Publish at February 28 2016 Updated January 12 2023

The end of the myth of the individual as the sole actor of his learning

Being able, willing and able to learn

What if we were mistaken in declaring in every tone for decades that " the individual actor of his professional training " was the absolute Grail of pedagogical approaches and the key element of the organization of training systems? What if we had overestimated the possibility of effectively activating " rights to be trained " ?

Let's look at the French example. In France, seeing the mixed success of the right to individual training by example of the individualization modalities (the  Individual Right to Training only benefited about 6% of French employees per year, and the Validation of Acquired Experience allows to graduate 27,000 people per year, as for the Individual Training Leave, it benefits about 45,000 people), we have to admit that this much revered way of individualization :

  • does not allow for a large number of potential participants to be reached;
  • does not allow the most disadvantaged to access the training they could use.

The French-style logic of " individual rights " that accumulate in the different social fields, social security, health, etc. but also, in this case, training, could, in fact, create social injustices between those included and excluded from the systems. Those who benefit and take advantage of these rights and know how to activate them and the others who either do not hold any counter of training hours, or, do not know how to build a project to benefit from them and do not even have the idea.

The difficulty with the idea of " individual actor of his training " is that it mixes, on the one hand, the material possibilities of learning, " in theory " made possible by the generous legislative devices proposed, and, on the other hand, the posture of the learner who is self-determined in his learning project. The three conditions that must be met for learning and its effects to occur are not met. The power, the will and the knowledge to learn do not meet well. Let us examine why.

The " power to learn "is embodied in devices designed for individuals. The more the legislature strives to be specific and to serve individuals, the more it seems to fail to help. This paradox stems from the complexity and complications it introduces. The more the legislator wants to protect the individual, to avoid setbacks, for example, encounters with training organizations or unsuitable training systems, the more barriers are created between the motivations (sometimes fragile) and the training situations. By dint of a multitude of administrative steps and validations to go through, a learner  not very  reckless gets discouraged.

The " want to learn " refers to the individual project, the perceived external conditions, the different internal motivations for learning. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are essential for the project to learn to be sufficiently sustainable. The effort to commit, to find funding, to persist in learning requires a supportive climate. This is certainly where the difficulty is greatest and left to the chance of individual stories.

The " knowing how to learn "which is also called " learning to learn " is a skill shared by self-taught people, but, not so frequently developed, with regard to a school culture that prefers to ensure the memorization of content and methods thought outside of the learners, rather than letting them build their knowledge. Between transmitting and developing a taste for learning, institutions have clearly chosen to transmit.


From then on, only those who conform to the reception of knowledge would develop a taste for learning. The others would keep in mind that learning is external to themselves and depends on a teacher, and on the teacher's motivations to organize and make his or her course interesting. Thus, telling them that they are responsible for their learning may be painful or even counterproductive, because, their abilities to learn on their own have been little supported.

If, then, the legal route of " right to be trained ", places the exclusive responsibility for one's learning on the individual and leads to too many obstacles, other perspectives must be examined. Perhaps we need to examine, the conditions that will ensure that a conferred right can actually be convened.

The idea then would be to look at the environment of the individual, an environment that will foster power, willingness, and learning. Rather than granting the individual more rights, which as we have seen are difficult to use, because they obey logics of contingency (individualized time meters) and social controls (training and training organizations approved or not, strict procedure to be respected, preponderant place of the teacher), then let's put our faith in the creation of environments favorable to learning. It is possible to distinguish several environments:

  • Educational and training environments

The creation of unschooling learning spaces that promote the freedom to engage and learn is a goal to be pursued. In France we remember Personalized Pedagogy Workshop type devices, but we are also seeing the emergence of proximity networks where we learn from one another, or spontaneous networks of exchange of gestures and practices. These types of listening and project development mechanisms should be supported and imagined. These are environments  promoting the  pedagogy of discovery and the project, rather than just goals and programs.

  • Social and associative environments

It is possible to see the creation of inspiring social dynamics that carry engagement projects within a variety of new semi-associative or public spaces. Let's identify all the places where we learn such as fab-labs, meeting spaces, co-working spaces, Digital Public Spaces, support these places and examine how they contribute to the capacities to learn.

  • Professional environments

It is in natural work environments that we would learn the most and informally. Why not take an interest in enriching them and supporting all the local actors who work in them : managers, peer groups, learning initiatives and projects, physical environments for meetings and exchange to be rethought. Let's put in place the means to encourage the act of learning in a situation. Let's free up production time to exercise the indispensable distancing from one's professional actions.

  • Personal learning environments

And above all, it is possible to bank on the digital potential to activate the motivations to learn, because the software, groups, forums that are developing and are now widely accessible are all resources to facilitate the emergence of " wanting to learn "

In sum, it would be a matter of questioning the replacement of the industrialization dynamic of the post-war years and its multiple motivating opportunities  for social promotion, to individual actors, heroes of learning, the heroic self-taught who rise by the strength of their wrist, by new entrepreneurial dynamics investing the social, digital domains, reinventing the living together.

If continuing professional education does not accompany industrial conquest, then it must better serve the economic, cultural, and social issues of the moment. What has just been described proceeds from the creation of empowering learning environments that allow a right to be transformed into a very real capacity for action. Environments that allow to convert, the multiple resources available to learn, into a success factor, to engage a project is certainly the trajectory to explore.

Illustration: Goodluz - ShutterStock


The DIF: modest maturity - R. Descamps - Cereq - Centre d'études et de recherche sur les qualifications

La validation des acquis de l'expérience - Séries de données arrêtées en 2013 - Ministère du travail, de l'emploi, de la formation professionnelle et du dialogue social.

Boosting the personal training account! - Arnaud - CFP Formation

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