Socrates and Building Student Autonomy

“When a society coddles the brain trust, it marks the beginning of its decline.” Socrates

Socrates and Building Student Autonomy

Many negative reflections have come about following the COVID-19 pandemic.  Educators have named declines in academic progress and behavior.  But recent research is highlighting that student’s autonomy and motivation have been declining as a result (Benneker et al., 2023). This research comes as today’s parents are increasingly derided as “helicopter” and “snowplow,” as caregivers and guardians have spent more time with their children than their own parents did as a result of the pandemic turning many parents into primary playmates and homeschooling teachers. 

Socrates once wrote, “When a society coddles the brain trust, it marks the beginning of its decline.” Questions come to mind, are we enabling our children too much? Will they be prepared for the world ahead? Jelena Obradovic, an associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, published in the March 11th Journal of Family Psychology, shared in her research that engaged parenting helps support children in the growth of their cognitive and emotional skills. Too much parental direction, however, can sometimes be counterproductive.  

How do we move forward? 

In education, we know that challenge is the core of the growth mindset; without it, students don’t get the opportunities to take risks, learn to fail, and figure out how to pick themselves up again.  This “sense of progress,” as Dweck calls it, is central to developing growth mindsets. If we want to challenge the comfort zone for students, teachers must create a classroom environment that supports such a shift and enables the growth of students to become autonomous learners.  Learner autonomy refers to educational settings where learners are reflectively engaged in their own learning.  Autonomous learners learn more efficiently and effectively because they tend to reflect on their learning process, and with that understanding, they begin to take control of their learning.  With the perception of learner ownership, autonomous learners are more independent, driven, goal-seeking, and responsible.  When students can manage and guide their learning, they do not suffer from a lack of motivation. They are often proactive and are willing to take risks in the learning of new concepts and ideas.  

The EMS 360 student application promotes student autonomy by allowing students voice and choice in their learning experiences.  

Autonomous Learners in the 21st Century

Learning today is a far cry from the Carnegie Era, the industrial model of education.  Instead of education being delivered from the outputs of an instructor, learning has been given brand-new features in the 21st century due to the advancement of technology (Alam, 2022).  Students now can learn through different approaches, rather than the traditional, one size fits all models of education which have been employed for over a century.  Traditional methods of direct instruction fail to support individual differences and do not support the cultivation of a student’s autonomy and ownership of learning.  

Advances in technology provide learners with brand-new learning experiences. Learning can be gleaned from multiple sources in ways that best support the uniqueness of each individual learner.  Learning management systems transfer the reigns of learning into the hands of learners to give them the opportunity to guide how they learn best.  Research shows that students learn better if they have flexibility over the learning experience, especially when they can choose their own pace of learning along with the time and method.  

The COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in parents as playmates and teachers, which in turn changed the landscape of students becoming autonomous learners. Parents want their children to be successful, happy, and letting them fail can be a real challenge. When a child cannot experience failure or navigate their own choices, they are not able to develop the necessary skills to live their life.  Twenty-first-century digital technologies in the classroom provide opportunities for students to elevate their voice in how they learn.  They allow for the chance for students to make their own decisions. At times they may not get it right, but they will learn the skills necessary to pick themselves up after failure and find another way to succeed.  After all, education should prepare young people for life, work, and citizenship.  


Alam, A. (2022). Employing Adaptive Learning and Intelligent Tutoring Robots for Virtual Classrooms and Smart Campuses: Reforming Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. In Advanced Computing and Intelligent Technologies: Proceedings of ICACIT 2022 (pp. 395-406). Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore.

B. Benneker, I. M., & Lee, N. C. (2022). Mindset and perceived parental support of autonomy safeguard adolescents’ autonomous motivation during COVID-19 home-based learning. NPJ Science of Learning, 8.

Obradović, J., Sulik, M. J., & Shaffer, A. (2021). Learning to let go: Parental over-engagement predicts poorer self-regulation in kindergartners. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(8), 1160.