reliant upon management-led instructional updating. Heutagogy can operate within established practitioner outcome references in a culture when double and triple loop learning is empowered – in contemporary policing terms this means a shift away from over-zealous command and control police managerialism. In the place of an over reliance upon police micro managerialism is the opportunity for a more dynamic thinking (Bayesian principled probability rationale) reflective practitioner to thrive (Goldman, 1999).

The other fundamental benefit of heutagogical approaches are that they cut through the dilemma of evaluation of learning transference correlation and causation (Kirkpatrick, 2007). By removing the artificiality of the classroom barrier reaching operationalised behaviour the challenges of evaluating level 3 (behaviour) and 4 (results), as described by Donald L. Kirkpatrick, are minimised as the learning is already dynamically in situ and is measurable through core existing performance metrics, (in both corporate priority data and PDP journals).

Educational approaches to support professional policing practice for me are not challenges of teaching input and output, but of learning, and within that there is a specific challenge of occupational workplace culture. The culture to enable heutagogy needs to be an enabling, learning one rather than one of blame and fear: in other words, one that focuses more upon opportunity realisation than judgement critique. In particular, the learning culture needs to recognise and embrace the reality of ambiguity, uncertainty, inference and likelihood, to utilise a form of Bayesian principled dialogue and discussion to work with vulnerability as a form of realistic strength (Jeffrey, 1992; Goldman, 1999). To both recognise, value and utilise ambiguity and vulnerability as a learning strength the learning environment culture is key.

Edmonson (2019) has written extensively about the need for, and benefits of, psychological safety in the workplace. Cameron & Seppälä (2015) have also discussed the same core components as being vital for positive work environments, which in turn are also the most productive; and OECD (2017), via their Learning Environments Evaluation Programme (LEEP) also points to the same core components as widely-held necessary ingredients for effective learning environments. In other words, the fundamentals here for safety, for productivity and for learning are all the same: it’s about taking the blame out and utilising active critical discussing and listening to each other. Simply, this allows people to perform at their most creative, and best.

Heutagogy, then, enables and stimulates critical thinking in a problem-solving context, where ownership is held where it needs to be (at the point of action) rather than any power dynamics of knowledge being somehow constrained in a ‘parent-child’ relationship that we can find in pedagogy. This approach is arguably more relevant and more achievable now because of the exponential rise of digital resources, which have enabled access beyond curated repositories into open access knowledge, which can then meld more fluidly with tacit working knowledge. All that is required is a form of heutagogical information literacy to identify what and where knowledge can be gained. In this revolution of knowledge ‘power’ there is a greater democratisation of more flexible, personal learning opportunities: less ‘open university’ and more ‘open knowledge’.

Heutagogy operates as a double or triple loop learning for a practitioner, that no longer relies upon being told what to do, by being able to work out what needs to be done and doing it. What heutagogy looks like in practice is similar to what Schon (1987) advocated within the principles of reflective practice. Heutagogy offers a supporting scaffolding around such reflective practice that embraces, rather than trying to hide, ambiguity and uncertainty. In that vulnerability of critical reflection is the opportunity to learning for all concerned, meaning growth, change and evolving rather than repeating practice.

This focus of the preparedness of autonomous self-learning in the workplace takes the emphasis off the notion of knowledge as a noun (thereby rejecting didactic pedagogy) and, rather, promotes the notion of how to think (as an active verb of learning). Although theoretical underpinnings may seem complex to the practitioner, the principles are simply a scaffold offering a better alternative to binary, didactic, single loop approaches which may be suitable for some mechanistic roles, but fall short of the agility required in the complex world of contemporary policing. Practitioners are right to value the virtues of experience, but experience without learning is a blunt tool. In an ever changing, complex world everyone needs professional policing practitioners who are able to think and learn: to stand on their own two feet.

 Nexus group heutagogy: Koinagogy

These reflections now move beyond individual practice, and more towards team working. Much policing is already done, but needs to grow, in its focus on teams and partnership, as both an individual officer needs to utilise their team, and policing as a whole alone cannot achieve long term outcomes alone: the answer lies in greater collectivity. The NDM has a parallel process in the shape of the Joint Decision-Making Model (JDM) that also offers some relevance in this context (College of Policing, 2013).

Moving one step beyond heutagogy into nexus group working (when people from different backgrounds and context come together to explore a common issue) creates us the space next to consider Koinagogy. Koinagogy (Coxhead, 2019) builds on Kenyon and Hase (2001) in their forward projection of applications within professional learning settings to establish the core ingredients for enabling success in nexus group formations.

Koinagogy supports the use of Bayesian principles, in an ethical framework, to engender collective agency amongst participants in explicit practice for critical thinking and group situational problem-solving.  The principles here utilise parallel and relevant work by Seddon (2005) concerning the minimising of structure, process and managerial control towards more action peer learning; a model also promoted by Kao (1997) in his exploration of the  creative psychology of ‘jamming’.

Apfelbaum, Phillips and Richeson (2014), Sunstein & Hastie (2015), Winsborough (2017), Coyle (2018), Hamnel and Zanini (2020) all chart how understanding of how diverse teams can work well reveals some common fundamental basics of psychological fusion and trust. The best teams can naturally produce innovation, if there is an enterprise culture underpinned by two fundamentals: teams and trust.

A group of people in one place does not make a functioning team and Koinagogy offers the theoretical underpinning to help construct group learning agency rather than risking groupthink. The ‘how’ of the approach rests upon the ‘why’ of explicit practice (O’Connell, 2019) – the common purpose, approached as an action learning set, operates on conjoint effort rather than disjointed, competitive tension. That conjointness though is not homogeneity based, but opportunity based, espousing creativity through different thoughts and thinking styles and utilising a Bayesian principles approach.

The essential difference between the accustomed, but misplaced, approaches of pedagogy, and the limitations of andragogy, for policing learning is that they focus on the teacher / instructor / facilitator; whilst in Heutagogy and Koinagogy, the focus is entirely upon the learner, in the learner’s context. No trainer, teacher or instructor can tell the modern policing professional what to do as they really do need to be able to think on their own feet in a shifting and complex professional environment; in this sense the learning process is to adjust to autonomous self-determined learning in the workplace to enable situational judgement making. The learning process is not so much about what to think and do in a rigid, linear and overly-simplistic fashion, but how to think, autonomously.

Koinagogy builds upon heutagogical principles to focus on a collective (thinking in a group, not groupthink) action learning set format of team agency enabled through explicit practice. New postgraduate professional practice progammes are being developed by the University of East London that seek to embed these theoretical principles for action learning nexus group agency, to bridge the gap between the individualised nature of heutagogy into teamwork applications. The opportunity here is to professionalise nexus group working in many vocational applications, including safeguarding and multi-agency prevention and problem-solving work.


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Professional Police Education: the heutagogical factor (2021)

John Coxhead, Loughborough University, UK


Professional policing education should seek to be transformative rather than merely transactional. There is an opportunity to evolve beyond low order learning (Bloom, 1956) functionality; beyond a ‘training’ ethos, to embrace the richness of higher order thinking that the complexity of contemporary policing requires and deserves.  

There should be a shift from pedagogy, which, arguably, has always been inadequate, towards adult learning approaches that resonate with situational judgement making skills in often complex contexts. In other words, the enabling strategy should support the outcome professional practitioners require; it should not be a case of ‘tail wagging dog’ where pedagogies conspire to force end users to try and apply ill-fitting concepts. Whilst pedagogical managerialism may offer an orderly tick box order of indexed and audited inputs, the whole approach is unfit for purpose when it comes to equipping a skilled professional practitioner.

Education, like professional practice itself, is about both content and process (Allman, 2001). Content will inevitably have a curriculum requirement, but that requirement should take account both of knowledge, understanding and skills. Fusing theory and practice – praxis – is already an established notion but is constantly undermined by attempts to segregate these conjoined and harmoniously supportive parts into separate disciplines or pedagogies. Professional policing education, as practice, needs to be praxis based; and the vehicle recommended here is heutagogy, rather than pedagogy. In other words, the focus should be on the desired outcome (in the dynamic workplace) and not just a preoccupation with the educational or training input.

A series of implicit acceptances threaten to reduce policing professionalism to notions of police compliance, in a form of lower order NVQ compartmentalisation of the Honours degree. Although policing has been critically identified as being insular in many ways in the past (Sklansky, 2007), and justifiably so, this new phenomenon is creating a new wave of insularity. This new intellectualism is seeking to operate on its own terms, with a disdain for professional experience, biased in its selection of curriculum content driven by a nuanced ontology. This results in policing by decimals, reduced to the lowest common denominator, whilst the more enabling empowerment of professional practice is constrained by a managerialism of input control, on the misconceived presumption that what is ‘taught’ is what is ‘learned’.  

The purpose here is to draw out a relatively unchallenged implicit narrative, that is having a huge impact on policy, if not mainstreamed policing practice. The approach is not eristic but dialectic: this is not a cognitive competition; the stakes are too high as policing is too important. The argument is that policing needs to be underpinned by a rational and critical thinking mindset that evolves beyond the current occupational working culture; in essence to grow up; to be less of a junior Pinocchio, become more heutagogical and assert its own explicit and professional consciousness. Professional police education, like all good higher education, should be about the learner: less of what to think (who are we tell practitioners in any case?) and more about how to think (as the practitioner is the one who will be needing to do just that).

Professionalising for whom and for what?

It’s important to start with why (Sinek, 2019). If we consider professionalising police education, the purpose should be for the practitioner to become better educated, with all the inherent benefits to their practice. What does ‘to be educated’ mean? If we take Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy then we find some lower order thinking involving memorising facts and so forth, and some higher order thinking involving more comprehension, critical thinking and applying knowledge.

In this sense, education is a verb rather than a noun, in that it should be enabling something, ongoing, to happen and grow, adapt and evolve: what some would term lifelong learning (Fischer, 2000). To follow Bloom (Ibid.), it’s not enough to know, it’s what you do with what you know that matters. Hence, for police educational practice, we should be seeking to enable thinking not to simply tell students things so they experience education as a passive recipient. The purpose of education here should be to improve the police professional, to improve their practice, to better serve the public. This should be less about teaching (unto others) and more about learning.

To improve policing, in its complex social setting, lower order education and learning is not enough: thinking is required. The reason the modern professional should be a thinker is that they have to adaptive to circumstances, to tailor their understanding of knowledge to its synthesis and application, and evaluate it too. Teaching within a lower order learning framework to achieve higher order thinking as an outcome is a bad plan on every level.

Conversely, the flexibility and agility encouraged in higher order learning fits much better with the ambiguities and uncertainties of the social world. Equipping the practitioner in the field, like a veterinary surgeon (who is very often actually in a field), to be able to make situational judgements is vital as they are the one who decides what gets done based on what needs to happen in the particular context they face, drawing on their professional discipline knowledge.

The lower order trait of competency in compliance knowledge alone is too menial to cope with synthesis, comprehension, adaptation, application and evaluation in an applied setting. Whilst professional guidelines are important for quality standardisation, when reality meets theory and demands action there must be dynamic and tailored adaptative thinking: involving higher order thinking. COVID-19 was a classic example of script writers, after the event, documenting practice doctrine, but the reality was that in the thick of the unexpected and dynamic turn of events, professional practitioners needed to be intelligently utilising skills with what emerging information was available. The point here is that equipping professionals should recognise that such professionals cannot sit about, passively, waiting to be ‘trained’, either initially, or later, during continual, dynamic change.  

Whilst it may be comforting to think we can assemble an aide memoire, drop-down list of knowledge fit for all purposes and all applications and scenarios, it is perhaps more delusional, and maybe even dangerous, in reality. It might work if we were programming robots to interact with robots (who we had also programmed). The reality is far more complex and ambiguous: uncomfortably so for control and compliance advocates hoping for transactional lower order input solutions.

The concept of a police education programme is a good one: if it’s done well. Yet that means we need to move beyond training as we need professionals who can pivot with an agile mindset to perform services in a rapidly changing and conflicted work environment. What’s key is not just about what is taught to police professionals (although that is important) it’s about how they learn to learn, for themselves; how they reason; how they think. To illustrate using an old proverb – the student should not just be fed fish, but learn to fish for themselves.  

The story so far: how did we get to here? And how far did we actually get?

Where to begin. The general history of policing normally cites the 1285 Statute of Winchester (1285), the Bow Street Runners (1749) and City of Glasgow Police formation in 1800. The 1829 pivotal moment, was not, for the record, the start of things. The Indian Police Service were progressive and inspired the founding of the Hendon Police College between the wars, which had to close temporarily in 1939 at the invasion of Poland.  

After the war, Ryton National Police College opened to take a lead in police ‘training’, moving premises to Bramshill from 1960 until 2015, whilst Hendon was not re-kindled until 1974. By 1993 a series of quangos were starting to appear to oversee police training in England and Wales, the first of which was the Police Training Council, followed by National Police Training, then the Central Police Training and Development Authority, which succeeded by the National Policing Improvement Agency, and finally, in 2012, the most recent iteration: the current College of Policing.

There was critical disquiet about police training though, that had ebbed and flowed from 1829 at least when officers drunk on duty were joined by officers displaying overt racism, exposed by the BBC in 2003[1]; issues being grappled with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate[2]. For a ‘disciplined’ organisation with mandatory ‘Professional Standards’ departments, there have been a surprising number of contraventions. Orders and rank do not appear, alone, to instil ethics. Whilst there have been a huge amount of books published about police ‘culture’ few of which point to the need to move the furniture around as a viable solution; so, if we know transactional tools to lever transformation is flogging a dead horse why is structural transactionalism so prevalent in police ‘training’?

A new national police entry-level training programme commenced in 2006 called the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme, which led to a Level 3 Diploma in Policing (equivalent to an A level) from 2010. IPLDP has mustered on but on its way out now, to be replaced with (mainly post-92) university-led degree level programmes from 2020. These Police Educational Quality Framework (PEQF) products were designed to ‘professionalise’ policing in a new era.

Replacing IPLDP, PEQF came to fruition in 2016, utilising three broad approaches: Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA); Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP); and Pre-Join Degree (PJD). The early adopting stage of these products began in 2018[3] and expanded rapidly, unsurprisingly as the police service became graduate entry as such from 2020, hard-wired to higher education bodies such as the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) Advance HE and the Office for Students (OfS).

Again not without critics, there was a suggestion from the outset that this knowledge-based policing structural approach was at odds with experience, skills and professional judgement – (Gundus, 2012; Holdaway, 2017), things that were in the main dismissed in the rushed pursuit of standardisation.

That standardisation itself was then something of a tension with some Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), a swift roll out occurred anyway, driven by a rather technical and traditional (training) focus within the PEQF curriculum insisted upon by the College of Policing. Some emergent (but nonsensical) narrative has since emerged that these are ‘police degrees’, not just degrees; itself a highly problematic insight into what Level 6 Honours outcomes should mean. Was a new dumbed-down degree for policing introduced through the back door? Are some post-92 HEIs moving too far towards being training centres in all but name for the pursuit of student income?

What if that was happening – would it matter? Perhaps to answer that we need to look at the police interface with the public themselves, rather than the Government bodies setting the budgets. Police tension points with the public could populate a book of their own, but industrial disputes such as with miners at Tonypandy or Orgreave or printers at Wapping; sporting events such as Hillsborough; city-based rioting after Brixton at Broadwater Farm;  the Poll Tax riot in 1990; the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and most recently a gulf of distrust following the murder of Sarah Everard: the list is ignoble and long.

The need to sensitively balance enforcement with protection to ensure policing is consensual has been a long-standing challenge, always requiring more than transactional and mechanical thinking and action. Storch (1975) recounts insurgencies about the ‘Blue Locusts’, based on a hatred of the early Police as a paramilitary force to control communities. Hence, having a rather didactic pedagogical approach now, hosted in a university, to deliver technical competence (alone) may offer nothing more than a variation upon a theme of police training and miss entirely the actual benefits of a University education: to learn how to think not to be told what to think.

Are the post-92 HEIs delivering PEQF morphing into technical training colleges more suited to Further Education? Is shifting the standards of education to fit a perceived industrial need the right and only way of doing things? If higher education degrees are reduced to diplomas, then both policing and higher education in turn, respectively, are both damaged. Yet how can a skills-based, hands-on University based programme be facilitated in a true higher education higher order learning and critical thinking ethos that would equip a future professional to make complex decisions in a critical environment?

Professional Praxis

Is regression to the mean the only way to facilitate higher education that requires thinking and the application of thinking? In what way is the old IDLP different to the new PEQF, other than being longer and costing more?

There is another way of looking outward, and upward, in considering the notion of praxis. This is an old Greek term to encapsulate the interface between theory and practice, where the two merged concepts drive each other and blur into one. Where can we find praxis in action? In Teaching Hospitals and Veterinary Schools, where theory is deep and complex and action is constant and critical. Ask the Teaching Hospital porter to direct you to the Theory Department and note the perplexed look you receive. You cannot have theory without practice skill and vice versa in the Neurosurgery Department: would you be willing to be a patient there if not so?

Vets have arguably the highest academic standard attainment profile that exists to gain entry to study for their profession. They are well respected amongst society, and trusted. They don’t stay indoors behind desks, they attend to crises in the idle of the night in tough working conditions and have to be creative at times to work with the resources they have at hand to get the best outcome they can. Based on their professional judgment. They are situational judgement makers.

Are sheep in pain any more significant than a human terrified and seeking protection? We don’t need to denigrate sheep in order to prioritise humans; both are important.  One requires a vet, one a police professional. Both doing vital work. Vets at the pinnacle of an education approach that embraces praxis and policing that, well, is not as good, but should be, and indeed, can be.

A vet is more than an Amazon Alexa in wellies, since the blend here is a deep knowledge with dynamic know how in finding things out (and continually staying up to date), with empathy, compassion and creative skill. Vets on call do not need veterinary sergeants and are not authorised by the PACE inspector should they need to be urgently invasive with a chicken. Vets are great examples of double and triple learners, depending on the contextual need, and are heutagogical: you do not need to tell them what to do minute by minute as they are thinking (and doing) professionals.

Need and want as variant praxis adopters

Policing ‘classroom teaching’ has the most distance to travel to embrace praxis, but there are pockets that are distinctly praxis in nature already, which offer potential immersive approaches which can be applied more widely. Think, for example, of firearms, hostage negotiation, and something that most police professionals undertake – driving. The UK approach to a police driving system is documented in Roadcraft (first published openly in 1955) and students are required to engage in depth with theory and apply this in a learning cycle during intensive programmes, such as advanced driving.

The assessment for advanced driving involves a high-pressure performance that is observed by an assessor, requiring the candidate to not only drive but commentate on their driving. This is a form of meta-cognitive process that is developed over the course to think about your thinking and your actions. The act of driving (with considerable skill) is not enough alone as the driver is required to describe and explain why they are doing what they are doing as they do it. That narrative of dynamic, real-time assessment, judgement taking a, reflection and adaptation, all based on the application and synthesis of the theoretical base is similar to the approach used in medicine. 

The term ‘lecture theatre’ can be traced back to 1594[4], to describe the amphitheatrical layout where an experienced surgeon demonstrated their skill in anatomy to other aspirational surgeons, by doing and applying but also narrating their 1st person cognitive process aloud; applying theory to practice and emergent practice to theory in a praxis helix.

The gap for policing is that whilst reflective commentary, discussion and adaptive reflection all take place on many police programmes, and are taken very seriously, the cultural adoption of these traits into everyday professional practice is not mainstream. This praxis approach seems to be accepted in an administrative sense as an assessment need, but not so much apparently wanted in an everyday operational practice. Praxis is both relevant and doable in medicine and indeed policing – but there needs to more explicit, conscious, adoption of the flow of real-world reflexivity between theory and practice to culturally enable a dynamic learning environment.   

What is heutagogy and what’s it got to do with policing?

Many people recognise heutagogy as a practical and heuristic stance when the concept is explained, even if they were unfamiliar with the label. Heutagogy (Hase and Kenyon, 2000; Kenyon and Hase, 2010) is about self-determined learning, arguably being an evolvement of andragogy (Blaschke, 2012), as the notion of the teacher or coach as ‘stabilisers’ come off to empower development pathways in a self-determined way. To understand heutagogy is to also to appreciate notions of self-reflective action learning (Agyris and Schon, 1978) and looped learning (Agyris, 1993)[5].

Heutagogy was made for the digital age in that given the amount of information readily available now is more than ever, the role of the learner is to be able to flexibly and dynamically access that, whilst making judgements of their own. In other words, learning now is not restricted by any form of rationing, such as access to a library (although some forms of knowledge rationing and hoarding do still persist linked to profit based business models). Thinking, though, as through the ages, is still required in all circumstances, and should not be conflated with information access.

Where some may point to the dangers of open information as a veritable Wild West of lawless dangers, other may suggest this is Utopia. The key determinant of which is nearer the truth in such descriptions lies perhaps with the consumer, as a passive, accepting and gullible approach to information may well result in entirely different outcomes compared to a critical thinking mindset that can sift, weigh and contextualise. Given most contemporary universities all list the skill of sifting information as a core graduate attribute we should be able to sleep at night in the knowledge that the increasing safety net for cognitive poisoning does have a cure.

Academic journals insist that they do the filtering for you in their double-blind peer reviews: nothing get through the sieve: a little like having a trusted trader used car pre-sale check. I reserve judgment on that, but conceptually the key point here is that peer reviews or not, the critical thinker never devolves the responsibility to think to another as passivity is not in the vocabulary. That nature is part and parcel of being heutagogical. It means you make up your own mind.

Heutagogy is also about independence and initiative, and that means to your context or situation. You don’t have to operate on a get what you’re given one size fits all transactionality: you don’t have to buy sheet music (depending on what’s on the market and affordable) you can write your own songs. This takes us to the overlaps with both self-reflection and looped learning, both of which we should visit in order to show the fuzzy edges with heutagogy.

Heutagogy is in many ways a political threat as it is a pro democratisation notion, at the socially atomic level. That means it concerns the individual, critically thinking in a self-sufficient and self-empowered way, as a triple loop learner, thus not requiring ‘parenting’ in the social, organisational or political sense. The individual does not have anything to lose in heutagogy; whilst the power bases have everything to lose. It’s akin to setting minds free just as the printing press revolutionised access to ideas, noticeably during Caxton’s time, and again after Berners-Lee. Hence, there will be some form of resistance to what some will perceive as a form of Marxist intellectualism. Whilst one may call heutagogy Marxist, or even Foucauldian, in the sense it addresses some settled hierarchies of power distribution, another may equally (justifiably) call it critical (self) thinking.

Heutagogy and triple-loop and action learning are more inextricably linked, because the notion of self-determination (the use of empowered agency and initiative) is key to both, and are highly relevant to policing. These in turn I link to Bayes (1763) (see also McGrayne, 2011) as a form of iterative and dynamic learning process that is flexibly structured. A good example of such a structure relevant to policing would be the National Decision-Making Model, and the Joint Decision Making Model[6].

The benefit and working presumption around all of (what I would call complementary writings) is that we do not know enough to be certain about things, but in the requirement to act, we rest upon a reasoned and rational working strategy that is iterative. The notion of waiting for absolute certainty[7] before taking any action is problematic, particularly in emergency service work. That isn’t an excuse for mayhem, magic and mystery: it is simply about taking the least-worst yet pragmatic option of using a flexible scaffold of a working rationale, exploring a known unknown.

Such approaches no doubt take us into philosophical tension with some around the ‘scientific approach’, but my counter to that is operational decision making is more akin to action learning than hypothesis testing in the purest sense, not least in that it should be more inductive than deductive. Situational judgement making, in a heutagogical sense, seeks information to meet the focus of need (the declared) intention and tries rational iterative approaches, whilst dynamically reviewing impact. The ‘information’ input of such action learning would of course, so far as practicable, integrate what is known from previous attempts and data collated, as no-one would suggest action learning is a purposeful continual ‘reinventing of a wheel’. The pragmatic point here is that in action learning, within situational judgement making, there is a situation: the extent to which situations are ever precisely the same in order to warrant an off the shelf, one size fits all, generisable solution is, like absolute certainty a moot point[8].

So, the aspect of heutagogy here that relates to policing learning is that the practitioner cannot be told what to do in the sense that situation variation is endless, but can be aided how to think in order to come to the best contextual decision. The goal here is not to create a model of educator as parent, and educated as child[9], but to enable the educated to be continually self-educating, a notion some might call lifelong learning mindset. Having a mindset that is self-directed towards that continuing self-education is indeed heutagogical in concept.

To hammer home the point, policing needs professionals that can think on their own two feet, as the notion of them being told moment by moment what to do in any given circumstance is neither double or triple loop learning, nor practical. The Police Service has to make a choice about whether it seeks to (1) employ single-loop learning robotic units that are programmed  transactionally what to do when confronted by a long list of factors; or (2) enables action learning mindsets in its human agents to think and act on the spot with integrity and skill. Once decided, the learning strategy becomes clear: training for option (1) education for option (2). Like any binary, there is usually a spectrum in reality, but I purposefully frame things artificially here to make a rhetorical point.

So what and where next?

Most police training of the past has been didactic, and essentially pedagogical. Pedagogy (from the Greek to lead a child) is the wrong terminology and concept to help navigate progress for professional police education. Unfortunately, another place where terminology is widely used is in universities. Whilst universities might claim to embrace student autonomous learning, there are inconsistencies to be seen, with some policing degrees now in particular leaning towards instructional frameworks.

The best of university education for the policing context would be more towards the tutorial model, which for many institutions has become too expense to continue for staff student ratio reasons. So how can we tease out the tutorial method without the cost prohibitions for the benefit of policing education?

Palfreyman (2001) narrates the virtues of the Oxford tutorial system and we can see there are several ways to facilitate tutorials there are some common concepts, which are of use to us in policing education. For example, problem-based learning[10] (Barrett, 2010) makes a common appearance (and to refer back is commonly also found in veterinary schools[11]). Where these are described as ‘supervisions’ (at Cambridge) that language perhaps helps us even more by floating the notion that this sort of thinking activity could be hosted anywhere – not just in a university – but in a police premises too. That linkage would help overcome the them and us of theory and practice as symbolised through buildings. That shared (cross-geographical) adoption has been used already in social work professional development for some time, as a form of situational critical peer mutual reflective review.

Critical thinking around problem-based learning is not owned by a university building – important note going forward – it can be done anywhere.

To continue in the transferable aspects of what has been labelled the Tutorial (or Supervision). Idea submission, rational exposition and critical review are another important facet, where the student is encouraged to narrate in the 1st person to expose how they think as well as what they think, in order that critique can flow. The educational vehicle is not so much (exclusively) ‘what is the answer?’, rather ‘why do you think that way?’. This more meta cognitional approach is after the big fish: enhancing the thinking mindset, not the regurgitation of facts.

Using immersive or situational learning is also common. That can involve asking questions about things with no answers: how heavy is Big Ben, and explain your working out (that latter part is the real point). Using scenarios and situations, as a pre-planned injection form a tutor, or using live data that emerges is equally valid, and brings theory and practice together towards application. This is a breeding ground for the development of skills: what would you do here, or there, or if this happened?

Tutorials are also renowned for having little to no hiding place. During the lecture (can you hear me at the back?) there are plenty of hiding places, if not (physical or intellectual) absenteeism, at times. This zone of authenticity has a relevance to use within policing education too. For our purpose I would suggest both Brookfield and Preskhill (1999) and Edmondson (2019) can help us in this application, albeit from quite diverse points of origin. Here, respectively, we have insights into the use of Socratic discussion and debate to understand and enhance subjective perception; one reason why a group approach can do things that solitary reflection cannot. Secondly, the notion of psychological safety that enables fierce conversations at times that help growth by keeping superficiality and gamesmanship at bay.

Not only are these established educational approaches, but they meet a longstanding need in policing to address cultural ethos. Where we get authoritarian personality led echo chambers, we can see amplifications of unchecked bias, yet where people can call out the other (without falling out) you can get a much healthier divergence – and richness – of thinking and hence action. Policing has been for too long too authoritarian, too dogmatic and too rigid (Brown & Willis, 1985). Allowing for free-flowing debate and discussion would be a healthy way of instilling more inductive inquiry to both enhance investigations and evolve the occupational working culture.

Whilst debate and discussion can be facilitated in the university building, there is no reason why such dialectic pursuit should not also happen routinely in police buildings (there is in fact good reason to encourage precisely that). All of the aspects of the Tutorial reveal this is not a matter of place but approach – the cultural tone can be replicated anywhere, anytime, including in community forums. Palfreyman (Ibid.) claims the Tutorial has better efficacy that the lecture, I tend to agree and suggest adaptive methods offer a cornerstone of the new professional policing educational approach. ‘Students’ will continue talking to each other and thinking beyond whichever room such processes are initiated within (which is good) and they will manage to do that perfectly well without having to be hand held by a tutor or supervisor (making it heutagogical).  

Having some form of mutuality of signage, although apparently perhaps superficial, may also help bridge the divide of theory and practice, to a shared praxis, by utilising the language of skills. Thinking, then acting, and thinking again to debrief and review is incorporated within a skill (even if a skilled operator can move through those cycles very fluidly). Having an explicit focus on skills, such as via Skills Hub(s), both in the educational setting and workplace, starts to erode any notions of there being dividing walls to the thinking mindset that is the overall goal. This creates the nearest we can to the equivalent of a Teaching Hospital within the policing context. There may come a time when the signs can come down, as they are merely labels or staging cues: when a holistic praxis ethos of critical thinking is embedded heutagogically in policing, everywhere.



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Allman, P. (2001). Revolutionary social transformation: democratic hopes, political possibilities and critical education. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Barrett, T. (2010). The problem-based learning process as funding and being in flow Innovations in Education and Teaching International 24 (2): 165-174.

Bayes, T. (1763). An essay towards solving a problem in the doctrine of chances Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 53: 370.

Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: a review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71.

Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Brookfield, S.T & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: tools and techniques for university teachers. Society for Research into Higher Education: Open University Press.

Brown, L. & Willis A. (1985). Authoritarianism in British police recruits: importation, socialisation or myth? Journal of Occupational Psychology, 58(2), 97-108.

Edmondson, A.C. (2019). The Fearless Organisation Harvard: Wiley.

Fischer, G. (2000). Lifelong Learning – more than training. Journal of Interactive Learning Research. Vol.11 issue 4: 265-294.

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Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase: RMIT.

Holdaway, S. (2017). The Re-Professionalisation of the Police in England and Wales Criminology and Criminal Justice Vol 17 (5). SAGE

Kenyon, C., & Hase, S. (2010). Andragogy and heutagogy in postgraduate work in T. Kerry (Ed.) Meeting the challenges of change in postgraduate higher education. London: Continuum Press.

Laughlin, C. (1994). Apodicticity: The Problem of Absolute Certainty. Anthropology and Humanism Vol. 19 (2) Wiley.

McGryane, S. B. (2011). The Theory That Would Not Die Yale: London:

Palfreyman, D. (2001). The Oxford Tutorial: thanks, you taught me how to think. Oxford Centre for Higher Education Police Studies.

Schon, D.A. (1984). The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. Cambridge (MA): Basic.

Sklansky, D. A. (2007). Seeing Blue: police reform, occupational culture and cognitive burn-in. Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol.9. UC Berkley Public Law Research Paper Series.

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[1] BBC TV (2003) The Secret Policeman

[2] HMIC (2002) Training Matters

[3] Nottinghamshire Police was the first to commence the PCDA in England and Wales (University of Derby) in September 2018


[5] Psychologist Chris Argryis (1923-2013) was influenced by Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947); and Donald Schon (1930 – 1997) by John Dewey (1859-1952) in developing reflection in action approaches

[6] JDM stages are gather information; assess and develop a strategy; consider policies; consider options; act and review

[7] There are also wider variations of thought about the notion of absolute certainty, for example in adopting Aristotelian logic, particularly in the social world – see Laughlin (1994)

[8] Whilst principles and insights would no doubt be available, and should be welcomed, the situational judgment needs to be taken in context: meaning I make the case here that a human will do that better than a machine learning algorithm (there are some who disagree) and here – in true heutagogical fashion – I would encourage the reader to read widely, think, and then make up your own mind on this debate.

[9] References here to the differences between pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy spring to mind

[10] PBL is essentially a constructivist situated, inquiry-based approach, initially created for medical education, embedding critical reasoning, comprehension of sources and rationale articulation (McMaster University)

[11] For example, Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine