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Conclusions and Recommendations

As we have stressed throughout the previous chapters, self-direction in learning is not merely a current fad. Rather, it is an idea that is clearly rooted in history. In our view, the idea of self-direction, where individuals assume personal responsibility for their learning, will continue to thrive as we move toward the year 2000 and beyond. As adult educators, each of us need to take an active role in creating this future. This can be viewed in the following way: "Regardless of the roles assumed in subsequent years, skill in projecting the future should be helpful, because then it is possible to work toward that future and even create the situations we desire. However, ongoing study to understand both the changes we experience and those we create will always be necessary. "(Hiemstra, 1987b, pp. 11-12)

Thus, the intent of this book has been to stimulate readers' thinking relative to self-direction with the hope and expectation that creating a future where individual initiative by learners is not only rewarded, but is also expected as a means for personal growth. We also anticipate that our thoughts will stimulate some of the ongoing study, reflection, and action necessary for the promotion of self-direction in adult learning.

The Personal Responsibility Orientation (PRO) model, which was presented in Chapter Two, was designed not as a "theory" of self-direction per se, but rather to demonstrate some of our own reflections on the growing body of related knowledge. We view the model as a paradigm that may assist both practitioners and scholars in efforts to create greater understanding of and activity related to self-direction in adult learning. In subsequent chapters, we demonstrated various aspects of the PRO model, and from these chapters, we can identify at least eight key ideas that should help promote better understanding of the concept:

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  1. The research base on self-direction has grown steadily over the years. We are confident that researchers will continue to build on this base to advance knowledge of self-direction even further;
  2. Essential to success in facilitating self-directed‰ learning is the need to help learners assume greater‰ responsibility for the process. We believe that learners are capable of assuming increasing degrees of responsibility for their learning;
  3. Self-direction is rooted in the belief that human potential is unlimited. We are convinced that educators of adults can play a role in helping learners more fully realize this potential;
  4. The community provides an array of resources that self-directed learners can utilize. Our view is that an understanding of the community is important because it is the social context for self-direction in learning;
  5. Educators of adults can use what is known about self-direction to encourage the development of relevant policies at institutional, local, state, and national levels;
  6. Those who wish to work with self-directed learners need to understand the learning environment and the many kinds of resources that can be used to facilitate self-direction;
  7. We know that self-direction in learning is not exclusive to a single culture or class of people. At the same time, we recognize the need to understand and respect cross-cultural differences that may impact upon the desirability of self-direction in certain contexts; and
  8. Because of the highly personal nature of self-direction, the potential for ethical conflict clearly exists whenever intervention takes place. In our view, it is crucial for educators of adults to recognize the potential for this conflict and be diligent in minimizing any negative results.

We believe the PRO model offers some ideas that can assist educators in various ways related to these themes.


In looking to the future of self-direction in adult learning, perhaps one of the most important considerations for educators will be how to create greater awareness of and support for the idea of self-direction within society. In Chapter Eight, for example, we addressed some of the barriers within the institutional context that often limit opportunities for self-direction. It is our belief that if self-direction is truly to be recognized as a way of life, there are at least two key roles for educators of adults. One role will be to provide advocacy for learners who wish to assume responsibility for their own

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learning. A second role is to promote the concept of self-direction in learning throughout society as a strategy for successful human development.

Further, we believe that self-direction is very much in tune with the natural way that people live and learn. Yet, institutions often lose this perspective, becoming set in their traditional policies, procedures, and philosophies, which in turn lead to a "this is the way we've always done it" or "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" way of thinking. However, we believe self-direction options need not necessarily compromise quality within the institution (Brockett, 1988a).

As we noted in Chapter Two, the assumptions underlying self-direction derive from a variety of philosophical perspectives. Educators who work with self-directed learners need to understand these assumptions and how their own philosophies are similar to or different from these assumptions. This is where the importance of developing and articulating one's personal philosophy becomes so important (Hiemstra, 1988b). There is no single "theory" of self-direction in learning; yet, there "are some key assumptions that are essential to the support and promotion of the idea.

From our perspective, there is a need to carry out the advocacy function both within and outside of the adult education field. Within the field, courses and workshops provide a good arena in which to advocate for self-direction. In recent years, we have conducted a combined total of six credit-bearing graduate courses and numerous non-credit workshops and conference presentations directly related to self-directed learning. For us, the ideas exchanged in such activities have played an important role in advancing knowledge about self-directed learning concepts, approaches, and problems. Several publications have resulted from these efforts (Hiemstra, 1980, 1982, 1985c) and we believe we have a much clearer understanding of this area than would have been possible in any other manner. Thus, these efforts have served us well in our role as advocates for self-direction.

In the classroom we have experimented with various means of employing self-directed approaches with adult learners. Although this has been an evolutionary development of our own personal teaching styles, the feedback we constantly receive from learners indicates we have developed means for learners to maximize their abilities to take responsibility for their learning. We also have shared our accumulating knowledge about applying self-directed concepts with colleagues through loaning course materials, supporting advanced doctoral students in co-teaching activities, and engaging in oral discussions of the approaches with colleagues interested in making changes.

As another example of our own advocacy effort, we have attempted to contribute to the literature of self-direction in numerous ways. Between us, we have published separately or jointly over 25 journal articles,

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monographs, book chapters, and conference papers on the subject. These publications, combined with chairing a large number of related dissertations and theses, and numerous discussions with informal networks of colleagues throughout the field who share an interest in this area, have led us toward a growing knowledge of the ideas discussed in this book and have served to reinforce our own commitment to the study and practice of self-direction in adult learning. We hope, too, that the ideas presented here can stimulate others in the field to share our continued enthusiasm.

Outside the field of adult education there is a constant need to demonstrate to professional colleagues in education, higher education administrators, and, indeed, society in general, that self-direction in learning has tremendous importance for helping adult learners realize their potential. For example, some critics from outside the field of adult education suggest that the quality of the learning experience will be compromised if educators, content specialists, or institutions do not retain major control of teaching and learning decisions.

Thus, there is a heavy demand on adult educators to demonstrate that quality can be maintained. We have discussed this issue some in Chapter One but it is useful to refer once again to the work of Knowles and Associates (1984). They have shown the wide applicability of self-directed learning principles in an array of settings, including business and industry, government, higher education, public schools, religious institutions, and health-related settings. These illustrations consistently show that when efforts are made to carefully monitor quality issues, self-direction proves to be an effective approach to learning within various institutional contexts.

As we have stressed throughout the book, we are convinced that further understanding of and commitment to the ideals of self-direction in learning are vital to the adult education field if we are to more fully facilitate development of human potential. In the following section, we offer a number of recommendations, gleaned from ideas presented in the previous chapters, that we believe are important in the future development of theory, research, and practice relative to self-direction in adult learning.


How might adult educators work toward further development and refinement in the area of self-direction? The previous chapters have offered perspectives on the development and current status of self-direction relative to theory, research, and practice. In this section, we would like to offer a number of recommendations relative to each of these areas in the hope that they may stimulate questions and experimentation with new ideas designed to ensure

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that the phenomenon of self-direction in learning will continue to be a way of life for years to come.

Recommendations for Theory

The PRO model should be subjected to critical scrutiny by the adult education field.

Our intent in developing the PRO model was not to offer a formal theory of self-direction in adult learning. Rather, the model was designed to clarify what we believe to be some of the conceptual confusion about self-directed learning and related terms. It is also our way of helping to make distinctions between characteristics of the teaching/learning transaction and individual learner characteristics. However, we recognize that this is at a beginning conceptual level, so we welcome critical scrutiny of the concept. In this way, we envision the PRO model evolving over time, much in the way that Knowles has refined his ideas about andragogy and pedagogy.

There is a need for further understanding of the social context in which self-direction exists.

Because self-directed learning rarely takes place in total isolation, the importance of the social setting becomes especially important. Discussion of the various factors that can limit participation and success in self-directed learning efforts is only one way of approaching an understanding of social settings. We believe there is room for considerable theoretical work on other social aspects such as those introduced in Chapter Ten on the global dimension of self-direction.

The political dimension of self-direction continues to be largely overlooked by adult educators and this needs to be remedied.

One of the major criticisms of the work in self-directed learning identified by authors such as Brookfield (1984c, 1988) is that it has largely ignored the political contexts in which learning occurs. While the PRO model begins to address some of these concerns, we recognize that much theoretical development is still needed. For instance, we believe that the notion of empowerment, as reflected in the work of such educators as Freire (1970) and institutions such as Highlander (Adams, 1975), are closely tied to the ideas of self-direction. While we recognize that the PRO model may be at odds with those who view society rather than the individual as the point of

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departure for adult education, we also recognize that this dimension needs to be considered in much greater depth than has been the case to date.

Recommendations for Research

Self-direction in learning should continue to evolve as one of the major research directions in the field of adult education.

While some would suggest that self-direction has been studied extensively, and thus it is time to move on to other areas, we believe that it is crucial for work in this area to continue and, in fact, to be expanded even further. A major limitation of adult education research to date has been a failure to develop "sustained research agendas in key areas. Research on self-direction has laid an important foundation for our understanding of this area. Still, much work remains to be done. We are convinced that continued research on self-direction is crucial to adult education research because (a) we are just beginning to unlock some very important doors to knowledge and, without further forward progress, these doors will remain unopened, and (b) because of the sustained work in the area to date, continued research on self-direction can add to the "credibility" of adult education researchers relative to the ability to make major contributions in a highly focused area over a period of years.

Future researchers should continue to approach the study of self-direction using a variety of research methodologies.

Perhaps one of the major contributions of research to date on self-direction has been the realization that what we know about this area has emerged through a variety of research methods. By looking at self-direction from several research perspectives, it has been possible to construct a picture of the landscape with much more depth than would be possible by only looking at the area through a single paradigm. We believe that there can be no single "best" way to study self-direction and that a key for future research development will be the ability to look at research problems in innovative ways.

In addition to continued work with correlational, quasi-experimental, and qualitative designs, we recommend the development of historical and philosophical investigations to further support the conceptual base of self-direction. Also, we see potential for directing research toward a host of policy questions, such as many of those addressed in Chapter Nine.

There is a continuing need for the refinement of existing measures of self-direction and the development of alternative instruments.

While there have been various criticisms of the instruments used to

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measure self-direction to date (and both of us have at times been among the critics), we applaud the work of Guglielmino and Oddi, for despite limitations that have been reported relative to the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) and the Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI), without these instruments, and without the willingness of the developers of these measures to take on such a task, our knowledge of self-direction in adult learning would be set back at least a decade. As a future research direction, we recommend that efforts be made to refine existing measures in response to limitations as they are identified. One approach might be the development of alternate forms of the instruments, such as the new version of the SDLRS developed by Guglielmino for adults with low literacy levels.

Another possibility might be the development of new measures of self-direction, based on emerging views of the concept. For instance, it might be possible to use the PRO Model as a theoretical basis for such an instrument.

There is a need for research on the roles and functions of institutions relative to self-direction in adult learning.

What kind of role can or should institutions play in support of self-direction in adult learning? How can institutions foster greater self-direction among learners? Are there ways to provide better resources and to address barriers to self-direction? Questions such as these are relevant, not only within colleges and universities, but also within non-higher education institutions such as corporate training departments, health and human service programs, adult basic education programs, and voluntary agencies.

An understanding of the role of the instructor is important.

In other publications (e.g., Brockett & Hiemstra, 1985) and in earlier chapters, we have discussed the role of the instructor from a practice perspective. There is also a need to explore this role from a research perspective. Some relevant questions may include the following: What are the major responsibilities of the facilitator? How do such factors as teaching style, interpersonal trust, rational thinking, cross-cultural awareness, and personality influence one's ability to be an effective facilitator of self-direction?

Cross-cultural research could help to provide a better understanding of certain social and political aspects of self-direction.

As we have tried to stress throughout the book, it is crucial to understand the interface between self-direction and the social context in which one is

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operating. There is ample evidence that self-direction is much more than a "middle-class, white" phenomenon. Yet it would be equally shortsighted to go to the other extreme and suggest that the ideas underlying self-direction in adult learning are universally valued by all cultures. Research that approaches self-direction from a cross-cultural perspective could provide some important insights in this regard.

It is important to build bridges from research to practice.

Research, in our view, lies at the core of future developments in self-direction. Yet, the ultimate value of this research depends on how it eventually can be tied to improved practice. This is not to suggest that every research study must have immediate and direct application to practice. Rather, we would argue that what is needed are three types of researchers: (a) those who conduct "basic research aimed at expanding the knowledge base of self-direction; (b) those who conduct "applied research such as evaluation studies, which have direct implications for specific programs and practices; and (c) those who attempt to "synthesize the research in such a way that it is possible to draw implications and conclusions from the "big picture" of research. In large measure, this latter emphasis has been our attempt with this book.

Recommendations for Practice

There is a continuing need to promote the use of learning contracts.

As we noted in Chapter Six, learning contracts make it possible to individualize the teaching-learning process. This device brings about a multitude of possibilities for meeting learners' needs, provides for a variety of outlets for evaluating learners' experiences, and aids planning by eliciting choices about scheduling, resources, learning strategies, and outcomes, and it even permits a very structured route through a learning experience for those who desire such structure.

From our experience in more formal settings, it is also very important that any communication between the learner and facilitator be clear. We believe contracts are an ideal means for promoting such clarity. We would suggest, too, that contracts are useful mechanisms to aid people in planning their learning outside of the formal institutional setting. In other words, such a device becomes a personal tool for thinking about goals, identifying resources, facilitating time management, and building commitment to complete learning endeavors.

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It is important to help learners identify and utilize a variety of resources.

Much of the research cited in earlier chapters about adults' learning projects and learning activities consistently has shown that self-directed learners use a wide variety of resources. Thus, as facilitators aid learners in becoming comfortable and more proficient with self-directed activities, it is crucial that help in locating and using resources be provided. Facilitators can provide reading lists, locate available learning materials, and collect a variety of institutional or instructor-owned materials for loan to learners. They can also guide learners in identifying support services in the local community. Chapter Eight also provided several ideas on how to find and use various learning resources, although we believe that future attempts to help learners be more efficient and effective in the actual use of resources are warranted.

The potential of networking for and among self-directed learners needs to be more fully explored, understood, and exploited.

Considerable discussion of networking has taken place in the past few years. Much of this discussion has centered on networks of people built around common needs, concerns, or interests, for example, professional networks, informal hobby-related networks, and networks devoted to specialized populations such as women's support groups. However, Fingeret's (1983) impressive work with the social networking activities of illiterate adults and the various efforts to promote learning exchange networks in the United States (Draves, 1980; Lewis, 1978, Perkins, 1985a, 1985b) suggest the potential value of networks for adult learners. The future certainly needs to include practical efforts aimed at initiating various learning networks.

There is a continuing need to help educators better understand the impact they can have on learner self-direction.

Schuttenberg and Tracy (1987) suggest that educators must play the following roles if they are to foster self-directed learning: leadership, direction, collaboration, coaching, modeling, and being a colleague. We can add several more roles from our experience, such as mentoring, locating resources, serving as a validator of learning, and building confidence in personal abilities. There are obvious overlaps in the above roles, and other roles have, no doubt, been overlooked. However, the point is that in situations of facilitating self-direction in learning educators have a number of crucial roles to play.

We believe, though, that this importance and the resulting impact on learners is not very well understood. As we noted in Chapter One, in our attempt

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to address some of the myths regarding self-direction in learning, facilitating such learning is not easy for most educators. It requires lots of work, considerable advance planning, and a faith in the inherent ability of learners to take charge of their own learning. Thus, it is imperative that adult educators who are interested in self-directed learning foster the type of training that will help teachers understand the impact they do have on learners' abilities to accept personal responsibility for their educational activities.

It is important to be cognizant of cross-cultural differences that may influence the impact and perceived value of self-direction among learners from different cultures.

We have found that many international students and, sometimes, students from different cultural groups within the United States have some initial difficulties with our self-directed approaches. These difficulties often match those experienced by Alice in the first chapter. Most initial problems seem to be related to expectations that the instructor will play a very directive role or to a lack of confidence in personal abilities to assume major responsibility for the planning and evaluation of learning experiences.

Thus, there is a need to provide appropriate orientation to such individuals very early in the learning experience. This should involve such activities as special meetings outside of the classroom, pairing such people with others who have been involved in self-directed learning at prior times for in-class small group sessions, and careful communication about processes, learning expectations, available resources, and assuming individual responsibility. In our own courses and workshops, for example, we take great care in developing the written materials explaining the teaching and learning process, providing samples of devices like learning contracts, and looking for non-verbal frustration or confusion clues. Even given such measures, some initial problems are natural and will need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

There is a need to help facilitators learn how to foster self-direction with large groups as well as with individuals of small groups.

It has been our experience that large group size need not deter the use of self-direction in learning approaches. However, it will necessitate working with such groups in ways different from a typical lecture format. One suggestion we have is to break such large groups into smaller groups for portions of the formal sessions. This can be accomplished in several ways. We have had success with the following three techniques: (a) forming groups of two to six people who move their seats together, (b) by having some people turn their front row seats to work with people in back row seats, and (c) if

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the initial room has fixed seats or is an auditorium with increasing tiers of seats to the back of the room, by moving people to folding chairs in any open areas of the room or to different breakout rooms.

We also continue to use learning contracts with large groups, and we encourage students to frequently use study groups, to form learning networks or support groups, and to work together in other ways in developing and carrying out learning contract activities. Instructors will need to be available for individual meetings and consultations, but a larger group obviously means more time will be required outside the classroom for such meetings. We have had considerable success in the past few years using electronic mail for communications outside the classroom. Large numbers of people can be accommodated this way in reasonable amounts of time.

For adult education college professors, it is important to work with faculty in and out of colleges of education who may be interested in self-directed approaches, but who have little past experience with it.

Many such people, especially if they have not received professional adult education training, will experience initial doubts about the value of self-directed learning for both students and teachers. In essence, many of the myths described in Chapter One will be operating consciously or sub-consciously as they attempt to intellectually understand self-directed approaches, learning contracts, and the risks or benefits in giving learners increased responsibility. Modeling, testimonials from students, and in-service workshops are some of the techniques we have employed in helping colleagues learn about our approach. We have used all of these approaches in settings involving both new and experienced faculty members and have generally been pleased with the response. The task is not easy and the result will not always be successful, but we urge that the effort be made.

It is important for instructors to help administrators understand why they are employing self-directed approaches and how they can be integrated into the existing system.

In previous chapters, we discussed some of the changes necessary for the self-directed learning process to be successful, such as how resources are utilized, how evaluation procedures differ from more traditional grading approaches, and how time-bound bureaucratic policies may need alterations. However, it is important to stress once again the importance of helping administrators, who impact on teaching in various ways, to understand the value and appropriateness of the facilitative processes. Often, it will be necessary to describe or defend changes that will facilitate greater

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opportunity for self-direction, such as alternative residency requirements, new uses of learning contracts or field placements, and increased use of independent study activities.

Promoting such an understanding generally is not an easy task because policy and procedures have been established to foster smooth administrative operations, and your approaches may necessitate changes or anomalies such as a heavy use of grading incompletes, staggered registrations, and grade changes after supplemental work by learners. It is our belief, though, that the constant defending and describing is worth the effort because of the enhancements possible for learners and they discover and build on their individual learning potential.

Finally, we believe there is a great need for adult educators to become more active in popularizing and promoting notions of self-direction in learning throughout society.

We recognize that by and large in our writing this book we are preaching to the converted. Certainly we hope that we can convince many people currently not aware of all aspects of working with self-directed individuals of the potential of the approaches advocated in the book. However, because we are so convinced of the value in helping people take responsibility for their own learning, not only for those involved in more formalized educational pursuits but also for those who constantly need to cope with life's many changes, we think it important to find ways of reaching the unconverted.

Thus, we urge that adult educators carry out various activities that will promote self-direction in learning throughout society. This can include such actions as writing about self-direction approaches for the popular literature, facilitating workshops on self-direction in institutions such as libraries, museums, and art galleries, and spreading the messages to various audiences with a missionary zeal. Efforts like these will require work outside our normal responsibilities, but we do believe the potential impact throughout society is worth it.


This book has been written for a broad audience. We have tried to present a wide range of strategies, ideas, and issues and hope that they have been useful in stimulating those who want to improve or enhance their efforts in working with self-directed learners. We also have tried to present a "state of the art" look at theory and research. We recognize that our own perspectives have limited the social context in which we have examined the self-direction in learning phenomenon. Nonetheless, we have attempted to provide as broad

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a perspective as possible by sharing information on such diverse areas as literature relative to the "middle class phenomenon," the global aspects of self-direction, and even some likely future scenarios for adult learners.

Ultimately, what we believe we have done is to raise a number of questions for future examination of self-direction in learning. We hope that the PRO model will serve as a conceptual device to stimulate future dialogue and investigation. And we hope that the many implications we have identified and described throughout the book will stimulate research by colleagues throughout North America and the world.

This book is actually a culmination of several years of our research, study, scholarship, and direction of graduate student colleagues' research efforts. As such, we see this not as an end of our agendas, but rather, as a new beginning. We anticipate involvement in new research directions, expect expanded concern for the global perspective of self-direction, and desire opportunities to try new practices relative to self-direction. Thus, for us the odyssey continues.


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