Editors' Notes

(Roger Hiemstra and Ralph G. Brockett)


Overcoming Resistance to Self-Direction in Adult Learning

Roger Hiemstra and Ralph G. Brockett (Editors)

New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

Number 64, Winter 1994

Jossey-Bass Publishers

Ralph B. Brockett, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Alan B. Knox, University of Wisconsin, Madison, CONSULTING EDITOR


© 1994 by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. All rights reserved.

No part of this issue may be reproduced in any form--except for a brief quotation (not to exceed 500 words) in a review or professional work--without permission in writing from the publishers.

Microfilm copies of issues and articles are available in 16mm and 35mm, as well as microfiche in 105 mm, through University Microfilms Inc., 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106-1346.

LC 85-644750 ISSN 0195-2242 ISBN 0-7879-9981-4

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION is part of the Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series and is published quarterly by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, California 94104-1342 (publication number USPS 493-930). Second-class postage paid at San Francisco, California, and at additional mailing offices.

Subscriptions for 1994 cost $47.00 for individuals and $62.00 for institutions, agencies, and libraries.

Editorial Correspondence should be sent to the Editor-in-Chief, Ralph G. Brockett, Dept. of Educational Leadership, University of Tennessee, 239 Claxton Addition, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-3400.

Cover photograph by Wernher Krutein/PHOTOVAULT ©1990.

As this book is now out of print, permission to reproduce this sourcebook on this web site for use by Elmira College graduate students was granted via a letter dated April 27, 2001, reference #: 4809 ee. This material is used by permission of Jossey-Bass, Inc., a subsidiary of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Page 1 (page numbers as shown in the hard copy version of the book)

Editors' Notes

One of the most important influences in recent years on successful practice in adult education is the idea of self-direction in adult learning. Over the past twenty-five years, few topics have received as much attention, been studied as extensively, or generated more controversy than self-direction. In a previous book, we reviewed much of the theory, research, and practice related to self-direction (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991).

At that time, we defined self-direction as "both the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner, where the individual assumes primary responsibility for a learning experience" (p. 24). To clarify this distinction, we developed the Personal Responsibility Orientation (PRO) model.

Central to the PRO model is a distinction between self-directed learning, the external characteristics of the teaching and learning process, and learner self-direction, the individual's internal characteristics. We felt it important to distinguish between the instructional process side and the personal orientation or individual side. The interaction between these two makes up the broader concept that we have called self-direction in learning.

An important aspect of the PRO model is its view of the individual as the starting point for understanding self-direction. At the same time the model describes a need to understand the social context in which learning takes place. Some authors (for example, Candy, 1991; Brookfield, 1993) believe that social context should be the starting point for understanding self-direction. Indeed, the PRO model has been challenged (Flannery, 1993) because of its emphasis on the individual. While we argue that notions about individuals are central to the PRO model, we also believe it impossible to truly understand all dimensions of self-direction without recognizing the importance of social and cultural contexts. This also ties to our acceptance of humanism as a strong underlying philosophy for self-direction in learning (Hiemstra and Brockett, 1994). We welcome criticism and intellectual exchange because they clarify, complement, and expand thinking about the model and definitions of self-direction.

Much is known about both self-directed learning and learner self-direction. However, the literature appears to show considerable confusion between these two dimensions. For example, relatively little is known about how these two dimensions are linked. We believe that the idea of personal responsibility offers a key to understanding such linkage. To us, personal responsibility means that individuals assume ownership for their own thoughts and actions. They may not always have control of all their life circumstances, but they do have the potential to direct how they respond to any situation.

Another result of the confusion between these two dimensions is a tendency for both teachers and learners to intermingle associated ideas or practices

Page 2

without critical thought about potential differences. For example, some teachers assume that all learners will readily accept the learning contract approach to planning and implementing learning activities. On the other hand, some learners will have unrealistic expectations about a teacher's ability to allow them complete freedom of choice. Such misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations lead to resistance to self-direction.

To give another example, it is not unusual to hear teachers of adults suggest that while self-direction is a "nice idea" that "works in theory," it does not fit their situation because they have content that must be taught in a certain way or because their subject matter is mandated. Learners, too, sometimes have initial hesitancy in accepting that they are self-directed or can take personal ownership because of self-doubts about learning abilities or because of constraints placed on them by teachers and organizations.

This concept of personal ownership, or what some refer to as empowerment (Hiemstra and Sisco, 1990; Orsburn, Moran, Musselwhite, and Zenger, 1990; Piskurich, 1993), can be thought of as the personal values we attach to making decisions, taking control, or accepting responsibility for our beliefs and actions. We believe such personal values are measurable, as they vary from one person to the next. However, we know of no research that identifies valid measures for assessing such values; this is an obvious area for future study, dialogue, and publications.

The purpose of this volume is to describe various instances where resistance to self-direction has been overcome and where individuals have been helped to accept increasing responsibility for their own learning. It is also intended to help readers understand some of the sources of resistance and become better able to identify strategies that enable educators and trainers of adults to overcome such resistance. The volume brings together a nice mixture of people carrying out research related to self-direction in learning and people who are testing out related notions with various audiences and in various settings.

In Chapter One, Ralph G. Brockett provides a framework for the volume by exploring several myths and misunderstandings that can contribute to resistance. This chapter suggests that it is important to understand what self-direction is and what it is not. Further, it points out that an understanding of myths can help adult and continuing educators work toward overcoming sources of resistance within their organizational settings and in their own practice.

Huey B. Long, in Chapter Two, provides a bridge to the remainder of the volume by presenting a discussion of key terms, major sources of resistance, and strategies for overcoming resistance. In addition, he examines a wide range of resources from the literature related to resistance and self-direction in learning. These resources may be helpful to readers who wish to look beyond this volume for information and ideas about resistance to self-direction.

Jean Ellen Jones, in Chapter Three, examines portfolio assessment as a particular strategy or approach for promoting self-direction in the formal classroom setting. She uses art education examples to demonstrate how port-

Page 3

folios have been successfully used to overcome resistance both for teachers and for learners.

In Chapter Four, Gary J. Confessore and Sharon J. Confessore describe how self-direction has been utilized in the continuing education of two professional groups, physicians and architects. The authors address the nature of professions and the importance of reflective practice. From this framework, they describe sources of resistance to self-direction in continuing professional education and strategies that can be used to address the problem within this context.

Business and industry provides an ideal context for applying principles of self-direction. However, as Lucy M. Guglielmino and Paul J. Guglielmino point out in Chapter Five, this context also is ripe for many sources of resistance. By describing examples of successfully implemented self-direction efforts, they provide a framework for understanding how such resistance can be overcome.

Constance C. Blackwood, in Chapter Six, discusses the potentials and pitfalls of self-direction in a technical training setting where participation is mandated. While mandatory continuing education is incompatible with many of the basic tenets of self-direction, she discusses ways to break down resistance to mandatory learning approaches.

In Chapter Seven, Thomas D. Phelan describes how various technology-based innovations have been used to promote a self-directed approach to career development among employees in a power utility. He outlines a five-step process that presents several study choices to individuals and details how technology has helped many to overcome resistance to self-direction in learning.

There has been much controversy about the appropriateness of measuring self-direction in learners. Jane Pilling-Cormick has recently developed a new instrument to measure perceptions of self-directedness. In Chapter Eight she describes her experiences with instructors who were reluctant to use the instrument in their classes. She discusses possible reasons for and solutions to this kind of dilemma.

Susan B. Slusarski, in Chapter Nine, describes a variety of techniques that can be used to overcome resistance to self-direction in learning both by learners and by teachers. Such techniques as helping learners increase their technical learning skills, become more familiar with subject matter, and enhance their personal learning competence are examined.

In Chapter Ten, Roger Hiemstra describes a framework of seventy-eight microcomponents of the teaching and learning process that provides learners with various opportunities to take increased responsibility for study efforts. The chapter includes a checklist detailing each component and provides suggestions on how the checklist can be utilized to overcome resistance to undertaking self-directed learning.

Self-direction has been a major source of discussion for nearly twenty-five years. While there has been much research, debate, and dialogue about this topic, there remain many unanswered questions. Chapter Eleven, by Roger Hiemstra and Ralph G. Brockett, summarizes key concepts from the prior

Page 4

chapters on overcoming resistance to self-direction in learning. They also detail some of the future study needed to address the various unanswered questions. Thus, this volume has been developed as a means for moving the dialogue on self-direction into some uncharted territory. This final chapter should provide a springboard for such reflection and discussion.


Brockett, R. G., and Hiemstra, R. Self-Direction in Adult Learning: Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1991.

Brookfield, S. D. "Self-Directed Learning, Political Clarity, and the Critical Practice of Adult Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 1993, 43(4), 227-242.

Candy, P. C. Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.

Flannery, D. D. Review of Self-Direction in Adult Learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 1993, 43(2), 110-112.

Hiemstra, R., and Brockett, R. G. "From Behaviorism to Humanism: Incorporating Self-Direction in Learning Concepts into the Instructional Design Process. In H. B. Long and Associates, New Ideas About Self-Directed Learning. Norman: Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education, University of Oklahoma, 1994.

Hiemstra, R., and Sisco, B. Individualizing Instruction: Making Learning Personal, Empowering, and Successful. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

Orsburn, J. D., Moran, L., Musselwhite, E., and Zenger, J. H. Self-Directed Work Teams: The New American Challenge. Homewood, Ill.: Business One Irwin, 1990.

Piskurich, G. M. Self-Directed Learning: A Practical Guide to Design, Development, and Implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Roger Hiemstra

Ralph G. Brockett



Roger Hiemstra was professor of adult education and chair of the adult education graduate program at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, until 1996. Currently he is professor and chair of adult education at Elmira College, Elmira, New York. He is the author or co-author of numerous publications and books, such as Individualizing Instruction: Making Learning Personal, Empowering, and Successful (1990, with Burton R. Sisco) (available on-line), Self-Direction in Adult learning: Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Practice (1991, with Ralph G. Brockett) (available on-line), and The Educative Community: Linking the Community, Education,and Family (1993) (available on-line).

Ralph G. Brockett is professor and chair of adult education, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has been involved with self-direction in learning scholarship for twenty-five years and is editor of Adult Learning.

June, 2001

-- Return to Roger Hiemstra's opening page

-- Return to the Overcoming Resistance to Self-Direction in Adult Learning Contents page

-- Go to Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, or The Index.