Happenstance Learning Theory (HLT)

Since we have no way of knowing in advance the destiny of an individual, Happenstance Learning Theory is an attempt to explain how and why individuals follow their different paths through life and how counselors can facilitate this process.

HLT posits that human behavior is the product of learning experiences made available by both planned and unplanned situations. Every situation can be seen as presenting potential opportunities, if individuals can recognize them and then take action to capitalize on them.

Four propositions of HLT in Career Guidance:

  1. The goal of career counseling is to help clients learn to take actions to achieve a more satisfying career and personal lives – not to make a single career decision.
  2. Assessments are used to stimulate learning, not to match personal characteristics with occupational characteristics.
  3. Clients learn to engage in exploratory actions as a way of generating beneficial unplanned events.
  4. The success of counseling is assessed by what the client accomplishes in the real world outside the counseling session

    by John D. Krumboltz

Unplanned events are part of everyday life. The task of the counselor is to help the student to recognize them and benefit from them. When you become aware of unplanned events in your life, you can also become more aware of the opportunities that are out there, but may not be right by “your door”. Every action involves some risk, and it is important to evaluate the potential benefits in relation to the cost and effort. The idea is simply based on taking advantage of opportunities to meet new people and getting involved in something new.

There are three steps in controlling unplanned events:

  1. Before the unplanned event, you take actions that position you to experience it
  2. During the event, you remain alert and sensitive in order to recognize potential opportunities
  3. After the event, you initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it

Example of an unplanned event in life:

“University students were on a study trip to Sweden. The study trip was part of an Open University course where students came from different faculties and some students were already working as well. During the trip, one of the students mentioned that she will need to find an internship place for the summer. Another course participant mentioned that they need an intern in their organization for the summer. The student got the internship place and was later employed by the organization.”

Through a story, students can be guided to think about how they can benefit from a situation and to apply these actions to their future plans. In a guidance session, a student can be asked to tell a story of how an unplanned situation has influenced his/her life. The following questions may help to facilitate the guidance session:

  • What have you done to get into a position that allows you to be influenced by that event?
  • How did you recognize the opportunity?
  • After the event, what did you do to capitalize on it?
  • What new skills did you learn?
  • How did you make contact with key people at the time?
  • How did others learn about your interests and skills?
  • What similar types of actions could you do now?

Read more about Happenstance Learning Theory