Thursday, June 22, 2006

Self-Direction in Adult Learning

Self-Direction in Adult Learning is a book from 1991 that was put online by the authors after it went out of print (gotta love that). I was most interested in Chapter 5, which focused on qualitative studies on self-directed learning, and includes a look at historical figures who became experts in their fields without formal training or education. I was interested in this one about how people decide on and pursue self-directed learning experiences:
"Spear and Mocker's conclusions, which seem to challenge the oft-accepted view that self-directed learning is a clearly deliberate, well-planned, and linear series of episodes are reflected in the following statement: 'Because self-directed learning occurs in a natural environment dominated by chance elements and is in contrast to the artificial and controlled elements which characterize formal instructional environments, it seems useful to investigate the possibly differing effects of the natural environments on the learning process.'"
I think it is generally true that informal learning tends to not be very goal-oriented, but I wonder why this is. Are we more process-oriented when we pursue learning for ourselves? Is it because we don't have good tools or experiences to set goals and seek out specific resources that match those goals?

Another section summarized the findings from a study on self-directed learning done in the '80s. A couple of them:
"The ways people talked about how they go about their self-directed learning varied, but most referred to visualizing the end state of the learning goal before they entered into the effort. Suggests further exploration of the process of visualization as a guide or motivating phenomena in self-directed learning.

Learning since leaving school has been varied, challenging and meaningful. People commented on how much more they have learned outside of the public school context. They enjoy self-directed learning because they can do it at their own pace and without anybody judging them. This is consistent with findings from other research on self-directed learning. Suggests self-directed learning should be taken seriously as an alternative form of learning."
Following this section, there's a bit about libraries as resource centers for self-directed learners. It's ok, but the absence of the web from older articles like this is downright jolting: "As for the resources made available to learners, it is clear that the book remains the primary resource utilized by library learners." This seems almost hilarious now, at least to those of us who have spent the last decade learning as much online as from books or libraries. It makes me wonder how much the web (and our recent experience using it to learn) has raised our expectations for self-directed learning and forced us to question the fundamentals of traditional schooling more than ever.

1 comment:

Joan Vinall-Cox said...

I see myself as a strong informal learner using books, the Web and other people (communities of practice) to learn about what I need to know and what I am curious about. I wrote about my autodidactic behaviour here - and in my 2004 Ph.D. thesis Following the Threadwhere I researched my own learning patterns.

I believe that increasingly people are going to value self-direction in learning as much as institutional paths.