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Self-Directed Learning: It’s a Team Effort!

Posted by Cindy Bryant

Nov 18, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Ask most people what self-directed learning means and many would say an independent learner or someone who works in isolation. I recently began working on a project related to self-directed learning and found some interesting facts that most people don’t often think about in terms of self-directed learning.

A Google search of a definition for self-directed learning alone resulted in 2,460,000 results. It didn’t take long in reading numerous definitions to see that self-directed learning should be viewed as a process. A process in which the learner makes the decision and agrees to take active control of his or her learning in determining learning goals and the effort he or she is willing to put forth in achieving those goals. The learner serves not only in the role of manager of the process, but also must self-monitor throughout the process.

As I continued my search for information, I also learned that successful self-directed learners can be defined by two psychological attributes. The first attributes include self-confidence, inner direction, and being achievement-motivated, and appear to be the major factors in initiating self-directed learning. In addition to the specific personality attributes, there are six kinds of cognitive skills that are indicative of self-directed learners, including goal setting skills, processing skills, other cognitive skills, competence or aptitude in the topic/area or closely related topic/area, decision making skills, and self-awareness. 

Contrary to what many think, research shows that self-direction doesn’t mean the learner learns alone or in isolation, but rather includes a high degree of collaboration with both teachers and peers. With more searching for information, I began to think that collaboration could very well be the key factor in aiding the self-directed learner in maintaining the fortitude, push, and will to achieve their learning goals.

In order to fully understand my thoughts, we have to consider the roles of both the teacher and peers, so let’s begin by looking at the teacher’s role. First and foremost, the teacher is responsible for raising student awareness and understanding of the qualities, characteristics, and habits of good learners.

But one of the key components of self-directed learning that resonated with me is the emphasis that is placed on meaningful learning and this is where the teacher plays a very significant role. Research shows one of the best ways to achieve this goal is for the teacher to implement a “situated learning approach” in which they bring real-life problems into the classroom that have significance and meaning for students. This sets the stage for the teacher to model and use different strategies for solving problems and for students to transfer conceptual knowledge to new situations, both of which are important components of self-directed learning. 

Peers also play a key role in helping the self-directed learner in achieving their goals. Students support and learn from each other as they communicate their thinking, ask questions, and model their strategies and methods for solving problems. This communication and collaboration maximizes opportunities for learning mathematics, making connections and transferring conceptual knowledge. Additionally, it supports others in verifying their thinking and reasoning which build confidence – an important characteristic of a self-directed learner.

As I learned more about the significance of collaboration with teachers and peers in supporting the self-directed learner, I also began to think about the relevance and role of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) in self-directed learning. The content standards provide a balance of mathematics procedure and understanding, but it’s through the practice standards that students can see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile which in turn fosters their belief in persistence and the ability to do mathematics.

Ultimately, the CCSSM play a major role in self-directed learning by identifying a set of standards and goals to guide all students in their learning process in achieving college and career readiness. But it’s the teacher and peer collaboration that breathes life into the CCSSM, or any set of standards for that matter, and helps set the stage for a classroom full of self-directed learners to be successful in achieving their learning goals.


Topics: Implementing the Common Core, Resources, Teaching & Learning

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