Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-17, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 3 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2017.


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core definition

Empowerment is the development of knowledge, skills and abilities in the learner to enable them to control and develop their own learning.

explanatory context

Empowerment, or empowering students, takes various forms (Harvey & Burrows, 1992).

First, empowering students is equated with student evaluation. Students are invited to provide their views on the content and organisation of the programmes of study on which they are involved. These are fed back into the day-to-day management and teaching of the programme and into the longer-term strategic plans. Some institutions require that student evaluation reports are included in annual course reports and review and validation documents.

Second, empower students by giving them more control over their own learning. This ranges from allowing students to select their own curriculum to students entering into a learning contract. The selection of a curriculum usually means, in practice, choosing which teaching programmes they attend and thus which assessment they undertake. While superficially liberating this does not necessarily empower the student. An unstructured collection of small units, which the student selects from a large array of available options, with little or no guidance, may not empower as it may lead to  accumulation of credit with no identifiable progression towards empowerment of the learner. Using a learning contract, while apparently more restrictive, has a much greater potential to empower students. The student does not simply choose which teaching programmes to attend but negotiates a learning experience.  With the teacher who acts as facilitator.

Third, a student charter empowers students, as like any other ‘consumer charter’, it sets out expectations and obligations in a transparent way and thus gives students a greater say about the nature and purposes of higher education as a whole. There are various ideas of what such a charter should involve and these reflect various degrees of student empowerment. The weakest is the charter as a set of expectations about teacher performance (usually set by management) that students monitor. A stronger version is the charter as an independent kitemarking body monitoring basic provision within programmes, such as seminar facilities, library, information technology and personal tutorial provision. However, it is debatable whether these ‘watchdogs’ empower students. They react to, rather than inform, educational policy. A strong version of a charter would go beyond the classroom and give the ‘consumer’ power to effect changes in institutional or even national provision.

Fourth,  students  are empowered by developing their critical thinking, or metacognition. This requires an approach to teaching and learning that goes beyond requiring students to learn a body of knowledge and be able to apply it analytically. Metacognition is about encouraging students to challenge preconceptions, their own, their peers and their teachers. To question the established orthodoxy rather than swallow it unthinkingly. To develop their own opinions and be able to justify them. Metacognition encourages students to think about knowledge as a process they are engaged in. Not some ‘thing’ they tentatively approach and selectively appropriate. Metacognition is about students having the confidence to assess and develop knowledge for themselves rather than submitting packaged chunks to an assessor who will tell them if it sufficient or ‘correct’. Metacognition requires students to self assess, to be able to decide what is good quality work and to be confident when they have achieved it. In short, an approach that encourages metacognition treats students as intellectual performers rather than as compliant audience. It transforms teaching and learning into an active process of coming to understand. It enables  students to easily go beyond the narrow confines of the ‘safe’ knowledge base of their academic discipline to applying themselves to whatever they encounter in the post education world.

analytical review

Panitz and  Panitz (2004) state that:

the empowerment of students produces an environment which fosters maturity and responsibility in students for their learning. The teacher becomes a facilitator instead of a director and the student becomes a willing participant instead of a passive follower.

Page and  Czuba (1999) propose:

As a general definition, however, we suggest that empowerment is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.


Hewer (1999) in relating empowerment to student’s use of library resources states:

Empowerment is providing our library users (students and teachers) with the necessary skills to find and use information they need for school, study and leisure. Empowerment is a step beyond the old library skills or user education programs school libraries have always run. Empowerment doesn’t just provide users with the instructions on how to carry out certain library tasks, but equips them with transferable skills which they can use for all sorts of information retrieval and usage tasks enabling them to cope with the Information Age.

Jones and Duckett (2007) suggest:

Empowered learners are learners who are involved, informed and heard.
Involved: Consider involving learners in: compiling schemes of work planning and delivering sessions planning and delivering group tutorials mentoring their peers
planning and developing a programme of enrichment activities. Learners’ participation in the above activities supports the concept of personalised learning. It also helps to foster within learners a greater awareness of their actions and consequences, contributions and rewards.

Informed: Learners can become empowered if they are informed about: the assessment criteria for the qualifications being studied; methods of support and where it can be obtained; progress made to date; steps that need to be taken to achieve long-term goals; progression opportunities and the day-to- day operations of their college. If learners are informed, they are in a better position to make choices that give them the best chance of success.
Heard: The Common Inspection Framework (Ofsted 2005) stresses the importance of obtaining and acting on learners’ views. Tutorials and feedback have a role to play here. So
do more formal methods of consultation such as advisory panels.

In another context, empowerment is addressed as follows:

What is Empowerment? Empowerment is a continuous process comprising a series of conscious steps taken by individuals to gain access to economic, educational and health resources; to better express and defend their rights and in the process, gain greater awareness and control of the self. Empowerment is not about wresting power from an individual or group of individuals and handling it over to another. It is the means to an end, not an end in itself.

Individuals with limited access to resources and control over their own lives are vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Within particular societies, women and girls especially have less power (than men and boys), compounding their vulnerability through unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The process of empowering women therefore is to tip the unequal balance of power in favour of women whilst acknowledging men's concerns. This cannot be over-emphasised as the process of empowering women looks towards support, not antagonism, from men. (Schuler & Hashemi, 1994)

associated issues

Empowerment at work: the challenge for graduates

Harvey, 1999, noted that, in the context of graduate recruitment and the empowering of employees that:

empowerment means different things in different organisational contexts. Empowerment can be seen to fall into three broad categories: ‘self-regulatory’; ‘delegated’; and, ‘stakeholder’ approaches.

Self-regulatory empowerment: In many areas, empowerment appears to equate with the encouragement of self-management which ranges from ‘taking a lot of responsibility for your own actions’ through to ‘allowing people who can do a job to manage it themselves’.

‘Self-regulatory’ empowerment involves training staff to take on responsibility and to develop a wider set of organisation-determined competencies. ‘Self-regulatory’ empowerment improves communication in as much as there are fewer levels to block the flow of information. Furthermore, a single manager may be responsible for a wide range of areas in which there are often cross-cutting teams so there is less departmentalisation to inhibit communication, although the communication down from strategic-level management may still be inhibited.

‘Self-regulatory’ empowerment leads, in theory, to a greater feeling of ownership of the work situation but in practice, overloading self-regulatory employees or teams with too much work and responsibility means that they are not able to plan, prioritise, or be proactive: their whole time is spent meeting the next deadline and feeling overwhelmed by the number of balls they have to keep juggling at once. Employees are likely to feel only nominally empowered with little sense of real ownership and, therefore, exhibit little deep-seated loyalty.

There is a presumption in some organisations that, with an increase in the number of graduates, the work force will be sufficiently educated and self-assured to take on the roles formerly entrusted to intermediate managers.

Delegated empowerment: One manifestation of empowerment linked to delayering is the delegation of responsibility to managers to develop appropriate strategies at the local level. Delegated empowerment provides a good deal of local control and feeling of ownership. However, it is a limited ownership as delegated empowerment usually involves providing people with a framework within which to work but leaving them to make decisions, show initiative and develop ideas, provided they remain within the parameters.

Stakeholder empowerment: ‘Stakeholder empowerment’ involves broad-ranging development and training of employees. It sees people as the key resource in the organisation, one that needs nurturing beyond the immediate utilitarian requirements imposed by seeing training as an investment requiring a return.

At one extreme, investment in employee development and training is seen as investing in the development of effective critical reflective citizens. Slightly less altruistically, organisations are seeking to include a range of stakeholders in order to stimulate ideas, encourage loyalty and develop a culture of communal involvement in coping with change. The company ethos is communicated to all stakeholders and innovation is encouraged in a secure environment. Ownership is embodied in leadership rather than management and is disengaged from formal structures, being located in team project working.

Stakeholder empowerment is compatible with a stakeholder-flexible approach in which employees, amongst others, are given a larger stake and involvement in the determination of the purpose and direction of the organisation.

In essence, empowerment of the work force, in whatever form, is about finding ways to actively involve employees in dealing with change.

The flexibility option and the nature of empowerment provided for graduates provide the context in which employers seek out the type of graduates they want.

Shrader (2003) distinguishes learner empowerment from learner autonomy:

Learner autonomy and learner empowerment are terms that often go together. Learner autonomy refers to self-directed learning, or a shift of responsibility for learning from teacher to student. Empowerment often is seen either as a prerequisite for this to occur, or as a result of the process. It seems to me that because the focus of most literature in the autonomy vein has as its focus the teacher-student relationship, empowerment itself is often left unexplored (not a criticism). Here, my focus is on empowerment, by which I mean the process of helping learners become aware that they can have an impact on their environment, and can exert some control over their circumstances. For the purpose of this article, this should be seen as distinct from learner autonomy. Empowerment as I use the term here could result in a negotiation of classroom processes leading to learner autonomy, but there is a way to work with learners that leads toward empowerment that is independent of learners becoming self-reliant in language learning. Although I believe that the most powerful learning is autonomous, my focus here is on how a teacher can lead students to a more empowered state.


The British Council (2006) describes empowerment as follows:

Empowerment refers to giving learners the power to make their own decisions about learning rather than the teacher having all the control. This opportunity to make decisions is part of what can make a learner more independent, or autonomous.


Real World Learning (undated) states:

Empowerment brings the learners to the centre of the learning experience: it’s about recognising and realising their own humanity and their own ability to take action for positive change. Empowering learners enables them to cooperate and to take ownership of their learning. Everybody can make a change. To experience this can help learners to shape the future in a sustainable way.

related areas

See also



British Council, 2006, 'Empowerment', Teaching English site in conjunction with the BBC, available at, accessed 3 January 2017.

Harvey, L. and Burrows, A. , 1992, Empowering students, New Academic,  1, no. 3, Summer, p. 1ff. A slightly modified version available as a pdf.

Harvey, L., 1999, 'New realities: the relationship between higher education and employment’ Keynote presentation at the European Association of Institutional Research Forum, Lund, Sweden August., no longer at this address 5 March 2011, available as a pdf.

Hewer, S., 1999, What is Empowerment? School Library Bulletin, 5(5), Department of Education Library and Information Centre, Tasmania.

Jones, C. and Duckett, I., 2007, Personalised Learning and Learner Empowerment, Vocational Learning Support Programme, available at, accessed 13 July 2012, page not available 3 December 2017.

Page, N. and Czuba, C.E., 1999, ‘Empowerment: what is it?’ Journal of Extension, 37(5), available at, accessed 13 Octiober 2012.

Panitz, T and Panitz, P., 2004, ‘Encouraging the Use of Collaborative Learning in Higher Education’,, accessed November 2004, no longer at this address 5 March 2011.

Real World Learning, undated, 'Empowerment. Are learners empowered to shape a sustainable future?', available at, accessed 3 January 2017.

Schuler, S.R. and Hashemi, S.M., 1994, ‘Empowering Women, Network Family Health International, 15(1), August. Source: South-South Collaboration. ICOMP Newsletter on Management of Population Programmes Vol. XXVIII No. 3&4, 2003, 2003–2004 Federation of Family Planning Associations Malaysia, no longer at this address 5 March 2011.

Shrader, S.R., 2003, Learner Empowerment—A Perspective, The Internet TESL Journal 9(11), November, available at, accessed 13 July 2012.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2017

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