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Beyond the Iceberg: Expanding the Knowledge Base Through Qualitative Approaches

The previous two chapters have highlighted research on self-direction employing designs involving the quantitative analysis of data. Clearly, these kinds of studies have had a major impact on current understanding of the phenomenon of self-direction. Some of the most important research findings in this area, however, have emerged as a result of still another methodology. The third major branch of research on self-direction in adult learning has consisted of studies employing naturalistic research designs and qualitative data analysis procedures. Qualitative research, which includes such strategies as participant observation, case study, and in-depth interviewing, is characterized by the following: studying phenomena in their natural setting, collecting descriptive data that are usually not analyzed through statistical methods, a focus on process as well as outcomes, inductive data analysis, and an emphasis on the importance of "meaning" that participants attach to their experiences (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982). Whereas quantitative approaches such as survey, correlational, and experimental/ quasi-experimental designs stress the testing of existing theory, qualitative researchers focus on building theory from the "bottom up;" an approach that is referred to as "grounded theory."

In the current effort to gain greater understanding of self-direction in adult learning, qualitative approaches have been the most recent stream of inquiry to evolve and, we believe, offer much toward creating a greater understanding of the context in which self-directed learning takes place, and the many meanings that learners and educators attach to the concept of learner self-direction. Several major studies on self-direction in learning employing the qualitative approach are reviewed in the following sections.

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Experts Without Formal Training

"One of the most promising sources of knowledge about self-education is the lives of people who became expert in a field which did not include formal training" (Gibbons, et al., 1980, p. 44). Based on this rationale, Gibbons and his colleagues analyzed the content of 20 individuals "who became expert without formal training past high school or the equivalent" (except for one person who completed one year of college). These individuals were classified according to four categories:

  1. entertainers;
  2. inventors, explorers, and creators;
  3. people of letters, science, and philosophy; and
  4. administrators, organizers, and builders.

Included among those whose biographies were analyzed were the following individuals:

Muhammed Ali       John L. Lewis
Charlie Chaplin H.L. Mencken
Aaron Copeland Pablo Picasso
Walt Disney Will Rogers
Gerald Durrell George Bernard Shaw
Amelia Earhart Harry S. Truman
Ralph Edwards Virginia Woolf
Henry Ford Frank Lloyd Wright
Eric Hoffer Wilbur Wright
Harry Houdini Malcolm X

As each biography was read, items considered to pertain to the "nature, life, or times" of subjects were recorded. In all, 154 themes emerged from the data. Of these, the most prominent characteristics, as determined by the ratings ascribed by the readers, were as follows:

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Based on these characteristics, Gibbons and his colleagues drew several conclusions about differences in the assumptions underlying self-directed learning and formal schooling. First, there is much greater diversity in the kinds of expertise and skills needed by the self-educated experts than is generally stressed in formal schooling. Second, the expertise developed by these individuals appears to have grown out of extracurricular activities; school generally played an insignificant or negative role in developing this expertise. Third, the 20 experts tended to focus their efforts on their area of expertise rather than to develop less in-depth knowledge about a broader range of topics. Fourth, there was a strong, active, experiential orientation to the learning efforts. Fifth, these individuals tended to possess characteristics that enabled them to pursue their areas of expertise despite great odds, failures, and public disapproval.

Based on these findings, Gibbons, et al. laid a tentative foundation consisting of 14 principles that they suggest could contribute to a theory of self-education. Among the suggestions were the following: "that self-education can help individuals assume control for their own learning, undertake learning for specific use in the present, promote personal integrity, and develop expertise in an area while remaining open to exploring many fields of activity" (Brockett, Hiemstra, & Penland, 1982, p. 174).

In a critical assessment of the Gibbons, et al. study and how it has been utilized by adult education researchers to date, Long and Agyekum (1990) concluded that the work has not had a great influence on practice relative to self-direction in learning. While the study has been cited by a number of authors in the field, emphasis of this writing has typically been on the research methodology than on the findings themselves. In providing an analysis of the first three principles, Long and Agyekum conclude that the principles have limited use in their current form; however, the principles may, in fact, be useful in analyzing other literature and in promoting the development of research efforts based on the findings.

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A Fellowship of Learning

A second qualitative study of self-direction in adult learning employed a different approach. Using a "semi-structured interview," Brookfield (1981b) studied 25 adults who, like the subjects in the Gibbons, et al. study, had become acknowledged experts in their fields without formal preparation. As with the study by Gibbons, et al., Brookfield's research differed from the learning projects studies in that it concentrated not on the subjects' entire range of learning activities, but rather emphasized only learning related to the individuals' area of expertise. Unlike Gibbons and his colleagues, however, Brookfield gathered his data first-hand, from the subjects themselves.

Brookfield identified two criteria that had to be met by prospective subjects in order for them to be included in the study sample. For each individual: "[learning] has to have resulted in the development of such a high level of expertise that the learner had been awarded the acclaim of fellow enthusiasts at local or national level, and such expertise had to have been developed without participation in externally planned programmes of instruction (such as adult education classes, correspondence courses or in-service training schemes)." (1981b, p. 17)

Some of the areas of expertise identified by Brookfield's sample were organic gardening, chess, philosophy, record collecting, animal breeding, narrow gauge railways, and pigeon racing. Length of involvement in these activities ranged from four years for a person engaged in drama production to 50 years for a beekeeper.

A number of themes were identified from the data. One such theme revolved around three attitudes toward learning that seemed to be shared by many of the independent learners. First, these learners tended to view their involvement as on-going, with no identified end point to their study. Second, they did not feel constrained to limit their study to "conventional study boundaries" (p. 20). Rather, many of the individuals preferred to expand their explorations into other related areas. For example, a person interested in botany also felt it important to spend time studying birds and insects. Similarly, an expert in steam engines was also interested in other modes of transportation, such as canals. Third, these adults believed themselves to belong to a larger "fellowship of learning" (p. 20). While individuals assumed primary responsibility for planning and carrying out their learning activities, the learners did not work in isolation from others who shared their interest. Indeed, one of the criteria for being considered an "expert" was acknowledgement of such status by one's peers.

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This finding supports the contention of many (e.g., Knowles, 1975) that self-direction does not necessarily mean learning that takes place in isolation.

Related to this third attitude is probably one of the most important findings of the study. Brookfield has noted that the learners he interviewed expressed both a spirit of cooperation and competitiveness. On the one hand, learners emphasized their identification as part of a group of individuals with a common interest. As such, they were willing to share their knowledge and experience with their peers. At the same time, though, it was seen as important by the experts to have their abilities recognized by their peers through awards and competitive success. In fact, several of the learners identified the opportunity for competitive success as a primary reason for undertaking the learning endeavor.

A portion of Brookfield's discussion centered on the evaluation of independent adult learning. A distinction was made between subjective indices of evaluation, exemplified primarily through increased confidence in one's abilities to the point where he or she felt capable of judging the ideas and writings of experts in the field, and objective indices such as recognition and comparison by one's peers. To some extent, these indices can be related to the cooperative and competitive elements mentioned above. Some objective indices, for example, include requests for advice, written contributions, and talks to interested groups. Each of these reflect a sense of cooperation--a willingness to share one's expertise. At the same time, possessing a level of expertise sufficient to question other experts--essentially stating that one's own ideas or observations are more appropriate--demonstrates a competitive nature. Perhaps it is here that Brookfield has made a major contribution to theory relative to self-direction in learning. Certainly he has raised some important areas for further examination and reflection.

The Vermont Study

While the methodologies employed by Gibbons and his colleagues (1980) and Brookfield (1981b) differ considerably, they share an emphasis on studying individuals with limited formal preparation in their field of endeavor. In a third major qualitative study, Leean and Sisco (1981) investigated self-directed learning among rural adults in Vermont who had completed less than 12 years of formal education. This 18-month project consisted of three major phases: (a) a replication of the learning projects methodology based on a sample of 93 adults; (b) a case study process involving 14 of the original 93 individuals; and (c) dissemination of findings, including conference presentations and retreats involving consultants with expertise in self-directed learning and naturalistic inquiry. It is perhaps the case study

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component of this investigation that has provided some of the most insightful findings.

In the case study phase, 14 individuals were selected on the basis of representativeness by age, gender, and educational background. Over a six month period, three researchers spent about 14 hours with each of the participants. Data collection included several protocols, such as interactive exercises and conversational interviews, that allowed the investigators to obtain a wide range of qualitative data.

Using Lewin's Field Theory (1951) as a conceptual base, Leean and Sisco were able to look at the influence of learning on the lives of the interviewees across a chronological progression of past, present, and future time. This framework allowed the researchers to consider learning from a holistic perspective. While the importance of integrating these three time phases cannot be separated, Leean and Sisco pointed out that the major findings relative to self-directed learning were noted within the "present" time perspective. Major findings related to self-direction can be summarized as follows:

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These findings address several areas that previous studies had not explored; in particular, the idea that much self-directed learning occurs through "non-rational" means. Self-directed learning, in its ideal form, involves a transcendence not unlike Maslow's (1970) "peak experience." Leean and Sisco found evidence to support this idea. Perhaps there is a link between this finding and the notion of non-deliberate learning as addressed by Ingham (1984), which was discussed in Chapter Two.

The Organizing Circumstance

To what extent do self-directed learners consciously pre-plan their learning activities? With the development of models designed to provide a process for undertaking self-directed learning projects, some of which are considered in later chapters, it would seem worthwhile to consider the extent to which such processes are, indeed, used by self-directed learners. In a secondary analysis of qualitative data based on interviews with 78 self-directed learners

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who had less than high school completion, Spear and Mocker (1984) found that such preplanning usually does not exist.

Spear and Mocker have suggested that the concept of the "organizing circumstance" can be used to understand this finding. According to the investigators, the organizing circumstance "postulates that self-directed learners, rather than preplanning their learning projects, tend to select a course from limited alternatives which occur fortuitously within their environment, and which structures their learning projects (1984, p. 4). From their findings, Spear and Mocker have presented a typology that can be used to distinguish four patterns through which the organizing circumstance can be found to exist. The categories of the typology are as follows:

Type I--Single Event/Anticipated Learning

This category refers to situations where an adult enters into a learning activity perceived to be required, where he or she has little understanding of what needs to be learned or how to learn it. The learner, thus, enters with the expectation that the "means for learning will be contained within the situation and available to them" (p. 5). Many on-the-job training experiences fall into this category.

Type II--Single Event/Unanticipated Learning

This category is similar to the Type I category in that tasks are performed by individuals on a frequent and repeated basis. However, within this category, individuals do not view themselves as engaged in a learning process.

Type III--Series of Events/Related Learning

Some self-directed learning projects can be seen as a series of episodes that, on the surface, give the appearance of being a linear progression toward a future goal. In actuality, the series of events builds upon previous events. However, this progression was not deliberate on the part of the learner. In fact, such learners are usually unable to have foreseen the "logical" progression from episode to episode.

Type IV--Series of Events/Unrelated Learning

Type IV situations develop over a longer period of time than Type III situations but are the accumulation of various unrelated learning experiences. According to Spear and Mocker, this category "is both a cumulative

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and culminating circumstance uniting previously unrelated sets or series of circumstances." (1984, p. 7)

Spear and Mocker's conclusions, which seem to challenge the oft-accepted view that self-directed learning is a clearly deliberate, well-planned, and linear series of episodes are reflected in the following statement: "Because self-directed learning occurs in a natural environment dominated by chance elements and is in contrast to the artificial and controlled elements which characterize formal instructional environments, it seems useful to investigate the possibly differing effects of the natural environments on the learning process. This is opposed to seeking to understand self-directed learning by imposing what is known about formal learning upon it ."(1984, p. 9)

The issues Spear and Mocker raise are relevant ones that could provide some valuable directions for future inquiry.

Self-Directed Learning in Higher Education Settings

While most qualitative investigations of self-direction have emphasized learning outside of the classroom, there remains a need to look more fully at self-direction within the institutional setting. As was noted in Chapters One and Two, self-direction can be viewed as existing on a continuum and can, indeed, take place in institutional settings. Kasworm (1988a, 1988b) undertook two exploratory investigations in order to support a conceptual framework for self-directed learning in institutions. In the first study, Kasworm (1988a) conducted semi-structured interviews with seven adults enrolled in graduate courses at a university in a large metropolitan area. Drawing in part from the models presented by Knowles (1975) and Tough (1979), Kasworm essentially found support for the presence and potential of self-direction in the graduate classroom. However, she pointed out that because this study was based on a very limited sample, and was based on a graduate student population, the findings must be viewed in a most tentative way.

For this reason, Kasworm (1988b) undertook a follow-up investigation that sought to examine the same phenomenon with a group of undergraduate adult learners who pursued college credit on a part-time basis and held full- or part-time jobs. Ten individuals were randomly selected and interviewed. Of these individuals, 70% reported that "their re-entry into college was related to an expected delayed gratification that they projected would be fulfilled upon completion of the degree" (Kasworm, 1988b, p. 9). Noting that each of the interviewees was able to share examples of themselves as self-directed learners, and pointing out that most of the respondents felt that

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self-directed learning is desirable for most adults, Kasworm asked respondents to discuss how they perceived their role as active/passive learners in credit courses.

Four patterns of responses were identified. One pattern was a clear preference for a self-directed approach stressing informal learning and minimizing competitive, test-oriented learning. A second pattern involved a "selective" combination of self-directed and more structured approaches. A third pattern was a preference for "quality structured learning" with a clear set of expectations. Finally, a fourth pattern was a preference for structured classes and an attitude of compliance with the system in order to "just get through."

While the limited size of the samples from these studies make it necessary to view the findings in an exploratory way, this research reemphasizes that self-direction can indeed be a vital part of learning in institutions. At the same time, it is a mistake to assume that all learners have the same level of readiness for self-directed learning. These findings have implications for the teaching/learning transaction as well as for the development of institutional policies relative to self-direction. Such implications are discussed in Chapters Six and Eight, respectively.

Librarians and Self-Directed Learners

In order to better understand the role of the facilitator in self-directed learning, Smith (1989) focused on one type of facilitator--the public librarian. Twenty-two librarians from a public library system in a northeastern U.S. metropolitan area were interviewed using a semistructured interview process. Using a modified constant comparative method of qualitative data analysis, Smith's findings centered on four major themes relative to the following questions:

  1. What is a public library?
  2. Do self-directed learners use the library?
  3. What materials, services, and programs do librarians make available to learners?
  4. How do public librarians interact with learners?

With regard to the first question, three aspects of the library were noted consistently: "the public library as physical space (building, arrangement, and furniture); people (staff, library users, and the community-at-large that supports it); nonphysical environment (the atmosphere, e.g., warmth, friendliness, quiet, that the library projects to the community)" (Smith, 1989, p. 243). Of particular interest is the nonphysical environment aspect. Here, Smith pointed out that nearly "all of the librarians interviewed were concerned that

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their libraries be warm, friendly places, a welcoming, rather than a threatening institution in the community" (p. 244).

Regarding the second question, Smith noted that every one of the librarians "had at least one or two stories or examples" of self-directed learners with whom they had worked and many had "at least a working definition of what this type of learning meant to them" (p. 245). Based on these findings, Smith proposed a tentative model that distinguishes between "timid" and "confident" learners. She contends that interactions with a librarian might be a way for timid learners to develop into confident learners.

As for the resources made available to learners, it is clear that the book remains the primary resource utilized by library learners. Yet programming, either of an educational or entertainment nature and services, such as reference/reader guidance or educational brokering, were sometimes identified as relevant learning resources.

Finally, with regard to the ways in which librarians interact with users, Smith found that typically, a set of maxims (i.e., unwritten rules) somewhat analogous to Schon's (1987) idea of "knowing-in-action" were combined with a process of "negotiating the question," which is a way of responding to the unique situation of each individual user.

This study makes an important contribution to the knowledge base because it addresses implications both for the facilitation of self-directed learning and the ways in which institutions can respond to self-directed learners. These issues are also discussed further in Chapters Six and Eight, respectively.

Other Qualitative Studies

Several other studies have investigated self-direction through the use of naturalistic designs and qualitative data analysis. The following five investigations are dissertation studies, three of which were conducted at Teachers College, Columbia University. For example, Zabari (1985) examined the role of self-directed learning as an approach to continuing education for practitioners in the field of gerontology. Semi-structured interviews with 18 senior center directors revealed the following four types of self-directed learning activities: "job-framing, resource seeking, feedback and evaluation seeking, and making sense of experience" (p. 1061A). Zabari found that the interviewees developed "along a continuum of autonomous functioning" determined by the way in which they negotiated learning activities" (1061A).

In another study, Bauer (1986) used a case study approach to examine the first three years of operation of the Adult Education Guided Independent Study (AEGIS) program, an alternative doctoral program in adult education offered

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by Teachers College, Columbia University. Through document analysis, observation, and interviews with students, faculty, and administrators, Bauer described how various functions of the program interfaced administratively with the college in general. She concluded that the development of innovative programs requires an intensive personal commitment on the part of professionals; therefore, "institutions must provide stronger support to faculty in substantive areas of tenure criteria, monetary reward for involvement of this kind, and adjustment of teaching and administrative load" (p. 2518A). The AEGIS program is discussed further in Chapter Eight.

Two recent qualitative investigations have attempted to provide greater conceptual clarity to the concept of self-direction. Gerstner (1988) conducted a critical review of self-directed learning as reflected in the North American and British literature between the years 1920 and 1986. Drawing from progressive, humanist, behaviorist, and critical philosophical orientations, Gerstner identified four variations on the self-directed learning theme: "(1) instrumental learning; (2) self-knowledge; (3) self-management; and (4) as a personal attribute" (p. 27A).

Candy (1988) also investigated the concept of "self-direction." As was noted in Chapter Two, Candy distinguished between self-direction as a personal attribute, an approach to learning that takes place outside of institutions (autodidaxy), and as a way of providing learner control over the learning process. From a critical analysis of literature as well as a conceptual analysis process, Candy's eight major findings were as follows: "(1) lack of internal consistency in the literature precludes the development of a coherent 'theory of self-direction' from within the literature; (2) autodidaxy can be usefully distinguished from learner-control; (3) autonomy in learning does not necessarily lead to personal autonomy, nor does personal autonomy always manifest itself in the learning situation; (4) autonomy has both personal and situational dimensions; (5) understanding the perspective of learners is vital to understanding strategies used and outcomes attained; (6) personal autonomy in learning comprises both cross-situational and situation-specific dimensions; (7) research into learning outcomes should stress qualitative rather than quantitative dimensions of knowledge acquisition; and (8) constructivism sanctions action-research and other naturalistic inquiry modes. "(p. 1033A)

Based on these findings, he suggests a research agenda developed from a constructionist perspective.

Finally, in a study that seems to take the Gibbons, et al. (1980) study a

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step further, Cavaliere (1989) used content analysis of biographical and historical data from a 28 year period in order to examine "the independent learning processes utilized by the Wright brothers which led to their invention of the airplane" (p. 2894-A). She noted that the behaviors employed by the Wright brothers during this process were "repetitive, cyclical, and progressive. The data analyses demonstrated that learning does not occur in isolation and defined goals can be accomplished through practice and perseverance" (p. 2894-A). To a large degree, these characteristics support those identified by Gibbons and his colleagues.

Contributions and Limitations of Qualitative Investigations

Clearly, the studies in this chapter indicate that qualitative research methods have greatly extended the boundaries of knowledge relative to self-direction in learning. In our view, qualitative approaches to studying self-direction have made at least two major contributions to the knowledge base in this area. First, this stream of inquiry has contributed to theory-building efforts relative to self-direction. Concepts such as Brookfield's fellowship of learning, or Spear and Mocker's organizing circumstance, along with Leean and Sisco's findings relative to the potential impact of altered states of consciousness on self-directed learning processes and Kasworm's findings about self-direction among adult college students probably would not have been as likely to be uncovered through the use of standardized measures of self-direction.

A second contribution of the qualitative paradigm can be seen in the thread that runs through many of the studies discussed in this chapter. The samples selected for the studies by Gibbons, et al., Brookfield, Leean and Sisco, and Spear and Mocker were comprised of adults with low levels of formal education or no formal training in their area of expertise. It can be argued that many adults who fit into the category of "undereducated" are less likely to respond to standardized scales than those individuals whose more extensive participation in formal learning experiences may have helped them to feel more experienced with such instruments. In other words, it is likely that qualitative methods can play a valuable role in studying segments of the adult population that are frequently overlooked in research efforts.

While the qualitative paradigm has made what we believe to be a significant contribution to research efforts in this area, the approach is not without its parameters. First, although this method is certainly appropriate for studying problems from a sociological or anthropological perspective, qualitative approaches are probably not as useful in studies focusing on personality dimensions, such as those that fall within the bounds of learner

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self-direction, since they generally focus on social processes and interactions rather than internal psychological processes.

In addition, some would argue that qualitative findings are not generalizable to other populations, since such considerations as random selection of subjects, manipulation of independent variables, and tests of statistical significance are not part of the methodology. However, Bogdan and Biklen (1982) suggest that generalizability can also be considered in terms of application to related situations rather than populations. In this way, the findings of qualitative investigations can, indeed, have implications beyond the specific study addressed.


In this and the previous two chapters, we have attempted to present a look at the research efforts that support the underlying knowledge base of self-direction in adult learning. The questions that remain center on assessing how valuable this research has been in helping us to better understand the phenomenon of self-direction and how it might impact upon the practice of adult education. As a way of bringing this review of research to closure, we will present our assessment of the knowledge base by first looking at some of the critiques that have been written about this research area and then by summarizing some of our own conclusions.

In 1984, Brookfield offered what he called a "critical paradigm" of self-directed adult learning (Brookfield, 1984c). The rationale for this paradigm was that while research such as the learning projects approach had made a clear contribution to the knowledge base, there was a clear need to move further--"to infuse a spirit of self-critical scrutiny into this developing field of research" (p. 60). Essentially, Brookfield identified the following four criticisms of the research up to that time:

  1. Research on self-directed learning was based almost entirely on middle-class samples; studies of "working class" adults were largely ignored;
  2. There was an almost exclusive emphasis on studying self-directed learning through quantitative approaches--the qualitative orientation was generally overlooked;
  3. The research has been characterized by an overemphasis on the individual dimension of self-directed learning without consideration of the social context in which such learning takes place; and
  4. Little consideration had been given to implications of existing research findings for "questions of social and political change." (p. 60)

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Brookfield argued that until these four issues could be addressed and resolved, research on self-direction would be limited to merely reinventing the wheel of what had already been well documented.

In a response to this critique, the first author of this book (Brockett, 1985c) presented an alternative view of the four criticisms. Regarding the overemphasis on middle-class samples, it was agreed that while there was some truth to this view, groups traditionally viewed as "hard-to-reach" had been studied more widely than suggested by Brookfield. Several examples were used to support this view (e.g., Hiemstra, 1975; Umoren, 1978; Baghi, 1979; Leean & Sisco, 1981). As for the concern about excessive use of quantitative research approaches, the "three streams" model that has served as a guide in this book was used to refute Brookfield's claim. Here, it was noted that "self-directed learning at this time is an excellent example of a research area where qualitative and quantitative approaches have been used to explore distinct pieces of the puzzle" (Brockett, 1985c, p. 57). On the final two concerns raised by Brookfield, there was basic agreement; the sociopolitical dimension of self-direction were, and continue to be, essentially overlooked. These issues "are amplified in situations where individuals view themselves as powerless in determining the direction of their lives" and, as such, present both positive and negative potential consequences for "promoting self-direction in societies where individual human rights may be in question" (p. 58).

A final commentary by Brookfield (1985b) helps to illuminate the spirit in which the above exchange was undertaken. While points of disagreement remained, the exchange "was presented in the spirit of furthering genuine dialogue" (p. 60). "Essentially, we have the same concern. We are disturbed at the creeping orthodoxy which threatens to exercise a conceptual stranglehold on research and theoretical speculation in this field" (Brookfield, 1985b, p. 64). Today, with the advantage of several years perspective since the original publication of the exchange, this "spirit" remains the real contribution of this exchange. In our view, concerns about the research being dominated by middle-class samples and quantitative designs are less of a concern than they were in 1984. On the other hand, concerns about the sociopolitical dimension of self-direction remain valid today, though some theoretical headway has been made on this front (see Chapters Two, Six, and Ten for illustrations). But it was the tone of the Brookfield-Brockett dialogue that made the series of articles more constructive than confrontational, and, in retrospect, this is the real contribution of the exchange.

So, then, where do things stand relative to the knowledge base of self-direction? We believe that several conclusions can be drawn. First, it is clear from the vast body of learning projects research that self-directed learning activity is, indeed, "a way of life" that cuts across socioeconomic

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strata. It is, to be sure, highly visible in middle-class U.S. society. But it is also thriving in groups traditionally deemed "hard-to-reach" for adult education programming: older adults, minorities, rural residents, low income adults, persons with low levels of formal education, and adults who demonstrate expertise in a particular area despite lack of formal preparation in that area. It is also found, in varying degrees, within societies outside of North America and Western Europe.

Second, and related to the above point, it would appear that most findings related to measures of self-directedness and various demographic variables are inconclusive. The possible exception is educational attainment and even here, the findings are not overwhelming. This perhaps lends further support to the point made above, that self-direction does indeed cut across the entire adult population and holds promise for individuals regardless of their demographic background.

Third, it can be said with a high degree of confidence that there is a link between self-direction and self-concept. A bit more tentatively, the same thing can be said for the link between self-direction and life satisfaction (although these latter findings have been drawn only from older adult samples). These findings indicate that self-direction is clearly reflected in how adults perceive themselves and the quality of their lives.

Fourth, the findings relative to self-direction and certain psychosocial variables, such as locus of control, intellectual development, and hemisphericity paint a mixed picture. The study of hemisphericity might be particularly instructive to future researchers. As was pointed out in Chapter Four, it is possible that the inconclusive findings are linked to the idea that self-direction might be tied to certain elements of both left and right brain hemispheric orientation. Hence, it may be entirely appropriate to arrive at different findings, especially given that various researchers may operationalize the variables in different ways. Our conclusion is that some variables simply do not easily fit into the conceptualization of self-direction. Fifth, despite the concerns raised by Brookfield (1985b) several years ago that research in this area has over relied on quantitative measurement of the concept, we are encouraged by the methodological diversity that continues to evolve in the study of self-direction. As can be seen from studies reported earlier in this chapter, the last half of the 1980s has witnessed an increase in studies utilizing the qualitative paradigm. There is every reason to be optimistic that this trend will continue.

Sixth, legitimate concerns have been voiced about both of the instruments that have been used to measure self-direction (i.e., the SDLRS and the OCLI). However, in spite of these concerns, both the SDLRS and the OCLI have been vital to the development of the knowledge base. The developers of each instrument continue to work at refinements of their scales and we are

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encouraged by this (Guglielmino, 1989; Oddi, personal communication with R. Brockett, January, 1990). Until alternative measures of self-direction can be developed, based perhaps on some of the new ways in which the phenomenon is being conceptualized, further research with these scales is encouraged, so long as validation work continues on a study by study basis.

Finally, our review leads us to conclude that self-direction can and should serve as a model for the field of adult education in terms of how to systematically develop a research base over time. While some may wish to view the research over the past two decades as a fad that has just about run its course, we believe that this kind of thinking in the past has cost adult education a great deal in terms of its development as a field of study. In Chapter Thirteen, we offer a number of recommendations pertaining to how this research base may continue to develop in coming years.


In this chapter, we have examined the third stream of research on self-direction in learning: studies employing the qualitative or naturalistic paradigm. Although this stream does not compare in mere volume with the other two approaches, it has perhaps been the most valuable in terms of theory development. In our overall assessment of the knowledge base in self-direction, we believe that the picture is generally bright, especially when compared with most other research areas in adult education. Yet, there is much more that remains to be done.


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