Self Directed Learning May be THE most important skill for learners!

A friend of mine is just starting to teach online. If we believe the stats of Christensen et al in Disrupting Class then within
the next 10-15 years over 50% of all education will go on online.
Therefore her comment today that her undergraduates are suffering
because they are not self directed learners and that they have to be
online strikes home.

In Bahrain last year at the Education Project critical thinking skills and global awareness were touted as the critical skills.

What are your thoughts?

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I have not read the stats of Christensen et al in Disrupting Class, however, I have always been a supporter of utilizing all available technology to assist children in their education. It would seem that global awareness is inherent to online education. Many people would rather believe that we live in some sort of vacuum, but the level of education creates global ripples just like anything else. I am not a support of 100% online education as I believe children would miss out on the fundamentals of "getting on well with others" and other critical attributes that children learn from direct personal contact in an educational environment. Many do not realize it, but a vast amount of information is exchanged between children within classroom setting via mimicking and or otherwise social sharing.

I would rather see online learning within a physical classroom. This would seem to be most beneficial to the children of today. It has been my experience that many educational professionals are more resistant to utilizing new technologies as a teaching tool because it requires many of them to also seek more education relating to such developments.
I think you are right on Ryon about the need for face to face interactions - what do you think - more in early years with self directed learning spaces coming in .... about what age would you say?

Thanks for such a thoughtful reply.

Anyone else want to chime in on how/when we teach self directed learning so that our students aren't behind should they decide to take college credits online?

online learning is often seen as an alternative to "being taught" the social context of online learning is mostly explicit thru text, although the possibility of multimedia commentary to supplement or replace pure text (a la Moodle) is becoming more realistic

synchronous distance learning that incorporates video and audio is an approximation of live presence, but i think it remains quite a few steps removed from sitting around a table, taking a break together, and reading/mis-reading body language. I feel stifled in video teleconferences and on Skype for example

asynchronous distance learning (in time AND space) too easily reverts to basic knowledge level, mini lectures and quick quizzes, but it can still be a powerful tool for basic cognitive tasks. i have benefitted my entire life by the emphasis my catholic school teachers placed on memorizing the multiplication tables

my larger concern is for the idea of unguided, independent study as a primary method for self-education. There is nothing in human history that suggests we are well served, by measures of efficiency or effectiveness, by removing the experienced, educated caring teacher/mentor/guide /coach form the student's learning environment. I believe we can confuse intellectual curiosity with sound judgment and the experience of others in that topic area

i have seen this argument in the idea of eliminating universities altogether, since we have MIT and USC (among others) with all their content and curriculum online. There is an educational counter culture growing which says, in essence, now that we have boot-strapped ourselves to have this knowledge, i should be able to have free education and certification without going through the university system, and design my opwn educational path.

i think that's short sighted and self centered, and presumes that only your own education matters. In the long run this will undervalue the work of knowledge centers, and then it will be back to the wild west with no way to rely on the quality of whatever hits your search engine results. There are no "quality" economies of scale, and no incentive to create multi-person knowledge centers/projects

Do I have an obligation to give my work to free-loaders? we know from the tragedy of the commons what happens when we open up everything to everyone

i dont disagree with the notion that the roles and functions of the teacher/professor in the classroom will change and adapt, but I know its not a good idea to leave it up to my kids to define their own educational path; they lack the context of the wide world which i expect universities, professors, advisors, parents to provide, and which i value enough to be willing to pay for
All true Ken - and as a facilitator who ( I think) knows when to step in and teach I agree for the most part. But I want And/Both - I want the system that sets up the work to include spaces when the responsibility is to "kick the bird out of the nest" to let the student try out their own direction.

The question is, as I see it, both about how to "teach" self direction, if you will accept that oxymoron - and how to encourage the self directed learner to be a critical thinker as well. Too many of my doctoral students, and I am relatively sure you see this yourself, ask me what I want them to do.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply,
my sense of the self directed learning challenge is that the role of the professor/mentor should include modelling the kind of behavior that we hope to inspire in others, which includes the vulnerability aspect of all good research: that is, that the inquiry is in the middle of the uncertainty we are exploring

for me this entails sharing my research ideas and ventures in the classroom with my students as appropriate to their own interests and needs. i want to demonstrate to them the kind of behaviors I hope they exhibit as students

this is why i have committed to publishing my reflections and interim results on the blog and wiki, and encouraged people to take advantage of the opportunity for independent research projects with me (or other faculty) in our elective period

this model follows that of the crafts and professions where we proceed from novice->apprentice->journeyman->meister. each level has its appropriate roles for learning and socialization, and there is a recognition of the importance of the structured craft experience which is an accumulation of "know-how" and "know-what" which has survived and thrived through all manner of environmental pressure and should not be discarded lightly. Later in the life-cycle, the amount of independence increases and we move towards "know-why" and "know-FOR-what" or purposeful knowledge, and the realm of true individual artistry.

it is fair to question why a model of knowledge generation,acquisition, dissemination and application deriving from ancient & medieval times is appropriate for a dynamic, digital information age, but in the last 20 years we have seen plenty of claims that "this changes everything"
and "this time its different" go down in flames across many commercial and academic disciplines, and its is also fair to ask why it IS different this time. This is nothing more than what we would expect on the boundaries of new cognitive areas.

i think this feeling of "being on the edge" supports your value of "And/Both": the sense that we ought to preserve such knowledge and technique as remains viable, useful and innately of value for its own sake (like everything we already know about mentor/mentee relationships) while pushing the boundaries of new approaches and ways.

my working hypothesis (a belief) is that the deep theoretical basis for mixed methods as a co-equal of qualitative and quantitative methods lies right in this sweetspot of chaos and opportunity between tradition and cutting edge. It calls for both creativity and critical thinking; creativity to find new ways or apply the old in a new way, and critical thinking to help us find viable paths and allocate limited resources wisely.

the sooner we see the desire for taking responsibility for their own learning in th eyes and hearts of our students, the sooner we can launch them to fly, while taking on new roles as co-researcher, colleague, resource sharer, member of their network, critical voice, supportive voice etc

the biggest moment in the doctoral candidate's lfie is the moment the realization hits that we EXPECT them to figure it out for themselves: its the start of the rite of passage. That there is such a common frustration with this in the minds of students is something of a mystery to me, but probably because i had thought hard about this before starting my program, whereas i see a lot of others who are pursuing the credential for something other than to satisfy a burning need to know, and they are looking for a fast-track linear path to completion
Two issues to tease out - what about the student's for whom the system completely fails? What other supports can be offered in what ways.

From an international perspective many world leaders did not finish public schooling - Richard Branson is at the top of my list as a leader and a humanitarian. Bill Gates did not do well in school either.

That leads me to the frustration that "education" is too big and powerful - arrogant actually - and that with some diversification it could do more. I appreciate off beat educational settings and hope to see them propagate.

In the day when I was a novice teacher I fell in love with summerhill - just saw a clip on the telly that lets me know it is still ongoing.
at the other end of the time scale from the doctoral programs, i think the right model to use is that of bio-diversity. It's not "survival of the fittest" in the wild, it is extinction of the unfit & toleration of the "good enough" which promotes a broad gene pool. A broad gene pool gives us the adaptive flexibility to adjust to "black swan" events, (Taleb).

well, our educational system should seek to promote that kind of diversity in outreach, methods, programs etc and not just short-sidedly focus on how to efficiently pass the next round of standardized tests which are geared for the immediate environment, but which leave us uneducated for the possibilities of an infinitely rich future

there are many skills, habits, behaviors, attitudes which dont thrive in an individual, cut throat environment, but which may be needed for an environment that favors cooperation: such as living in a nuclear age.

I think its important to remember that "the failure" is in the system's inability to provide a medium for the seed that is the person to flourish.

We know from "The Long Tail" that digitization and globalization allow for the creation of feasible 1:1 relationships. we are less constrained to find "economic" tradeoffs that satisfy the many and underserve the tails of the distribution. We should, therefore be looking to expand the set of possible methods and resources to serve those further out on the tails of the distribution in order to broaden our "gene pool" of human potential.. See Axelrod on "The Evolution of Cooperation" for example

Good survival strategy for the a species, all species, for life itself, is to maximize biodiversity, because of the possibility of discontinuous "shock" events to the environment, for which prior specialization is unsuited.

The examples of Branson and Gates amply illustrate the rich rewards waiting for us on the untapped wide tails of the human distribution

It is arrogant of education to presume it can forecast the future and determine what can and should be precisely taught for "success". If education hasnt learned that yet, then it should attend some of its classes in the sciences and arts to discover the limits of pure rationality and control :D
I think Ryon points out a lot of very good points. Alana, I agree that the face-to-face interaction is very important and this form of learning starts from birth. Babies are learning from inception from their environment, what they observe. When it comes to a classroom setting and early childhood education, I believe that the "teaching" of self directed learning starts here. Unfortunately in our school system today, teachers are spread too thin, with too many students at a time with diverse learning needs. Thus, we have created a curriculum that is middle of the line and stifles the growth of the quick learner and leaves behind those students who are in need of more assistance.

I believe that having computer and online access for students at a very young age if used properly can and will encourage students to explore their interests and to find new ways of learning. Whether it is the use of online access or other educational tools, I believe that children should be encouraged from a very early age to explore the entire world. When childrent are "forced" so to speak to stick to a specific curriculum and not encouraged to go beyond it, we teach them to do what is necessary to get by instead of using their initative to go beyond and explore.

When children are learning from an early age the value and reward of self directed learning, it will continue on in them and have a greater impact at the university level. Otherwise, we will continue in a system that encourages the masses to do just what is necessary to get their degree they need to get the job they want.
Kathy -I agree that what we model children learn - so if we model a balanced life that include social network and life long learning through online that our children will refer to that as they make their own choices. Unfortunately here in Ireland that kids are far ahead and many adults are not online at all.
Self directed learning is a must for not only student learners but also for professionals too to come out with best results in this technology driven learning environment-Self directed learners learn more quickly than the non-self directed learners.
Thanks K and loved and bookmarked your blog on learning in a virtual reality.

What is your background with virtual learning? Has it changed the way you think about learning? For me, it has helped me appreciate wide open learning options and lead me to want to give the learner much more control. Makes me a rebel in systems. if you are interested.
I'm 56 years old and I'm enrolled at a community college in California taking courses in Accounting. One of my teachers leads her class as if we were ten years old, asking us to call out responses to questions and fill in missing words on forms. It's very possibly true that many students have internalized the paradigm of Teaching as a push of information from the instructor to the pupil. I see some of them desperately taking notes and trying to memorize things. The classes themselves are also so assessment centric that it is easy to believe that the goal is the grade and thus it seems to me most student fail to LEARN.

As an adult student in a formal class setting I read the materials, do the exercises, listen to the lectures and ask questions about any point I don't fully understand. Maybe I aim for understanding because I'm too lazy to do all the work of memorizing.

One of the most charming characteristics of children is that they are perfectly will to shoot themselves in the foot to prove a point. When they are required to be in school, told what to learn and how to learn it then many will resist in anyway they can by not learning. Others will quickly see that the test is the thing and will take the most economical approach to testing well.

I feel that the key to encouraging self directed learning is to find out what motivates the individual student (this is the first step in Dog Training). Find out what they want, help them to create goals and facilitate their their structuring of a plan to achieve their goals. When someone wants to learn something they will especially if they have a little help. Many of us need a little hand holding when we try something new, but not too much.


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