SIP 9.13 Self-Directed Learning

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Student working on metal work in art studio

The Partnership for 21st-Century Skills, a national advocacy organization that encourages schools, districts and states to infuse technology into education, lists Self-Directed Learning as one of the life and career skills necessary to prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce. What is Self-Directed Learning? According to Malcolm Knowles, the educator most associated with this theory of learning, “Self-Directed Learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18). In other words, the basic premise behind SDL is that everyone can and should be responsible for their own learning.

Take a SIP of this: Self-Directed Learning

SDL isn’t new – the concept has been around since the time of ancient Greek philosophers (Socratic method, anyone?). How can we guide our students to be independent learners and thinkers in our classrooms?

Suggestions for incorporating Self-Directed Learning in your classroom:

  1. Encourage self-awareness: Being able to identify readiness to learn and learning preferences is an important building block for SDL. When students are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, it gives them ownership of their own learning. When students understand how they learn, they can plan successful learning strategies. There are certain prerequisite skills necessary for students to be successful in SDL environments. For example, being independent, organized and disciplined are some basic requirements, as is the ability to communicate effectively, accept constructive feedback and engage in self-evaluation and reflection. There are multiple surveys online (and you can even create your own survey that matches with your course content) to determine readiness to learn and learning preferences. For example, see: Readiness to Learn and Understanding Your Learning Style.
  2. Teaching students and how to set learning goals: Students set key goals for learning (short-term goals and long-term goals) related to the content and learning in your course. Writing goals can help students become self-regulated and disciplined learners, and learning contracts help studentsestablish clear goals and project timelines. Resources to help students set learning goals include: Writing SMART Goals Guide Sheet and Learning Contracts.
  3. Encourage students to evaluate their learning: For students to be successful in SDL, self-regulation and self-evaluation are important.

Sample questions for students to ask themselves about the learning process:

  • Have I met the goals I set out to achieve? If so, what is the evidence? If not, what could I have done differently?
  • How effective and efficient have I been as a learner? What strategies worked or did not work through this process? Why?
  • What do I need to change or modify, if anything?

During this activity, it would be a good idea to encourage students to review their responses to the readiness-to-learn and learning-preferences surveys that they completed to determine how their own learning styles affected their progress in meeting their goals.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Self-Directed Learning

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