Publish at 22 septembre 2021 Updated 22 septembre 2021

Influencing one's own future: individual or collective agentivity for learning

Agentivity, individual or collective, it doesn't matter as long as the learning is fluid


Human agentivity

Agentivity is described as the "human capacity to influence one's own future".

It is, as it were, the internal driving force that presides over one's destiny. The word is a neologism formed from the English "agency" used in sociological (Giddens, 1984), or psychological (Bandura 2007), neuropsychology (Frith, 2014), in that of social development (Samman & Santos, 2009), and also in education (Carré, 2005).

For Morin, Therriault and Bader, agentivity has several components:

  • The ability to pose an action, to make it feasible, to be supported by a favorable context,
  • The effective possibility of making choices among several possibilities,
  • The passage to action,
  • The direct and effective power control over this action allowing to achieve set goals, in relation to constraints such as the choices of others and available resources,
  • An agent's reflexivity about his or her own action,
  • The sense of self-efficacy essential to feeling responsible for one's actions.

Human agentivity is declined according to whether it is individual or collective. Collective agentivity is one of the conditions for learning together at a distance.

Individual agentivity

Sen (2010), defines agentivity, as the ability of an individual to act according to what he or she considers to be valid.

Individual agentivity is also used by the psychologist Albert Bandura. For him, individuals do not just react to situations but are active and go ahead of the events they cause. In doing so, they influence their future behavior and the events they experience by themselves.

The agentivity proposed by Bandura is according to Carré  that of a "social subject as a proactive agent, capable of self-organization, self-reflection, and self-regulation and no longer shaped by environmental, sociological, or unconscious influences that would overtake him or her."

Agentivity is related to a "power to act," going beyond a reaction to situations, conditioning, or the effect of existing social or physical structures. Agentivity occurs vicariously when a third party is mobilized for the achievement of one's own ends.

Bandura also distinguishes a collective agentivity, that of a set of individuals. 

Collective agentivity

Collective agentivity is defined as the "ability of individuals to work in concert to improve a situation."

It therefore requires cooperation and group effort. The starting point is the sharing of intentions, then knowledge, skills and resources. An entity can indeed be a collective agent according to List and Pettit's (2011) theory, but under 3 conditions:

  1. that this entity has representational states about its environment; that it has a clear idea of it;
  2. that it has motivational states about how its environment should be; 
  3. that it has the ability to process its representational and motivational states in such a way as to intervene in its environment when the former are not in line with the latter.

For Coté-Boudreau,  "it is individual attitudes (formulated about their group) that determine group attitudes. This phenomenon is called supervenience and allows us to account for the relationship between the two different levels, that of the individuals and that of the group. Collective agentivity is here a by-product of individual attitudes.

Collective agentivity operates in connection with specific activities. In organizations, it participates in the transformations and especially the innovations at work. This is why Engeström and Sannino call it "transformative agentivity". 

Agentivity is said to be joint when it mobilizes the subjective dimension of human sociality. Interdisciplinary research conducted for the ANR shows several results in this case:

  1. A significant decrease in the sense of control (self-evaluation) in relation to the decrease in fluidity of individual action; 
  2. A tendency for the sense of joint agentivity to decrease when the fluidity of cooperative action is also decreased; 
  3. The presence of a sense of shared control when participants are in a context of joint action

Fluency refers to the idea of an easy flow of action in all the psychological, affective, cognitive bodily dimensions that characterize human beings. The question is then to guarantee this fluidity.

Agentivity for learning together

To learn together, agentivity implies a sense of self-efficacy that makes the individual or the collective anticipate a positive outcome with respect to the expected results. The individual or collective must believe in their success and to do so need control over their learning initiatives.

For Nagels(2009)    "An individual who is able to act has strong control over his or her learning ecosystem. This is one of the conditions for him to engage bodily, emotionally and cognitively in learning.

Human agentivity is an essential motor for acting and learning together at a distance, specific observation of distance learning situations shows that depending on whether the environment is imposed, chosen, or constructed, the individual exercises his agentivity with more or less ease: his self-determination, reactive self-regulation, or proactive self-regulation are more or less called upon.

The learner composes, as it were, his own engineering of his learning environment according to the conditions made to him where he modifies. Constructing one's personal learning environment is a moment of exercising or relinquishing one's will and possibilities. The encounter of an individual and his dispositions to learn with a device is then a negotiation of power and willingness to learn.


Carré Philippe, "Bandura : une psychologie pour le XXIe siècle ?", Savoirs, 2004/5 (Hors série), pp. 9-50. DOI: 10.3917/savo.hs01.0009. URL: 

Annie Jézégou. Human agentivity: a key driver for the development of a personal learning environment. STICEF (Sciences et Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication pour l'Education et la Formation), ATIEF, 2014, 21. 

Nagels, M. (2009) Increasing collective self-efficacy in nursing education. When work analysis becomes a social experiment Recherches et Pratiques en Didactique Professionnelle - Premier Colloque International "L'Expérience" RPDP, Eduter and AgroSup Dijon - 2, 3 and 4 December 2009 in Dijon 

Engeström, Y.Sannino, A. (2013). Volition and transformative agentivity: an activity theoretical perspective. CRIRES international journal: innovating in the tradition of Vygotsky. 

Engeström, Y. et Sannino, A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review, 5(1), 1-24.

Morin, É., Therriault, G., & Bader, B. (2019). The development of the power to act, agentivity and the feeling of personal efficacy of young people in the face of social and environmental problems: conceptual contributions for an action together. Education and socialization. Les Cahiers du CERFEE, (51).  

Frith, C. D. (2014). Neuropsychologia Action, agency and responsibility. Neuropsychologia, 55, 137-142.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Samman, E. & Santos, M. E. (2009). Agency and Empowerment: A review of concepts, indicators and empirical evidence. Oxford: (n. ed.). 

Sen, A. K. (2010). The idea of justice (translated by P. Chemla). Paris : Flammarion.

Côté-Boudreau, F. (2013) 'Peoples as agents: the collective agentivity of List and Pettit applied to nations', Ithaca, 12, pp. 53-75. URL:   

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