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Institutional Perspectives on Self-Direction in Learning

Self-direction in learning exists in a variety of settings. Adults' learning projects involving considerable self-planning, for example, occur among a wide variety of population sub-groups and in various situations. We also have demonstrated in previous chapters how self-direction in learning can be facilitated even in fairly formal circumstances. However, the willingness to accept this broader view varies considerably, depending on such factors as institutional mission or the philosophies of individual administrators. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate how self-direction in learning takes place in various institutional locations. To do this we will explore examples of selected institutions and will consider some of the barriers that can limit an institution's ability to support self-directed learning.

Some argue that the learning that takes place in informal settings, without adequate guidance and support, is generally of little value to society (Lawson, 1979; Little, 1979). Verner (1975) even went so far as to suggest "self-education is beyond the range of responsibility of adult education, since it is an individual activity and affords no opportunity for an adult educator to exert influence on the learning process" (p. 31).

It also can be argued that true self-direction in learning can only exist outside of formal organizations or in isolation from some adult education specialist. Here, there is a belief that an institution and its employees cannot operate without certain guiding policies and regulations that affect learning or training. In addition, allowing learners to operate totally on their own invites anarchy into the organization sponsoring any learning or providing facilities. Some would also suggest that self-directed learning involvement would be inconsistent with the structure of an institutional setting. For example, Little (1979) and Penland (1981) place learning in institutional settings only within a category dubbed, Other Directed Learning. In other words, "true" adult self-directed learning occurs outside of educational institutions. Finally, Spear and Mocker (1984) believe that self-directed individuals "tend to select a course [of learning activity] from limited alternatives which

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occur fortuitously within their environment, and which structures their learning projects" (p. 4).

However, the above assumptions are rooted in philosophical models that place teachers or authorities in positions of control or leadership. The basic philosophy we share does not place teacher above learner or suggest that the adult educator must have a critical influential role. We believe that self-direction in learning is possible at any stage of a person's development and within almost any type of setting. Thus, although we demonstrated early in the book how many current notions about self-directedness stem from learning projects research and individuals as planners of their learning (Tough, 1979), Chapter Six described procedures for facilitating learning in formal, group settings.

Mocker and Spear (1982) identify self-directed learning as one of four categories on a matrix of lifelong learning. However, we described in previous chapters our belief that self-direction is best viewed as a continuum, where involvement is possible at any point on the continuum from very formal, even regimented, settings to highly informal, non-institutional settings. Kasworm (1988) and Brookfield (1986) are among those who also support this notion of a continuum.

Moore (1986) provides an example of personal, intentional changes made through individual learning activities that take place among inmates of a correctional institution. Garrison (1987) and Moore (1983) make the case for facilitating self-direction in distance learning activities. Knowles (1975) and Knowles and Associates (1984) suggest that self-directed activity is possible in any setting.


Activating community resources for educational purposes assumes that most people and agencies have the capacity--or at least potential-- for involvement in the educational processes necessary or desired in furthering human development. We suggest that these persons and agencies should assume considerable responsibility for the necessary educational functions. In this view, the community can be seen as a continuous learning setting in which the attitudes, talents, and behaviors of people are developed.

According to this view of education and learning, community resources are potential learning forces and factors. There are a number of organizations or agencies beyond the normal educational and social service ones that have such potential: business and industry can serve as job training resources; churches can provide educational leadership on such issues as family life, human sexuality, and substance abuse; parks can serve as a learning resource related to physical fitness or outdoor education (Hiemstra, 1985a). Stewart

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(1985) suggests that daily newspapers and other print media can be used very effectively for adult education purposes. In fact, in the following sections we will point out a variety of community resources used by self-directed learners.

The connection of educative community ideas to this book should be evident. We believe that self-directed learners can and do take advantage of a wide variety of community institutions to further their educational needs. Brookfield (1985a) provided several examples of how self-directed learning is carried out in the community. Smith and Cunningham (1987) and Gross (1982) provide a variety of ideas, references, and resources related to using community resources for learning. The purpose of this section is to provide three examples regarding what is being attempted and what is possible.


Libraries are in a unique position in most communities to assist adults in various ways with their self-directed learning pursuits. Burge (1983) and several colleagues point out a variety of related activities. In reality, most libraries possess a multitude of learning resources, have access to many more resources through various sharing networks, and are managed by professionals who have information searching and retrieval skills. The continual increase in electronic access mechanisms and the growing number of specific adult education activities are creating even more opportunities to meet the needs of users. Thus, there typically exists in most communities a public library service that provides support for people to educate themselves continually (Conroy, 1981; Martin, 1972).

Public libraries have,in fact, supported adult learning pursuits for many years. As Smith (1986) notes, "From its beginnings in the Nineteenth Century, the public library has been a source of information and assistance for adults learning on their own . . . The adult education movement of the 1920's and 30's further spurred the interest of librarians in adults who sought self-education or who were reading with a purpose." (p. 249)

A popular service that evolved during this period was the "Office of the Reader's Advisor" at the New York Public Library (Flexner & Hopkins, 1941; Monroe, 1963). The Office was established under the direction of Jennie M. Flexner in 1928 and existed for some twenty years. Adults pursuing particular learning activities were referred to the Reader's Advisor, who would interview them, determine specific needs, and develop a tailored reading plan.

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During the 1940's and 1950's such specific services were absorbed into more generic services for adults and interest in self-directed learning did not resurface on any large scale until the 1970s brought a special project into existence: "Then, from 1972 to 1976, the College Board sponsored the Adult Independent Learning Project, which operated in several public libraries throughout the United States. As part of this project, librarians were given special training, and, rechristened Learner's Advisers, served as learning facilitators for library users. "(Smith, 1986, p. 249)

The advisors worked with interested adults for weeks or even months helping them map out individualized learning programs (Mavor, Toro, & DeProspo, 1976), and as Dale (1979) notes, the service was intended "for self-directed adults who wished to study independently, outside the traditional education system." (p. 85)

The re-discovery of the value of providing consultation for self-directed learners raises some useful questions about the library as an important resource (Carr, 1980, 1983). Smith (1986, 1989) found that most librarians share a belief that accurate, effective guidance of learning must be directed by the learner. She suggests that librarians are in a unique position to be facilitators of self-directed learning: "It is apparent that they recognize this, take it seriously, and through understanding born of experience, are usually good at it . . . to successfully facilitate self-directed learning is to allow it to be as individual a process as possible." (p. 253)

What, then, are some likely future roles for the library? Obviously, technological change, financial conditions, and the professional preparation of future librarians are some important factors in determining just how successful libraries will be in meeting the needs of self-directed learners. One current project in New York State, begun through a Kellogg Foundation grant and sponsored in part by the State Education Department, provides some glimpses into that possible future. The development of Education Information Center (EIC) programs in several public libraries has resulted in several new features: (a) an information telephone service with experienced advisors providing resource ideas; (b) free half-hour advising appointments at selected community centers and libraries; (c) community workshops on specific educational or career topics; (d) the use of SIGI (System of Interactive Guidance and Information--a computerized information and guidance program); (e) educational help columns in newspapers; (f) a cable-access

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television series; (g) an outreach program to various target population groups; and (h) considerable cooperation between various community providers (Kordalewski, 1982).

Bundy (1977) describes another project where certain library storefront organizations provide information to learners outside the formal structure of a library building. Beyond the United States, Dale (1980) details some cooperative efforts taking place between libraries and Open University programs in the United Kingdom. Such innovations may well change the way libraries think of their programs and services in the future. Brookfield (1984a) even suggests that the public library is the most obvious community agency for assisting independent learners.


A museum is another institution where self-directed learning can thrive. Gross (1982), for example, has documented various contributions made by cultural institutions to the work of self-directed learners. Obviously, a wide variety of such settings provide unique opportunities for learning. Carr (1985) suggests several: museums, zoos, parks, historical sites, aquariums, restored villages, botanical gardens, forest preserves, wildlife refuges, famous homes, and planetariums (p. 51). Art galleries, science centers, archeological digs, special geological conditions, and theaters are some of the other possibilities. However, in this section we focus on only one such institution in pointing out some of the activities and potential.

Museums have been and are being used in various ways as a community resource available for the support of adult learning. However, many museums still provide fairly static "walk through but don't touch" exhibits or displays. In fact, adults do not appear to place museums displays and exhibits very high on their lists of frequently used learning materials (Hiemstra, 1975, 1981a). In another source one of us has raised a number of questions that museum professionals must address in finding ways of better serving adult participants: "Do you just set up displays and let people come in and view? Do you become engaged with the learners in some way beyond the exhibits? Do you provide study guides for them? Do you train your docents to answer certain kinds of questions or to engage in dialogue? Do you give visitors handouts, as they come in, that provide organizing tools for their visit? Do you offer them hands-on opportunities?" (Hiemstra, 1981a, p. 65)

Questions such as these can help create greater awareness of the museum as a resource for self-directed learning.

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Knox (1981) offers several guidelines for enabling museum visitors to engage in effective learning activities. He suggests (a) that visitors assume the main responsibility for deciding what to learn and how (this assumes they will choose according to their personal values, purposes, learning styles, and pacing), (b) that visitors be encouraged to sequence their learning activities so they progress from an overview of major features of an exhibit to more detailed explorations, and (c) that visitors be assisted in judging the value of their learning through such means as self-assessment inventories (pp. 106-107). He believes such assessment tools will "help people become more self-directed" (p. 107).

In reality, many museum educators understand quite well that if they are going to provide an effective product to their communities, it will be necessary to think of visitors as learners (Bertram, 1981; Bertram & Sidford, 1977; Daniels, 1981; Horn, 1979). Many efforts have been made to provide new or special programs for adult learners: "Museum materials and staff members have been used as supplemental resources for adult education classes at other locations; museum-related courses or lectures have been given in locations other than museums; weekend museum courses have included field visits and work at archaeological sites; antique identification courses have been taught in museums by museum staff; special exhibits or annual shows have been done on topics aimed at attracting new adult audiences, such as minority groups, blue-collar workers, or the handicapped; traveling exhibits, loan exhibits, educational loan packets and tape or slide kits about museums have been provided for use in adult activities; displays have been set up in store fronts, shopping centers, zoos, libraries, etc., to promote special museum activities for family groups or other combined audiences; trained docents, volunteers and research assistants have worked extensively with educational programming related to adults; noon-hour programs or lectures (with or without lunch) have been held in and out of museums; exhibits have been presented that have special cultural or ethnic features; and a wide variety of media and materials (radio shows, TV shows, newspaper columns, supportive bibliographies) have been used as educational and promotional tools." (Hiemstra, 1981a, p. 123)

For more extensive details of such programs and activities, see the works of Bestall (1970), Carr (1985), the Center for Museum Education (1978), Chase (1978), Grabowski (1972), Heine (1977), and Wriston (1969).

Some special efforts have taken place in several locations. For example, in 1976 and 1977 selected museums in the United States were awarded "Learning Museum Program" grants from the National Endowment for the

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Humanities. A variety of activities were made available to interested adults at such museums, including lecture series, film series, special exhibits, and discussion groups. As Parks (1981) notes, a "learner's packet" of lecture notes, bibliographic information, film notes, guides to selected portions of the museums, and suggestions for further research and independent study was produced "to encourage use of the museum as a continuing resource" (p. 208).

Another popular theme or concept used by some museum educators is the notion of "hands-on," interactive, or participatory learning experiences. For example, at the Children's Museum in Boston, exhibits seek to promote self-experimentation and self-learning. Museum officials try to create an environment that accommodates many individual learning styles and speeds. Most adult visitors, therefore, gain new knowledge primarily through individual or small group activities.

The museum also makes a special effort to use such self-experimentation efforts in helping adults (parents, teachers, and others) become better prepared for aiding young people in learning related to museum resources. Gurian (1981) describes analogous museum objectives for such adults as follows:

  1. Do their own learning about subjects they know little or nothing about.
  2. Share with their children (a) those things they know more about than is apparent on the exhibit surface, and (b) what they have just learned themselves.
  3. Add their own life experiences to the information the museum provides and tell their children about those connections.
  4. See their children in a new light--step back a moment and watch their children learning in an entertaining and informal but still educational situation.
  5. Observe their children with others in a nonthreatening, nongraded environment.
  6. Gain ideas and materials they can use at home for family projects.
  7. Feel free to let their children go, so that each member of the family can learn at his or her own pace. (p. 279)

Museums appear to be on the verge of starting many learning opportunities for the self-directed learner. Certain policy and procedural changes may be necessary for such opportunities to be universally accepted by both administrators and the public. For example, museum administrators and educators must recognize the value of serving the adult participant. Some of the special projects noted in this section and others taking place are evidence that such changes are evolving. Museums also need to do a better job of promoting themselves as a community learning resource center rather than

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just a collection or storage site. This will facilitate (a) learners taking advantage of the learning possibilities, and (b) resource sharing among museums and other cultural institutions in the community.

It is our hope that professionals responsible for education in museums will become better trained in adult education. Graduate programs of adult education throughout the world can provide specialized knowledge and training related to adults as self-directed learners. Similarly, conferences and workshops provide a less intensive but nonetheless valuable resource for adult education-related professional development. We believe that museum personnel could benefit from such training and that the resultant programs and opportunities would enhance the organization's place in the community.

Self-Help Efforts

The notion of grass-roots organizations forming around specific needs has been a reality in the United States and most other parts of the world for centuries. Biddle and Biddle (1965), McClusky (1960), and Warren (1978) provide some excellent discussions of self-help efforts at the local level during the past several decades. In fact, McClusky (1960) presented an excellent synopsis of several programs, including St. Francis Xavier University at Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the University of Wisconsin's successful Bureau of Community Development program, and similar efforts at the University of Michigan, Southern Illinois University, Earlham College, and West Georgia College (pp. 422-424). Brookfield (1984a) also describes the Antigonish movement, the Highlander Research and Education Center (formerly Highlander Folk School), and the Liverpool Education Priority Area project (pp. 106-124) as learner-centered, self-help organizations.

There are several more current self-help programs, many of which promote self-directed learning involvement in meeting needs at individual and/or community levels. Dean and Dowling (1987) suggest that an important outcome of such community development efforts is the personal growth of participants: "The potential exists for people to become more self-directed as learners, develop their communication skills, develop their ability to solve problems, increase their awareness and sensitivity to others, acquire new information about themselves, their community and others, and develop their self-confidence." (p. 82)

For example, the Citizen Involvement Training Project (CITP) as a project of the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension Service, is

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designed to help people develop personal proficiencies related to community involvement (Dale, 1981). The project has taken special efforts to promote self-directed learning: "One is to promote the concept of a within-group education coordinator--an individual who would identify needs, locate resources, coordinate individual and group activities, and perhaps actually facilitate educational sessions. . . . The other means by which CITP has promoted self-directed or independent learning is by developing and publishing a set of manuals that present learning activities, work-sheets, planning guides, background discussions, and annotated resource lists on the training issues that citizen groups most commonly raise." (pp. 49-50)

As a second example, Boggs (1986) describes a project in Michigan, the Huron Agricultural Resources Tomorrow (HART), which used nonformal, self-directed study techniques in helping community members deal with waste disposal problems and other issues. As Boggs notes: "Groups such as HART have arisen in opposition to plans for hazardous waste disposal sites, nuclear power plans, commercial development of recreation land, and so on. It is critical to recognize that while political agitation and the like may be endemic to their efforts, so too are collaborative self-education and community education." (1986, p. 2)

In response to various needs of self-help groups in the United States, the National Self-Help Resource Center (NSHRC) created the Community Resource Center (CRC) in 1974 (Briggs, 1981; Brookfield, 1984a). The CRC provided a mechanism for individuals and organizations to network together in obtaining information and cooperation on various self-help efforts (Davis, 1974, 1976). The result has been a resource for individuals and groups desiring to promote change primarily through their own initiatives and without formal help from public organizations.

Libraries, museums, and self-help activities serve as but a few examples of institutional resources in a community that can play a role in serving the needs of self-directed learners. This, indeed, is what we mean by activating the educative community. It means, quite simply, that opportunities for self-direction can be enhanced if the resources of a community can be mobilized in a way that allows facilitators to take a proactive approach in serving such learners.

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The programs described above reflect educational components of what Darkenwald and Merriam (1982) refer to as "quasi-educational organizations," where the educational function is closely related, but not always central, to the mission of the organization. But what about institutions whose primary function is to provide educational opportunities within the structure of a formal organization? Can self-direction thrive in such situations?

As we have stated throughout the previous chapters, we believe that institutions have the capability and, indeed, the responsibility to help learners take increasing responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it. If "lifelong learning" is to be more than a popular slogan or rallying cry, and if self-direction is truly to be viewed as part of lifelong learning, then it will be necessary to stress the potential for such activity within our formal educational institutions. The following sections offer a glimpse of how elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, external degree programs, and various other providers can successfully incorporate some of the principles of self-direction in learning within the context of their institutional mission.

Elementary and Secondary Education

As stated above, it is our belief that the promotion of self-directed, lifelong learning must begin early in the home and be reinforced throughout a person's elementary and secondary schooling: "The very early years of life are particularly crucial in the total span of human growth. This is when the child begins to acquire the ability to mentally process and use information. . . . the parents will also be a very important factor in developing a child's attitudes toward school, education, and lifelong learning. Education can be a very powerful instrument for influencing the quality of a person's total life, but there must be continuity between what transpires in the home and what takes place in the school." (Hiemstra, 1985a, p. 67)

What is begun in the home needs to be reinforced in the school setting: "Thus, learning opportunities provided by schools to youth . . . could be developed around stages of the human life cycle, around contemporary social issues, and around the promotion of future-relevant behavioral skills. The ability to adapt to change is a much needed skill in our society;

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schools must help people acquire this skill through a variety of educational endeavors." (Hiemstra, 1985a, p. 73)

Totten (1970) suggests further that teachers work with parents to encourage reading and study related to school activities as a regular "part of the family's routine" (p. 77). Knowles (1984) believes that the "primary mission of elementary and secondary schools would then be to develop the skills of self-directed learning" (p. 363). For example, the Bishop Carroll High School (1984) in Calgary (Canada) developed an individualized program for students. Gibbons and Phillips (1984) created a "challenge education program" that demonstrated the ability of students in the younger grades to respond to self-directed learning activities. The Jefferson School-Based Management and Self-Directed Learner Project (Sanda, 1984) showed that self-direction can be nurtured in the younger years and maintained in later years. The success of such programs hopefully will prompt similar efforts in the future.

At the forefront of efforts to apply concepts of self-direction to the elementary and secondary school settings has been the work of Gibbons and Phillips (Gibbons & Phillips, 1979, 1982, 1984). Essentially, they have argued that while self-education occurs outside of educational institutions, schools can provide opportunities for relevant skills to be taught, practiced, and simulated. They suggest that some of the major factors that can stifle or facilitate opportunities for self-education include the following:

  1. Control over the learning process;
  2. Responsibility for initiating learning activities;
  3. Type of management skills utilized by facilitators;
  4. Knowledge of learning styles;
  5. Nature of the purposes (content mastery vs. identified learner needs and interests);
  6. Type of relationships promoted (dependence vs. independence);
  7. Emphasis placed on subject matter or problem solving areas;
  8. Distinctions made between minimal competence and proficiency or excellence; and
  9. Strategies used for evaluating outcomes.

Gibbons and Phillips (1982) have discussed a four-stage process for helping children and adolescents move from an authority-directed approach to greater self-direction as learners. During the preschool years, the first stage--influential parenthood--involves parents modeling self-directed learning and providing an environment that fosters initiative and increasing responsibility by children. Initiative training, the second stage, occurs during

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the elementary years and stresses the development of individual and group projects by students in areas of personal interest. This approach is designed to change "the child's habit of learning casually through play to a self-conscious, intentional effort to learn through planned activities" (p. 81). At the secondary level, students are challenged to excel within interest areas. In this stage, which Gibbons and Phillips call challenge education, learners meet with a planning committee (usually including a teacher and parent), design a learning contract, and determine outcomes that measure achievement of a negotiated goal. Finally, as the transition to adulthood is made, "the most valuable community contribution to self-education will be the organization of learning services--opportunities, consultants, resources, and facilities" (p. 84). These self-education services are not unlike the educative community concept that we advocated earlier in this chapter.

Hamm (1982), in response to Gibbons and Phillips, has argued that the above techniques have limitations because of (a) confusion over the meaning of the concepts, (b) "false empirical assumptions and an inadequate conception of education," and (c) a possible "radical" impact on schools and society (p. 87). In essence, Hamm is arguing that in order to gain control over oneself, it is necessary to go through a long, painful process of gaining knowledge through discipline. While we agree that learning is sometimes a long and painful process, and that this can in fact be an important part of maturation, we remain convinced that the development of a desire and ability to accept personal responsibility for learning clearly outweighs the above limitations. Self-direction as a way of life necessitates the fostering of such attitudes and the development of relevant skills throughout the entire lifespan.

Colleges and Universities

While the promotion of self-direction in learning is not overtly emphasized much in elementary or secondary schools, for many years there have existed special university programs designed for those people who thrive on individualized instruction or independent study. In the United States, Antioch College's work-study program, Goddard College's adult degree program, and the independent study degree programs of such institutions as the University of Nebraska were among efforts to provide individualized study opportunities during the fifties, sixties, and seventies (Dressel & Thompson, 1973; Vermilye, 1976). Such programs were characterized by the following: (a) active rather than passive learners; (b) explicit learning goals; (c) a preference for small lesson units, each dealing with a single concept; (d) adequate feedback and evaluation; and (e) learner control over the pace of

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the presentation (Cross, 1977). A variety of teaching and learning approaches were used, including programmed learning, computer-assisted instruction, computer-managed instruction, self-paced modules, audio-visual tutorial kits, community internships, independent study, and many other forms of self-directed learning (Dressel & Thompson, 1973).

Community colleges, too, have long attempted to meet the needs of self-directed learners, as well as provide college transfer programs (Kerwin, 1984). Gleazer suggests that the aim of the community college is "to develop a community of learners. The qualities sought are independence, self-reliance, and cooperation, not a condition of dependency upon an educational monopoly" (1980, p. 88). Hunter (1971) examined community college students and determined that they benefitted from an experimental program of self-directed learning.

Finally, what Apps (1981) calls a "quiet revolution" (p. 11) is taking place throughout the United States and in most other parts of the world, too. As Knowles (1984) notes, "We have shifted from a youth-centered to an adult-centered society with drastic implications for our whole educational enterprise" (p. 59). This change is reflected by the return of thousands of older adults to college campuses. A recent National Center for Education Statistics (1989) report revealed that a 2.5 percent increase in college enrollments in 1988 over 1987 was driven mainly by sharp increases in the number of adult students 25 years and older.

Such people are enrolling in undergraduate programs, graduate programs, and various non-traditional programs (Coe, Rubenzahl, & Slater, 1984). The result has been changes in traditional programs and the development of new programs (Bloch, 1984; Boud & Prosser, 1984; Eldred, 1984; Farquharson, 1984; Kilpatrick, Thompson, Jarret, & Anderson, 1984; Loacker & Doherty, 1984; Schuttenberg, 1984). Hesburgh, Miller, and Wharton (1973) describe some of the necessary changes, such as new admission and registration procedures, new orientation programs, and special support services for adult students. New ways of determining educational achievement, such as credit for past experience, credit granting through examination, and bachelor or masters level general studies degrees have developed.

Unfortunately, the response of higher education to this revolution has not been rapid: "It is perhaps a sad commentary that, of all our social institutions, colleges and universities have been among the slowest to respond to adult learners" (Knowles, 1984, p. 100). Hopefully, the types of changes begun recently will multiply in scope and number.

External Degree Programs

External degree programs for college credit utilize a multitude of resources

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or settings to enhance individualized programs of study (Houle, 1973). Much of this learning does not take place in any traditional form of a classroom or university setting. As Wedemeyer (1981), in a discussion of non-traditional degree programs noted, "more learning and teaching go on throughout life outside the classroom than in" (p. 30). Below, we describe various non-traditional or external degree activities, most of which happen to be associated with universities.

Perhaps the most widely known of all such efforts has been the British Open University (OU). The OU started in 1970 in England and now has spread to several countries. Harrington (1977) describes the learning approach of OU as follows: "The heart of the work is in correspondence study, which explains the change of name from the originally planned University of the Air. Regularly scheduled radio and television lectures, outside reading, and home experiments round out the program. . . . Even though emphasis is on individual study, students are brought together on occasion, usually during the summer, for residential seminars. In addition, there are regional centers where students can consult reference books, obtain tutorial and counseling help, and study." (p. 60)

A variety of similar efforts have developed in the United States as well as in other countries: (a) The University of Mid-America centered at the University of Nebraska, a home study effort involving television, lesson material printed in newspapers, learning centers staffed with tutors, and correspondence courses; (b) The New York State Regents External Degree Program or the Thomas Edison College in New Jersey which permit learners to earn degrees through credit by examination, credit for life experiences, and formal college credit (Apps, 1981; Darkenwald & Merriam, 1982).

One of the more widely known credit granting organizations based on self-directed study is the Empire State College of New York. Founded in 1971 by the State University's Board of Trustees, the organization is headquartered in Saratoga Springs with learning centers located around the state. It awards associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees based on learning that can occur in a variety of ways: (a) formal courses offered by a variety of cooperating institutions; (b) cooperative study involving several students working collaboratively; (c) tutorials; (d) self-instructional programs; (e) direct experience involving self-examination and reflection; and (f) independent study by reading, writing, travel, or other means (Knowles, 1986). A learning contract developed by the learner and a resulting portfolio

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of achievements serves as the evaluation and validation of course work completed toward the degree.

Finally, the newest efforts at non-traditional degree or study programs involve the development of distance learning through various technologically-assisted delivery modes. Television and satellite transmissions, electronic networks, and teleconferencing are some of the forms being developed through experimentation. It is not yet clear how such efforts will assist the self-directed learner, but as Garrison (1987) notes, "Adult educators must recognize the ability of telecommunications and microprocessor technology to assist adult educators to reach out to adult learners in a variety of settings, and we must bridge the gap between formal institutional education and activities of self-directed learning in the natural societal setting." (p. 316)

Nontraditional Approaches to Graduate Education

The idea of nontraditional degree programming has not been limited to undergraduate areas. Indeed, it has been our experience that graduate education presents an ideal context for putting into practice the concepts of self-direction in learning. Graduate students, particularly in professional fields, are frequently mature adults who bring an array of experiences to the graduate classroom. Furthermore, a great many graduate students choose to pursue their degrees on a part-time basis, balancing study with employment and family responsibilities. For many such individuals, these responsibilities preclude pursuing a degree in a traditional format with such requirements as a period of residency. In order to illustrate the potential of nontraditional approaches to graduate study, we would like to present examples of two programs in the field of adult education. These programs are models of innovative, high-quality alternatives that reflect the application of self-directed learning concepts. One is the AEGIS program at Teachers College, Columbia University and the other is the Weekend Scholar program at Syracuse University.


The Adult Education Guided Independent Study Program (AEGIS) is an alternative doctoral program offered by the Department of Higher and Adult Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Established in 1981, the program is designed for "senior professionals with substantial experience in program development,

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administration of continuing education, staff development, or training who wish to earn a doctorate in two or three years . . . without having to relinquish their full-time employment or change locations in order to attend." (Bauer, 1985, p. 41)

The program consists of two academic years of coursework, comprised of monthly day-long meetings, independent work on course requirements between sessions, and advising with faculty members (most frequently by telephone or mail). In addition, participants are expected to complete a three-week intensive session during two consecutive summers. Through such aspects as the accelerated format, the use of learning contracts within each course, and a pass/fail grading format that emphasizes revision until a learning activity has been "successfully" completed, the program offers opportunities for learners to assume a high level of responsibility for their programs.

Some of the challenges that arise in the operation of the AEGIS program include dealing with different levels of self-directedness among learners, recognizing various institutional and program constraints that place limits on the extent of self-directedness truly possible in the program, and considering the impact of this format on the professional (and personal) lives of faculty members. With regard to the last concern, Bauer (1986), based on a three-year case study of the AEGIS program, concluded: "Because of the intensity of the personal professional commitment necessary in innovative program development, 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." (2518-A)

In spite of such concerns, the AEGIS program has been a success, as measured by its longevity as well as by the number and accomplishments of its graduates.

Weekend Scholar

A second illustration of nontraditional graduate study in adult education is found in the Weekend Scholar program, which has been in operation at Syracuse University since September, 1982. While the AEGIS program is limited to doctoral study and stresses independent study, Weekend Scholar emphasizes master's degree study (though doctoral or other advanced students are able to complete a sizable portion of their course requirements in

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this format) and is essentially an adaptation of the existing curriculum to a weekend format, thus making graduate study possible for students who are unable to attend late afternoon and evening courses on campus. As described elsewhere: "The program involves the completion of 30 semester credits comprised of 10, three-credit courses. Each course meets four times, roughly every other weekend, with class sessions running from Friday evening until late Saturday afternoon. Two courses are offered back-to-back in a semester, giving students a 'typical' part-time load of six credits per semester. In addition, each student is required to write a comprehensive examination upon completion of all coursework. Quality is stressed in that all teaching and advising is done by regular members of the Syracuse University faculty and students are expected to fulfill all university, school, and department-wide requirements. An ongoing evaluation process helps to ensure that the program is effectively serving the needs of the target audiences while maintaining high quality. "(Brockett, 1988a, p. 289)

The program has been offered in several locations throughout the northern portion of New York State. Students come from New York State and Ontario, Canada. Although students typically meet in group settings throughout most of the course, the use of learning contracts and individualized study promotes considerable self-directed learning. Currently, a distance education component is being developed that will use computer-mediated instruction to supplement group meetings. Overall the program has been an effective vehicle for providing educational opportunities to people not able to participate in campus-based offerings.

Other Institutional Applications of Self-Directed Learning

The use of self-directed learning approaches and concepts in a wide variety of agencies and organizations has been increasing in recent years. For example, several authors describe how self-directed learning principles have been used throughout the health professions to affect basic training, graduate training, continuing education, and staff development efforts (American Nurses' Association, 1984; Arms, Chenevey, Karrer, & Rumpler, 1984; Ash, 1985; Dare, 1984; Neufeld & Barrows, 1984; University of Southern California, 1984). As Ash notes: "The very nature of the way in which professionals, such as physicians and nurses, function and the lives they affect as a result of their practice require them to possess a high degree of competence. Self-directed or autonomous

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learning must often be relied on in the development of such competence because of the differences in the needs of individual practitioners for information and in the time frame in which such information must be obtained." (1985, p. 63)

Ash (1985) goes on to describe how self-directed learning strategies have been applied at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Nurses are encouraged to use self-directed learning strategies and resources in their job orientation efforts. Most formal lecture presentations used in the past have been replaced by self-instructional modules, a variety of reference materials, performance checklists, selected resources, and individuals as resources: "The learner's time is divided between acquiring information and applying that information in the clinical area. Blocks of self-directed learning time included in the program schedule allow learners to select one of the content areas to complete; learners may also choose to spend the time in some other way." (p. 68)

Self-directed learning techniques also are being introduced in business and industry (Green, 1984; Lloyds Bank, 1984; Margolis, 1984; Sinclair & Skerman, 1984; Sullivan, 1984). One study (Rymell & Newsom, 1981) involved an examination of the learning projects of a group of engineers in an aerospace industry. Using Tough's (1979) learning project procedure, the authors determined that in at least this setting, the employees engaged in significant job-related self-directed learning. In another study of managers and non-managers from a large utility company who had worked independently on learning activities, Guglielmino and Guglielmino (1983) used the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) and found that the subjects scored considerably higher on the scale than other adult populations previously tested.

Some organizations also have begun to implement self-directed learning approaches in their training efforts: "IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory has included an Information/Library/Learning Center since 1975. The center is designed to serve 2,000 computer programmers involved in developmental and design work. It includes all of the self-educational resources of all divisions of the company as well as commercially produced self-study materials relevant to its users." (Guglielmino & Guglielmino, 1988, p. 145)

A similar center exists at the SUNOCO headquarters in Radner, Pennsylvania,

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suggesting business and industry will use self-directed learning increasingly in their future training endeavors.

Technology and Self-Direction

The number and type of resources available to educators of adults are growing at an astounding rate, primarily because technological developments have speeded the process of accumulating and disseminating information. Such technological developments can be used for self-directed learning purposes if creatively designed. One such effort is being made by the Kellogg Project at Syracuse University.

This multi-million dollar project, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Battle Creek, Michigan), has been designed to create a system of adult education knowledge dissemination through advanced computer technology. The world's largest repository of English-language adult education materials, housed in the university library, serves as the foundation for the dissemination effort.

The project has both technological and intellectual components. The technological component features a computerized system for storing and retrieving archival documents. It also has a computer-mediated electronic network, referred to as AEDNET--Adult Education Network. AEDNET has enabled adult educators from all over the world to communicate with each other electronically. It operates on BITNET, an international computer network currently joining universities and other research institutions on five continents. AEDNET features electronic messaging, electronic conferencing, electronic forums, and an electronic journal entitled New Horizons in Adult Education.

There are also a number of intellectual components. For example, the project sponsors research on the historically-rich adult education collection at Syracuse University and periodically holds conferences on campus. In addition, a distance education program is being developed that operates through computer conferencing software. Through this program, it is possible for learners to work individually or to interact with the instructor and students as needed.

Having access to such a system can add immensely to the power an educator has in meeting the needs of adult learners. Self-directed learners may, in fact, benefit the most from access to increased information and improved retrieval systems, assuming that they have access to the systems and know how to use them.

The notion of being able to retrieve lots of information by oneself has implications for self-directed learning approaches and resources. Adult

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educators who work with self-directed learners need to find ways to help such learners access and utilize appropriate information more effectively.


Are there barriers that can hinder the implementation of self-directed learning approaches and programs? Cross (1981) suggests there are at least three types of barriers that inhibit adult learning, and that each of these types has relevance for self-direction in learning: Situational barriers are those arising from one's situation in life at a given time. Lack of time due to job and home responsibilities, for example . . . Institutional barriers consist of all those practices and procedures that exclude or discourage working adults from participating in educational activities -- inconvenient schedules or locations, full-time fees for part-time study, inappropriate courses of study, and so forth. Dispositional barriers are those related to attitudes and self-perceptions about oneself as a learner." (p. 98)

For example, an inadequate place to study in the home setting, a situational barrier may prevent a person from taking on an independent learning project. Some learners will have had past negative experiences in educational settings and will believe they are incapable of independent study -- a dispositional barrier. In addition, many administrators have traditional views about education and how courses must be taught, an institutional barrier, that prevents them from understanding the potential value for learners of opportunities for self-direction. Sometimes such views are compounded by a desire to "do it the old way" or a feeling that regular, credit courses are the only means of programming that are permissible. In addition, there may even exist a variety of policies or procedures that prevent independent decision-making on the part of the learner regarding such issues as needs, goals, content, and evaluation approaches. Facilitators, program designers, and administrators need to work constantly in attempting to remove or lessen such barriers.


Throughout this chapter, we have described how institutions have become more responsive to the idea of self-direction in learning as a way of life. While it would be naive to suggest that all of the strategies described will be accepted overnight throughout the educational world, we do believe that it is important for institutions to recognize the potential of self-direction as a

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way of enhancing adult learning experiences. We conclude this chapter with four recommendations that summarize key ideas developed throughout the previous pages.

A related institutional problem centers on the many administrative policies and procedures that may inhibit or even prevent implementation of approaches designed to foster self-direction in learning. For instance, many formal organizations have fairly rigid policies regarding registration, attendance, and the format for classes. Similarly, a number of grading traditions may be in place that penalize adult learners who wish to set their own pace or level of achievement, such as limitations to the use of learning contracts, pass/fail grades, and incomplete grades. In addition, budgetary limitations or standardized approaches to the use of supportive materials in the classroom may make it difficult for teachers to provide a variety of resources for the self-directed learner.

A larger problem within educational institutions or even organizations like businesses who sponsor a variety of training programs sometimes exists. This problem is that negative attitudes of inadequately trained educators frequently become a barrier in the decision-making process. For example, some trainers in an organization may employ only traditional approaches to teaching where the instructor is used primarily as an authority who passes on certain information to trainees. Then, when another trainer attempts to use self-directed learning approaches that call for involving the trainee in the educational process, this becomes threatening to the normal way. As another example, some elementary school teachers hired to teach evening literacy classes may be unwilling to permit the flexibility necessary for an adult learner to use individualized study materials in the program's learning center.

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The wide range of dispositional barriers described by Cross (1981) can actually be more problematic in promoting self-direction in learning, at least initially. For example, many adults approaching a learning situation bring to it a variety of negative ideas about education. Some of the institutional obstacles described above have helped to create many of these, but so have the variety of situational barriers that each adult must face from day to day. Thus, a fear of something unknown or different, suspicions about what that so-called facilitator really is trying to do, and a general lack of understanding about personal potential as a learner are factors with which most adult education teachers will have to deal. In our view, the individualized approach we have described in previous chapters can be used with people who have widely varying degrees of preparedness for self-direction in learning activities, but some learners will resist such an approach initially because of low self-concepts or past negative learning experiences.

Perhaps the biggest weapon a teacher or trainer has in overcoming the many barriers that inhibit self-direction in learning is the constant striving to ensure that a high quality learning experience exists. This will require hard work, continual efforts at securing good learning resources, and the flexibility necessary to deal with varied learning needs and abilities. However, we believe that the results will be well worth those efforts.


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