Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Makes a Successful Self-Directed Learner?

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Tough (1967, 1971, 1979) proposed the first comprehensive description of self-directed learning, which he termed self-planned learning. Knowles described self‑directed learning as "a process in which individuals take the initiative without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, and evaluating learning outcomes".

With these definitions as a guiding lens and after reflecting on the two instruments, Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI) and Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) to assess self-directness as a personality trait, here are the top 3 attributes that, in my view, are critical to the success of a self-directed learner:

1) Initiative

I was drawn to Guglielmano’s SDLRS quantitative measure of self-directed learning. One of the psychological qualities involved in readiness for self-directed learning as identified by her was initiative. In my view, initiative is the foundational characteristic of self-directed learners. One of the goals of SDL as grounded in the humanist philosophy is personal growth and an underpinning idea espoused by this is the notion of taking a proactive approach towards learning. (Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, Lisa M., Page 107)


For me, this need for taking a proactive approach is fulfilled through initiative. When learners take initiative, they are designing their own learning experiences that best meet their learning needs and goals. 

2) Self-discipline

The second important attribute of self-directed learners according to me is self-discipline. This is an all encompassing attribute since it relates to many psychological qualities as identified in SDLRS with the most important being accepting responsibility towards one’s own learning, being goal-oriented and staying persistent. 


With self-discipline, learners are able to manage their time and resources and organize their learning as a means to reach their goals. Self-directed learners take control and the responsibility for their own learning and are able to monitor and evaluate their own progress. The OCLI also includes variables like self-efficacy, self-concept and personal responsibility that highlight the same set of characteristics.

3) Autonomy

The term, learner autonomy, was first coined in 1981 by Henri Holec. Autonomy is seen either (or both) as a means or as an end in education. Chene (1983) defines three elements that describe an autonomous learner: independence, the ability to make choices and critical judgement. Further, Candy (1991) adds to Chene’s notion by characterizing autonomous people as those with a strong sense of personal values and beliefs (Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, Lisa M., Page 122). These values and beliefs give autonomous people a foundation for identifying and selecting goals, exercising choice and restraint and utilizing critical reflection. 
Benn (1976, cited in Candy, 1991: 102) likens the autonomous learner to one 'whose life has a consistency that derives from a coherent set of beliefs, values, and principles and who engages in a still-continuing process of criticism and re-evaluation'. 

Since critical thinking and reflection are core to learning experiences, autonomy as the underlying attribute reflects some of these process or methodological dimensions of self-directed learning. I could also relate autonomy to a few qualities as identified in SDLRS including independence, the tendency to view problems as challenges, a high degree of curiosity and finding enjoyment in learning.

Are you a self-directed learner? What attributes make you successful?

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