Do you ever feel like you’re dragging your students through the learning process?

You set most of the challenges, but students take the easiest option. You plan for, then need to scaffold every learning experience. You find students mistakes, and then you show students how to correct them. You provide formative feedback, but many students don’t bother to act on it (or, in some cases, even read it!).

One of my biggest concerns as a teacher was that too many of my students, were like this. They weren’t taking charge of their learning. They were passive learners.

These students may be learning. They may even be getting decent grades and experiencing success in terms of achieving outcomes. But they aren’t very good learners.

I now realise these students lacked what I’ve come to call ’Learnership’.

That’s why it’s time to shift the focus. We are skilful teachers. Now, we need our students to become skilful learners. And that’s what Learnership is all about.

Think of Learnership in the same way you think of craftsmanship. It denotes skilfulness, expertise, or mastery. Learnership, then, is the skill of learning.

Drawing on a broad research base and 20 years of learning leadership, I’ve created the Learnership Matrix. This matrix defines the skill of learning by looking at five essential components – specifically, how students:

  • Respond to challenges
  • Develop their learning behaviours or Habits of Mind
  • Engage with mistakes
  • Extract value from feedback
  • Invest their time and energy in learning.

Using these key learning characteristics, the Learnership Matrix defines six learner types. Each type engages in the learning process more skilfully than the last. 

Learnership: The Skill of Learning Matrix

Learnership is the skill of learning. It represents what quality learning looks like.

Think of Learnership in the same way you think of craftsmanship or leadership. It denotes a skilful act. As students develop their Learnership, they engage in the process of learning in increasingly effective ways. Consequently, they can achieve more.

The Learnership Matrix describes five key characteristics of learning. By identifying a learner’s attitudes and responses to these five characteristics, we can define how skilfully they engage in the process.

Take a moment to reflect on the Learnership Matrix and identify how skilfully your students engage in the process.

Like all skills, Learnership is developed over time. While the Learnership Matrix is useful in identifying where students are in developing the skill of learning, the real value of understanding Learnership is that it informs teachers how to help students become more skilful learners. We are not just teachers of content; we are teachers of learning! 

Becoming Agile Learners

The most skilful learners are Agile Learners. These learners not only understand they are capable of growth (they have what we call a Growth Mindset), but they also understand how to achieve that growth. In many ways, they become their own teacher.

Agile Learners embrace challenges in the spirit of former US president John F. Kennedy, when he famously announced that America would put a man on the moon: “We choose to go to the moon … not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

These students understand that challenges allow them to cultivate their Habits of Mind, giving them new, transferable skills, and abilities they can apply in new and novel contexts.

Agile Learners recognise and value the need to gather new information. They actively seek to fill the gap between the known and unknown by having specific learning goals in mind and identifying the information they need to reach them. These learners proactively request feedback and tailor it to their goals. 

Perhaps most importantly, Agile Learners value their time and energy as limited resources and wisely choose to invest them in achieving growth. They understand it’s not the amount of time and energy they spend that’s important, but rather how that time and energy are spent. They are careful to avoid wasting time that could be invested in self-improvement.

A Classroom of Skilful Learners

Imagine your classroom was filled with Agile Learners or even learners who have moved up just one level in the Learnership Matrix. How many frustrations described at the beginning of this article would reduce or disappear altogether? How much more would students achieve?

When we recognise that Student Achievement = Quality Teaching x Quality Learning,we draw attention to the importance of helping students become skilful learners and preparing them for a life of learning by developing their Learnership. 

For further information about Learnership, please visit

Enjoyed this blog? Read the rest of James Anderson’s blog series: