Advertisement

Self-directed learning: A fundamental competence in a rapidly changing world

  • Thomas Howard MorrisEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

Self-directed learning is a fundamental competence for adults living in our modern world, where social contextual conditions are changing rapidly, especially in a digital age. The purpose of the present article is to review key issues concerning self-directed learning in terms of (1) what are the historical foundations of the self-directed learning concept?; (2) who may benefit from self-directed learning?; (3) who is likely to carry it out?; and (4) what does research show regarding outcomes of the self-directed learning process? The author takes into consideration humanistic philosophy, pragmatic philosophy and constructivist epistemology, which together concern a process of learning that is individual, purposeful and developmental. Potentially everyone can benefit from self-directed learning competence, but both societal and individual factors may influence whether self-directed learning is likely to be carried out. The author discusses a number of empirical studies that examine outcomes of the self-directed learning process in informal/non-formal online contexts and in formal educational settings. Research findings highlight the importance of realising the opportunity to foster learners’ self-directed learning competence in formal educational settings.

Keywords

Review Informal adult learning Formal education and teaching Constructivism Pragmatism Humanism 

Résumé

L’auto-apprentissage, une compétence indispensable dans un monde en rapide mutation – L’apprentissage auto-dirigé est une compétence décisive pour les adultes de notre monde moderne, où les contextes sociaux évoluent constamment, en particulier à l’ère du numérique. Le présent article poursuit le but de recenser les grandes questions sur l’apprentissage auto-dirigé : 1) Quelles sont les bases historiques du concept d’auto-apprentissage ? 2) Qui peut tirer profit de l’auto-apprentissage ? 3) Qui est susceptible de l’accomplir ? 4) Que révèle la recherche sur les résultats de la démarche d’auto-apprentissage ? L’auteur prend en considération la philosophie humaniste, la philosophie pragmatique et l’épistémologie constructiviste, qui ensemble affectent une démarche d’apprentissage individuelle, intentionnelle et évolutive. Toute personne peut potentiellement tirer profit de la compétence en auto-apprentissage, mais des facteurs individuels et sociétaux peuvent influencer la probabilité que l’auto-apprentissage soit accompli. L’auteur analyse plusieurs études empiriques qui examinent les résultats de la démarche d’auto-apprentissage, à la fois dans des contextes en ligne non formels et informels et dans des cadres éducatifs formels. Les résultats scientifiques signalent l’importance de créer des opportunités de stimuler la compétence en auto-apprentissage dans les cadres éducatifs formels.

Notes

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

References

  1. Alharbi, H. A. (2018). Readiness for self-directed learning: How bridging and traditional nursing students differs? Nurse Education Today, 61, 231–234.Google Scholar
  2. Arnold, R. (2015). How to teach without instructing: 29 smart rules for educators. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  3. Arnold, R. (2017). The power of personal mastery: Continual improvement for school leaders and students. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  4. Bagnall, R. G., & Hodge, S. (2018). Contemporary adult and lifelong education and learning: An epistemological analysis. In M. Milana, S. Webb, J. Holford, R. Walker, & P. Jarvis (Eds.), Palgrave international handbook on adult and lifelong education and learning (pp. 13–34). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, M. E. (2016). The student as teacher educator in service-learning. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(3), 238–253.Google Scholar
  6. Barry, M., & Egan, A. (2018). An adult learner’s learning style should inform but not limit educational choices. International Review of Education, 64(1), 31–42.Google Scholar
  7. Beach, P. (2017). Self-directed online learning: A theoretical model for understanding elementary teachers’ online learning experiences. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 60–72.Google Scholar
  8. Beckers, J., Dolmans, D., & van Merriënboer, J. (2016). e-Portfolios enhancing students’ self-directed learning: A systematic review of influencing factors. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 32–46.Google Scholar
  9. Beckers, J., Dolmans, D. H., Knapen, M. M., & van Merriënboer, J. J. (2018). Walking the tightrope with an e-portfolio: Imbalance between support and autonomy hampers self-directed learning. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 71(2), 260–288.Google Scholar
  10. Bonk, C. J., Lee, M. M., Kou, X., Xu, S., & Sheu, F. R. (2015). Understanding the self-directed online learning preferences, goals, achievements, and challenges of MIT OpenCourseWare subscribers. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 18(2), 349–368.Google Scholar
  11. Bonk, C. J., Zhu, M., Kim, M., Xu, S., Sabir, N., & Sari, A. R. (2018). Pushing toward a more personalized MOOC: Exploring instructor selected activities, resources, and technologies for MOOC design and implementation. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(4), 92–115.Google Scholar
  12. Boyer, S. L., Edmondson, D. R., Artis, A. B., & Fleming, D. (2014). Self-directed learning: A tool for lifelong learning. Journal of Marketing Education, 36(1), 20–32.Google Scholar
  13. Brookfield, S. D. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning: A comprehensive analysis of principles and effective practices. Buckingham: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  14. Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. CoE (Council of Europe) (n.d.). Key terms: Formal, non-formal and informal learning [webpage]. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Retrieved 17 June 2019 from https://www.coe.int/en/web/lang-migrants/formal-non-formal-and-informal-learning.
  16. Costa, P., & McCrae, R. (1994). Stability and change in personality from adolescence through adulthood. In C. F. Halverson, G. A. Kohnstamm, & R. P. Martin (Eds.), The developing structure of temperament and personality from infancy to adulthood (pp. 139–155). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Davis, M. (2012). A plea for judgment. Science and Engineering Ethics, 18(4), 789–808.Google Scholar
  18. Dewey, J. (1908). What does pragmatism mean by practical? The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 5(4), 85–99.Google Scholar
  19. Dewey, J. (2010 [1915/1902]). The school and society [1915] and The child and the curriculum [1902]. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Dewey, J. (2013 [1916]). Essays in experimental logic. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Duffy, G., & Bowe, B. (2010). A strategy for the development of lifelong learning and personal skills throughout an undergraduate engineering programme. Paper presented at the IEEE Conference “Transforming engineering education: Creating interdisciplinary skills for complex global environments”, held in Dublin, Ireland 6–9 April 2010.  https://doi.org/10.1109/tee.2010.5508842.
  22. Dunlap, J. C., & Grabinger, S. (2003). Preparing students for lifelong learning: A review of instructional features and teaching methodologies. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 16(2), 6–25.Google Scholar
  23. Elias, J. L., & Merriam, S. B. (1995). Philosophical foundations of adult education. Melbourne, FL: Krieger Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Garrison, D. R. (1997). Self-directed learning: Toward a comprehensive model. Adult Education Quarterly, 48(1), 18–33.Google Scholar
  25. Gibbons, M. (2002). The self-directed learning handbook: Challenging adolescent students to excel. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  26. Groen, J., & Kawalilak, C. (2014). Pathways of adult learning: Professional and education narratives. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press.Google Scholar
  27. Grow, G. O. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 125–149.Google Scholar
  28. Guglielmino, L. M. (1978). Development of the self-directed learning readiness scale. Doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia, 1977. Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 6467A.Google Scholar
  29. Henschke, J. (2016). A history of andragogy and its documents as they pertain to adult basic and literacy education. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 25, 1–28.Google Scholar
  30. Hiemstra, R., & Brockett, R. G. (2012). Reframing the meaning of self-directed learning: An updated model. Paper presented at the 54th Annual Adult Education Research Conference (AERC), held in Saratoga Springs, NY 1–3 June 2012. In Proceedings of the 54th Annual Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 155–161). Manhattan, KS: New Prairie Press. Retrieved 30 May 2019 from https://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3070&context=aerc.
  31. Hoffman, R. R., Ward, P., Feltovich, P. J., DiBello, L., Fiore, S. M., & Andrews, D. (2014). Accelerated expertise: Training for high proficiency in a complex world. New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  32. Jonassen, D. H. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II, pp. 215–239). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  33. Jones, J. A. (2017). Scaffolding self-regulated learning through student-generated quizzes. Active Learning in Higher Education.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417735610.Google Scholar
  34. Jossberger, H., Brand-Gruwel, S., Boshuizen, H., & Van de Wiel, M. (2010). The challenge of self-directed and self-regulated learning in vocational education: A theoretical analysis and synthesis of requirements. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62(4), 415–440.Google Scholar
  35. Jossberger, H., Brand-Gruwel, S., van de Wiel, M. W., & Boshuizen, H. (2017). Learning in workplace simulations in vocational education: A student perspective. Vocations & Learning, 11(2), 179–204.Google Scholar
  36. Kegan, R. (2009). What “form” transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary theories of learning: Learning theorists in their own words (pp. 35–54). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Kicken, W. S., Brand-Gruwel, S., van Merrienboer, J. J., & Slot, W. (2009). The effects of portfolio-based advice on the development of self-directed learning skills in secondary vocational education. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57(4), 439–460.Google Scholar
  38. Kirwan, J. R., Lounsbury, J. W., & Gibson, L. W. (2010). Self-directed learning and personality: The Big Five and narrow personality traits in relation to learner self-direction. International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, 7(2), 21–34.Google Scholar
  39. Kirwan, J. R., Lounsbury, J. W., & Gibson, L. W. (2014). An examination of learner self-direction in relation to the Big Five and narrow personality traits. SAGE Open, 4(2), 1–14.Google Scholar
  40. Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York: New York Association Press.Google Scholar
  41. Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Chicago, IL: Follett.Google Scholar
  42. Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (revised and updated). New York: Cambridge Adult Education.Google Scholar
  43. Knowles, M. S. (2001). Contributions of Malcolm Knowles. In K. O. Gangel & J. C. Wilhoit (Eds.), The Christian handbook on adult education (pp. 91–103). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.Google Scholar
  44. Kranzow, J., & Hyland, N. (2016). Self-directed learning: Developing readiness in graduate students. International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, 13(2), 1–14.Google Scholar
  45. Leach, N. (2018). Impactful learning environments: A humanistic approach to fostering adolescents’ postindustrial social skills. Journal of Humanistic Psychology.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167818779948.Google Scholar
  46. Lindeman, E. C. (1926). The meaning of adult education. New York: New Republic.Google Scholar
  47. Lounsbury, J., Levy, J., Park, S., Gibson, L., & Smith, R. (2009). An investigation of the construct validity of the personality trait of self-directed learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(4), 411–418.Google Scholar
  48. Louws, M. L., Meirink, J. A., van Veen, K., & van Driel, J. H. (2017). Teachers’ self-directed learning and teaching experience: What, how, and why teachers want to learn. Teaching and Teacher Education, 66, 171–183.Google Scholar
  49. Ma, X., Yang, Y., Wang, X., & Zang, Y. (2018). An integrative review: Developing and measuring creativity in nursing. Nurse Education Today, 62, 1–8.Google Scholar
  50. Major, D. A., Turner, J. E., & Fletcher, T. D. (2006). Linking proactive personality and the Big Five to motivation to learn and development activity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 927–935.Google Scholar
  51. Merriam, S. B. (2018). Adult learning theory: Evolution and future directions. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary theories of learning (pp. 83–96). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  52. Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  53. Mocker, D. W., & Spear, G. E. (1982). Lifelong learning: Formal, nonformal, informal and self-directed. Information Series No. 241. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education/National Center for Research in Vocational Education/Ohio State University. Retrieved 30 May 2019 from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED220723.pdf.
  54. Moore, M. G. (1972). Learner autonomy: The second dimension of independent learning. Convergence, 5(2), 76–88.Google Scholar
  55. Morris, T. H. (2018a). Book review. How to teach without instructing: 29 smart rules for educators, by R. Arnold. Adult Education Quarterly, 68(1), 80–81.Google Scholar
  56. Morris, T. H. (2018b). Vocational education of young adults in England: A systemic analysis of teaching–learning transactions that facilitate self-directed learning. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 70(4), 619–643.Google Scholar
  57. Morris, T. H. (2019a). Adaptivity through self-directed learning to meet the challenges of our ever-changing world. Adult Learning, 30(1), 56–66.Google Scholar
  58. Morris, T. H. (2019b). An analysis of Rolf Arnold’s systemic-constructivist perspective on self-directed learning. In M. Rohs, M. Schiefner-Rohs, I. Schüßler, & H.-J. Müller (Eds.), Educational perspectives on transformations and change processes (pp. 301–313). Bielefeld: WBV Verlag.Google Scholar
  59. Morris, T. H. (2019c). Experiential learning: A systematic review and revision of Kolb’s model. Interactive Learning Environments.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2019.1570279.Google Scholar
  60. Morrison, D., & Premkumar, K. (2014). Practical strategies to promote self-directed learning in the medical curriculum. International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, 11(1), 1–12.Google Scholar
  61. Murtonen, M., Gruber, H., & Lehtinen, E. (2017). The return of behaviourist epistemology: A review of learning outcomes studies. Educational Research Review, 22, 114–128.Google Scholar
  62. Nasri, N. M. (2017). Self-directed learning through the eyes of teacher educators. Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.kjss.2017.08.006.Google Scholar
  63. Oddi, L. F. (1986). Development and validation of an instrument to identify self-directed continuing learners. Adult Education Quarterly, 36(2), 97–107.Google Scholar
  64. Onah, D. F., Sinclair, J., & Boyatt, R. (2014). Dropout rates of massive open online courses: Behavioural patterns. Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies, held in Barcelona, Spain 7–9 July 2014. In EDULEARN14 proceedings (pp. 5825–5834). Valencia: International Academy of Technology, Education and Development (IATED).Google Scholar
  65. Pintrich, P. R. (2004). A conceptual framework for assessing motivation and self-regulated learning in college students. Educational Psychology Review, 16(4), 385–407.Google Scholar
  66. Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, OH: Charles Merrill.Google Scholar
  67. Rohs, M., & Ganz, M. (2015). MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(6), 1–19.Google Scholar
  68. Sawatsky, A. P., Ratelle, J. T., Bonnes, S. L., Egginton, J. S., & Beckman, T. J. (2017). A model of self-directed learning in internal medicine residency: A qualitative study using grounded theory. BMC Medical Education, 17, Art. 227.Google Scholar
  69. Schmidt-Hertha, B., & Rohs, M. (2018). Medienpädagogik und erwachsenenbildung [Media education and adult education]. Medien Pädagogik: Zeitschrift für Theorie und Praxis der Medienbildung, 30, 1–8.Google Scholar
  70. Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L., & Crant, J. M. (2001). What do proactive people do? A longitudinal model linking proactive personality and career success. Personnel Psychology, 54(4), 845–874.Google Scholar
  71. Skinner, B. F. (1987 [1971]). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  72. Stockdale, S. L., & Brockett, R. G. (2011). Development of the PRO-SDLS: A measure of self-direction in learning based on the personal responsibility orientation model. Adult Education Quarterly, 61(2), 161–180.Google Scholar
  73. Tan, C. (2017). A Confucian perspective of self-cultivation in learning: Its implications for self-directed learning. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 23(2), 250–262.Google Scholar
  74. Tough, A. M. (1971). The adults’ learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult education. Toronto, ON: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Retrieved 30 May 2019 from http://ieti.org/tough/books/alp.htm.
  75. Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. The Psychological Review, Monograph Supplements, 2(4), i-09.Google Scholar
  76. Tichenor, P. J., Donohue, G. A., & Olien, C. N. (1970). Mass media flow and differential growth in knowledge. Public Opinion Quarterly, 34(2), 159–170.Google Scholar
  77. Ward, P., Gore, J., Hutton, R., Conway, G. E., & Hoffman, R. R. (2018). Adaptive skill as the conditio sine qua non of expertise. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 7(1), 35–50.Google Scholar
  78. Watson, J. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20(2), 158–177.Google Scholar
  79. Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational Psychologist, 25(1), 3–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationTechnische Universität KaiserslauternKaiserslauternGermany

Personalised recommendations