Self Directed Learning

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Aaron Jacobs


Ok, most of the time I write a post, I feel like I know something about the topic and can talk confidently about it. For this post, I am entering an area I don’t have a great deal of knowledge of or experience in. When it comes to self directed learning, I have discussed it with colleagues and I have read blog posts and articles about it, but I really am just starting to become familiar with the concept in the contemporary sense. I am intrigued by it, and excited about incorporating it more and more in my classroom, but I have a lot of questions.

It seems like this concept is always tied to posts and articles about technology, but I don’t think self directed learning NEEDS technology to happen. Self directed learning by definition:

“In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. (M. Knowles, Principles of Androgogy, 1972)

Obviously when this definition was crafted, no one was talking about how Google, Wikipedia, Twitter or Khan Academy could help us towards a more self directed program for our students.

So as I sat in our technology meeting today, I thought about how I would break down the goals of self directed learning as a developing process in my classroom. I thought about how the goals should not mention technology, but can definitely utilize technology as a tool to make a shift occur. So if I take technology out of the equation, I came up with the three goals I would have for my students, as I push them towards self directed learning.

1. Choice – I am going to have to start with providing them more opportunity for choice. By providing them with choices, I will help them realize that they can play a role in shaping their education. The inherent sense of control that comes with choice should show them the role they can play. The hope would be that with choice comes buy-in, and a more dedicated effort towards learning.

2. Motivation – The more control I start to pass on to my students, the more likely they will be motivated to participate in the learning process. By handing over control to the students more and more often, I would pursue a transformation in the way they viewed the way they learn. This will definitely be a difficult process, as I will need to provide opportunities for this to occur. My lessons will need to provoke thought, create curiosity and inspire inquiry.

3. Ownership – In the end, I would want the learning process to be entirely in the hands of each student. 12 months a year, all waking hours of the day, anywhere in the world, I want my students to own their learning and not have to wait for a school, a teacher or a parent to provide that opportunity. We all want our students to be able to learn without us involved.

So as I thought up these three goals for my own planning, our presenter put up a slide in her presentation that listed three goals for technology planning in our school division. They were…

Enable – Engage – Empower

I immediately went back to my list and thought about how my three goals compare to these three goals.

Enable/Choice – Engage/Motivate – Empower/Ownership

I was pleased to see that there was some similarity between them, I am hoping it means I am on the right track.

When it comes to making a significant change in education, I think it is easy to get excited and rush into it, especially if it involves technology. I know I am guilty of seeing the iPad and just assuming it would be the greatest educational tool imaginable. I believe it is important to plan for the “Why” before you start to think about the “How”. I have no doubt that technology will help make self directed learning achievable, but technology isn’t the reason self directed learning is a good idea. I want to work towards self directed learning with my students to achieve the goals I talked about.

As I said, this is not an area I am overly confident in, but it is an area I am very interested in. What are your thoughts on empowering our students to be more self directed in their learning? Are these goals on the right track? Is technology necessary for this to occur? Let me know what you think.

10 thoughts on “Self Directed Learning

  1. Isn’t it amazing when it seems like, although they’re different initiatives, they are really all the same thing – doing what’s best for kids and their learning….

    And no – I don’t believe that technology is a requirement for self-directed learning, but it certainly would be difficult, time-consuming, and based on “old” information if technology wasn’t involved.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jesse

  2. I think you are definitely on the right track, Jesse. Self-aware, intrinsically motivated students who know and understand themselves as learners should be what we all try to achieve with our students (and creating a curiosity for asking questions, discovering answers and exploring new ideas). Easy to talk about…challenging to do. Technology can be used as a tool to motivate students, for sure, but in my opinion, is not required to empower them through voice and choice in their learning or to help them be reflective, look back on their work or the work of their peers to provide feedback and set goals for how to improve.

    I often get distracted by the next “big shiny thing” in technology – so it always helps me to think about three things I would hope the technology could support – Does it provide opportunity for collaboration (beyond the walls of the classroom)? Can it be used to make the work /learning public (providing students with a more meaningful purpose that goes beyond doing something just for the teacher)? Is it needed to assist students in creating something of lasting value? Those, for me, are the most important reasons to use technology…sometimes it fits with the goal of self-directed learning, sometimes not so much.

  3. Jesse,
    I think enable-empower-engage is a great way to approach learning. Have you read Marc Prensky’s “Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning”? The partnering approach is something I think, when implemented effectively, can be amazingly powerful for students and teachers. It’s about teachers designing environments, constructing questions for exploration that allow students to research, discuss, collaborate, and create in order to build knowledge. @gcouros recommended that read and it is definitely worth it. Prensky also makes the point that teachers are not necessarily those using the technology, but it should be utilized by students in ways that make sense to enhance learning, and that teachers need to learn the changes in pedagogy required to serve as “partners” in learning as opposed to PD focused on certain tech tools. It’s so exciting you’re developing this framework for your classroom! Lucky students. 🙂

  4. I love this – it goes right to the core of what we want for our students. Your three E’s are going on a poster next to my desk! Technology is not a necessity to self-directed learning, but it is the way our students choose to learn now, so it must be a factor. Thanks for posting such a clear and concise guide – I think if we keep those three goals in mind, we’re on the right track.

  5. this is huge, you write:
    technology isn’t the reason self directed learning is a good idea
    i love it.

    i see tech/web use happening in at least two important ways:
    1) this self-directed learning you write about, that Dewey writes about, as the essence of intellectual learning, beginning in each person’s owned curiosity, begs choice, as you say. choice begs personalization. and tech/web use is allowing that personalization to happen in public ed
    2) tech/web use is a part of kids today. often they don’t even see that when they step into school. but beyond school, their lives are more involved with tech/web use than we ever imagined. the thing is, some of the most intelligent things they are doing with tech/web use in regard to school, they often think of as cheating, because we’re not acknowledging it as legit, as a natural extension of their curiosities.

    your post is spot on – the focus is the self-directed learning. tech/web use is a natural occurrence when we free up spaces of choice.

  6. You’re right on.
    The kids will add technology to the equation anyway. It’s the fundamental shift from top down thinking that is the important part.
    Giving Up Power Without Losing Control | FunInABoxCanada Blog

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