Self-Directed Learning Processes

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One positive consequence of the growth of SDL in contemporary educational settings has been a refocusing on the processes of learning rather than simply its content. Theories of adult learning and transformative learning have long espoused this attention, and yet at the level of educational practice, SDL has helped educators envision practical approaches which lead to these broader outcomes. As designers, these strategies for constructing learning pathways immerge as ways to foster SDL as well as to evaluate student capacities and progress toward these goals. 

Fostering Self-Directed Learning (SDL)

Open Educational Resources (OER) are a growing set of resources that can be useful in devising strategies that foster SDL in the lives of our learners. One particular, open online journal is directly connected to SDL, the International Journal of Self-Directed Learning. One synthesis of the literature on SDL by Gregory Francom from this journal is helpful to this discussion. Francom’s (2010) article entitled, “Teach Me How To Learn: Principles for Fostering Students’ Self-Directed Learning Skills” offers an evidence-based set of incremental principles for designing SDL within a formal course or program (see pp. 32-38). 

Francom argues that the empirical literature on SDL organizes around four main, incremental strategies that learning designers can leverage to encourage the growth of SDL among their learners: 

  1. Match the level of self-directed learning required in learning activities to student readiness.
  2. Progress from teacher to student direction of learning over time. 
  3. Support the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and self-directed learning skills together. 
  4. Have students practice self-directed learning in the context of learning tasks. 

The first strategy encourages the use of diagnostic tools within online courses and programs to carefully evaluate student readiness for specific SDL tasks. It also suggests intentional scaffolding in matching student readiness with appropriate tasks, which is a pedagogical competency that may need developing among your organization’s faculty. 

Strategies two and three require broader course and program structures that are carefully aligned and distributed across the learning pathway. Again, the literature suggests that these design decisions hold tremendous promise for cultivating SDL skills in the learner. 

Praxis: learning, practice, reflection, dialogueFinally, Horizon recommends adopting a praxis model in the development of SDL capabilities in the lives of your online learners. This model suggests a cyclical and ascending learning pathway that moves from learning to practice to reflection to dialogue. The trick in the classroom is to find ways to move beyond mere simulation to authentic, real-life practice, such as is the case in apprenticeships. The trick online is to find ways to connect the advantage of real-life applications of learning to credible evaluations of those experiences. The challenge for both online learning and the classroom then is to envision how learning designers might push learning goals into the contexts of the learners’ lives and ministries.

Evaluating SDL

The four SDL strategies, listed above, raise questions as to how teachers might assess or evaluate SDL in an online course. Creating a rubric of SDL skills is one way to envision the evaluation of SDL. Other hierarchies more clearly connected to affective learning goals are also helpful as we look for ways to assess the growth of student motivation in taking responsibility for their own learning. Finally, the creation of local partnerships and mentorship structures as a parallel track in online programs is another way to envision the effective evaluation of these kinds of educational outcomes. 

Thinking about evaluation from another angle, we recognize that the flood of information available via the Internet today requires that we evaluate how this complex learning environment will impact the learners in our courses. What evaluation or curation skills do learners need to effectively evaluate the quality and validity of Internet resources? How will your programs or secondary training opportunities help learners acquire these new competencies? 

Self-Directed Learning Skills
Reflective Learning