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Policy Issues

In this book we have presented our views regarding the value of self-direction in learning as a means for helping people cope with the many demands of living characterized by constant and rapid change. But how wide-spread is the acceptance of views like ours? There is considerable evidence that an increasing acceptance is taking place. Much of the research reported in Chapters Three, Four, and Five included discussion on the growing involvement of adults in learning, and many formal institutions involved with education are increasing their attention to the adult learner. In Chapter Ten we also discuss the implementation of self-directed learning activities from a global perspective. Chapter Twelve offers a scenario illustrating such acceptance, which we anticipate could be present by the turn of the century.

However, we think an appropriate question to ask is, "Are we at present a self-directed learning society?" We believe the answer is no, and think that much more attention must be given to understanding the societal implications of learning as a crucial component of successful lifelong living. We are concerned, too, that educational and political leaders at national levels have not yet fully understood the importance of learners taking responsibility for their own education. Indeed, at least in North America it appears that many higher education administrators and, increasingly, private entrepreneurs seem to be embracing the adult learner primarily as a clientele base of dollars waiting to be spent on educational resources and opportunities.

Obviously, there are some such administrators and private organizations dedicated to serving the adult learner, as was pointed out in Chapter Eight, but Cross (1980) sums up our discomfort nicely: " I am becoming increasingly concerned about the overeagerness of some colleges to attract adult learners into college classrooms; their goal would appear to be institutional survival rather than social good. . . . I believe that all education, especially post-secondary education, should be directed toward making people more self-directed learners, and colleges can

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contribute very constructively to that goal if they are encouraged to think beyond institutional survival to providing for the real needs of adult learners." (p. 629)

This concern closely parallels some of the ethical concerns we have related to self-directed. These are discussed in Chapter Eleven.

Still other educators or entrepreneurs working with adult programs are either discounting self-directed adult learning research or viewing the attempts to serve self-directed learners as threatening to their own head counts. Unfortunately, in our view there have been far too few reports in the literature of efforts to think through the implications, policy needs, and programming changes related to self-direction in learning, as well as the appropriate roles for educators and educational institutions.

Jarvis (1985) is one of few authors to discuss policy issues related to the adult learner. He applies various social policy models to adult and continuing education, but concludes that much more public debate is needed. Hilton (1982) and Ziegler (1982) also urge more discussion and a comprehensive human policy related to the education of adults. Tough (1978) suggests we need to explore the various steps learners take in their learning to better understand the implications for public policy. One of us has noted that some policies are needed so that self-directed learners are not exploited by institutions (Hiemstra, 1980). Rivera (1982) calls for more systematic study of policy needs and concludes that "the subject of adult education policy, and particularly public policy, demands greater attention as a discipline for research" (p. viii).

Caffarella and O'Donnell (1987, 1988) ask several policy-related questions: "What is the role of the adult educator? What are the involvement parameters for educational institutions? What does the concept of self-directed learning mean to society as a whole?" (1988, p. 55). After presenting some policy statements that have been gleaned from the literature, they conclude we must carry out research to answer such questions and derive policy to guide people and institutions as they seek to utilize education in meeting life's challenges.


In anticipation of the need for such guiding policy, one of us conducted a workshop several years ago aimed at the derivation of policy related to self-directed learning (Hiemstra, 1980). Many of the policy statements derived then are still relevant, while others have been updated for presentation in this chapter to reflect societal changes and the growing understanding

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of self-direction in learning during the past several years. In addition, some implementation recommendations are presented to help guide readers of this book as they consider how various policy statements might be applied to their personal or professional situations, or as they advocate policy development within various levels of government.

The Derivation of Policy

The development of policy applicable for learners, educators, and educational institutions is a difficult and complicated activity. It requires a willingness to consider the knowledge within various other disciplines as well as the adult education field, itself. It also necessitates recognition of the complex nature of most human or societal problems and requires integration of knowledge, beliefs, and practice. The application of personal and institutional philosophies to the policy building process also can be a crucial step (Hiemstra, 1988b). Finally, incorporating policy recommendations into daily practice requires much care, dedication, and patience.

When a policy statement or recommendation is described, it can be used in various ways, as an organizational directive, societal rule or norms, institutional procedures, bureaucratic necessity, and even personal tradition. This complex situation can lead to considerable confusion in trying to communicate about or implement policies. Thus, for purposes of this discussion, the following definitions are presented:

  1. Rule - an inflexible regulation or statement of action or inaction that does not permit any deviation or allow for any individual judgment. In general, the fewer the rules the better in facilitating smooth operation or in promoting individual initiative.
  2. Directive - a specific order describing an ad hoc or one-time course of action.
  3. Procedure - a specific, step-by-step description of how to perform some task. This might apply to individual or to routine organizational activities.
  4. Policy - a recommended course of action for achieving some goal or for meeting some need. In general, policies are used at an organizational level, but they can be used even at individual or societal levels in guiding activities.

For purposes of this chapter, the key word in the above definition of policy is "recommended," as we believe that policies should be used as a framework for decision-making, not as rules or directives. In other words, the purpose of a policy is to provide for the integration of institutional or personal philosophies with such elements as needs, objectives, and available resources.

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This integration should provide for operational guidelines at both individual and organizational levels.

The writing of policies requires clear, concise language that communicates easily to others. Policy statements should be comprehensive in terms of demonstrating linkages to societal issues. If possible, they should have long as well as short-term consequences. In addition, such statements usually need to address potential political ramifications, although there will be times when, to reflect an individual's philosophy, a policy will counter prevailing organizational or societal norms. Priorities are another consideration, in that certain policies may need to take precedence over others. Finally, the comprehensiveness of a policy usually must be examined in light of available institutional resources if a realistic expectation that it will be implemented is to be made.

Impediments to Implementing Policy

We hope that people reading this book will think about how self-direction in learning applies to their personal practice as educators or as representatives of institutions involved in various forms of education or training. The policies presented in this chapter are aimed at guiding implementation efforts. However, as Gross (1977) noted, there are a variety of impediments to the implementation of policies and most policies need to be filtered through ethical, bureaucratic, and personal concerns.

For example, problems for which some policies seem to be relevant, in fact, may have been diagnosed incorrectly or improperly. The accurate identification of problems requires some care or at least careful interpretation of various points of view. At the organizational level, we recommend that problems be re-examined by a team of individuals to determine their cause, those affected, and the importance of their solution to the organization. A change in procedure or a one-time directive may be more appropriate than implementing some policy. At the individual level, careful re-examination of a policy may result in new insights that, in turn, lead to seeking new guiding policies.

There also will be instances where administrators who set policy or implement policy changes do not identify and deal effectively with various related obstacles. For instance, potential staff opposition, skills required to meet some new requirement, conflicts with existing policy, and resources required for implementation all need to be examined. There also may be times when policies will not even be compatible with the existing educational programs. In some cases the obstacles, opposition, or incompatibility will be severe enough that a policy cannot be implemented or it will need to be phased in over a long period of time.

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It is also true that a policy appropriate in one place may not always be transportable to a different place. Widely publicized, interesting, or "trendy" innovations at the national level may drain some organizations' resources or may run so counter to local traditions or educational philosophies that employees and even program participants resent them. A successful individualized learning center that uses learning kits or on-line conferencing may be appropriate in an urban center, but the same approaches can fail miserably in a rural setting where daily contact with mentors or fellow learners is used to meet social as well as learning needs.

Within some organizations it also is important to consider various administrative details that affect the derivation and implementation of policy statements. In other words, thinking through the procedures and leadership responsible for introducing and implementing policy is very important. For example, good evaluation, monitoring, and feedback mechanisms should be in place so that assessment and the use of assessment information is a normal procedure. We believe, too, that it is crucial to involve staff, teachers, and even learners, if possible, in determining and introducing policy so that they can feel ownership very early in the process and not feel that policy has been dictated from the top.

There also are many questions that can be asked prior to beginning the derivation of policies. These are detailed in Table 9.1. Such questions should be helpful in stimulating dialogue and action among those concerned with the policies.

The Workshop Process

The workshop from which many of the policy statements presented later in this chapter were derived was held at Iowa State University in 1980 and involved 16 people representing a variety of professional backgrounds and walks of life (Hiemstra, 1980). Workshop participants who contributed to the development of the policy statements discussed later in the chapter are listed in Appendix B.

In addition, eight people served as staff members or consultants in some capacity, all of whom have carried out research related to self-directed or lifelong learning, including Hassan (1982), Hiemstra (1976b), Judd (1980), Kurland (1980), Leean (Leean & Sisco, 1981), Tough (1979), Umoren (1978), and Zangari (1978). Participants met three hours daily in a classroom setting, Monday through Friday, for two weeks. In addition they met together several hours outside of class for small group work, individual study, and final policy development efforts.

The workshop used a process that maximized participant involvement, input, and feedback. The process included needs diagnosis, small and large

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Table 9.1 Questions to Guide the Derivation of Policies
Who will be Affected? What Kind of Changes will Take Place? What are the Costs? Is it Worth it? How Should the Policy be Implemented?
Colleagues? Temporary? Financial? Commitments Needed by Various People? People to be Involved?
Clients or Students? Permanent? Human Resources? Long-Term Implications? Time Required?
Community Officials and Leaders? Short-Term? Space Allocations? Changes Necessary within the Organization? Sequencing Requirements?
"Innocent Bystanders"? Long-Term? Others? Changes Required by Various People? Dissemination Needs?
Others? Others? Others? Others? Resources Required to Implement?

group discussions, agenda building, clarifying procedures, and deriving formats for policy. In addition, individual commitments for work to be produced throughout the experience were made through interactive feedback activities, individual discussions with the workshop leader, and various evaluation processes.

Perhaps the most difficult task of the entire workshop was developing a format for describing policy statements and corresponding implementation recommendations. The literature provides a variety of suggestions for developing policy; often a suggestion in one source will conflict with or have no relationship to those found in other sources. For example, Gilder (1979, 1980) writes about a policy framework primarily in terms of providing guidelines for decision-making. One specialist urged that policy specify exactly which learners are to be served and which content areas are to be stressed (Gross, 1980). Ziegler and Healy (1979) advocated the formation of policy teams and the use of various futures-invention activities to develop

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policy recommendations, where participants forecast future events and design actions or policies related to the predictions.

Another difficult task for workshop participants was synthesizing a procedure for developing and writing policy statements. Several sources providing ideas on what should be included in a policy statement were considered. For example, the Croft Educational Services provided information on how to develop policies for public school boards. Weichenthal (1980) described policy making needs for continuing higher education institutions. Ziegler (1970) suggested several criteria to be used in policy formation. Such information helped participants select a format for stating needs, purposes, policy statements, and implementation recommendations. These last two elements will be represented in the remainder of the material for this chapter.


The process utilized during the workshop described above resulted in three small groups developing around mutual interests and backgrounds. Group members' preferences and suggestions evolved into three categories for discussion and policy formulation:

  1. Adults as Learners -- the student perspective
  2. Adult Educators -- the teacher/facilitator perspective
  3. Adult Education Agencies -- the institutional perspective

Each group, therefore, assumed responsibility for developing policy for only one of these three categories so that the efforts could be concentrated. Thus, the policy statements and implementation recommendations presented in this chapter address these three perspectives, adapted from the 1980 workshop. Their use as policies and action guides by any organization or person will need to take into account these specific audience focuses. However, it is our hope that they will serve as a beginning point for individual facilitators, agency administrators, and organizational employees to analyze their involvement with self-directed learning activities.

Adults as Learners

Police Recommendation I

Each adult learner should be acknowledged as having unlimited learning potential and given respect as a self-directed learner.

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Implementation Strategies:

  1. Utilize small discussion groups or create learning networks to assist learners in discovering through trial and error their own gifts and talents.
  2. Offer opportunities for learners to focus on their own individual strengths.
  3. Broaden the availability of educational resources that teach about personal potential, learning skills, and using learning materials.
  4. Help individuals in adult teaching roles to understand their role in promoting self-direction in learning.

Policy Recommendation II

Learners should be encouraged to objectively examine their personal strengths and weaknesses as a means for gaining self acceptance, capitalizing on individual assets, and setting goals.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide opportunities for learners to carry out self inventories or to complete self-concept measures.
  2. Provide facilitators, learning consultants, or counselors who have skill in discussing self inventory results as information for planning.

Policy Recommendation III

Learners should be helped to develop and strengthen internal reinforcement mechanisms to insure continuous growth in their learning efforts.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide access to and skill in using a variety of reinforcement resources such as meditation techniques, personal journal or diary writing processes, and critical thinking techniques.
  2. Train teachers and learning facilitators to help learners strengthen personal growth skills.
  3. Seek learning resources and techniques that help learners with internal reinforcement.

Policy Recommendation IV

Learners need to be helped to understand their own learning or cognitive style and utilize such information in shaping their educational efforts.

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Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide opportunities for learners to complete measures of learning and cognitive styles as an informational basis for future planning.
  2. Train teachers, counselors, and learning facilitators to interpret and use information on styles in assisting learners with their planning.

Policy Recommendation V

Learners should be encouraged to form autonomous learning and support groups as a means of capitalizing on synergistic learning efforts.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Develop learner hotlines using such agencies as libraries, learning brokers, and universities to provide support or coordination.
  2. Promote the concept of learner advocacy at various adult learning centers and within various adult education professional associations.
  3. Establish learning exchange networks in local communities as suggested by Draves (1980), Illich (1971), and Peterson and Associates (1979).
  4. Establish study circles patterned after the Scandinavian system of both topical and open-topic types (Kurland, 1982; Oliver, 1987).
  5. Foster peer support groups or systems revolving around a variety of content areas.

Policy Recommendation VI

Learners need to be supported and provided with opportunities to take individual responsibility for their own learning.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide appropriate administrative support necessary to foster individual adult initiative, such as convenient scheduling, adequate resources, child care services, and adult counseling programs.
  2. Foster time management and good planning through related workshops or learning materials.

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Adult Educators

Policy Recommendation VII

Continuing research is needed to explore and understand various aspects related to self-direction in learning.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Examine learning techniques and skills necessary both for learners and for facilitators.
  2. Identify means for enhancing learners' problem-solving, resource utilization, and evaluation skills.
  3. Explore the applicability of self-directed learning techniques to various subject-matter areas as an expansion of the work reported by Knowles and Associates (1984).
  4. Identify those adults who are reluctant to utilize self-directed approaches and determine if such approaches would be beneficial in their learning endeavors.
  5. Study the relationship between developmental life stages and various self-direction approaches to determine their appropriateness to a person's stage in life.

Policy Recommendation VIII

Adult educators need to receive training in utilizing theories and practices related to self-direction in learning.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide students in formal adult education training programs with an understanding of self-directed learning concepts and approaches.
  2. Provide in-service training in self-directed learning approaches for the many teachers of adults who have not received any formal training related to the topic.

Adult Education Agencies

Policy Recommendation IX

Adult educators need to help agencies serving adults to incorporate the concepts of self-directed learning into their normal operating procedures.

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Implementation Strategies:

  1. Promote the use of self-direction approaches through the development of individualized resources, creation of self-study materials, and establishment of appropriate learning settings or mechanisms.
  2. Conduct needs assessments of learners to determine possibilities for self-directed learning and provide such information to agency administrators and other personnel.
  3. Assist agencies in their utilization of self-directed learning approaches and help to coordinate the implementation of related resources and services.

Policy Recommendation X

Agencies, organizations, and institutions working in some way with adult learners need to provide opportunities for administrators, faculty, and staff to become knowledgeable about self-directed approaches.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Provide employees an awareness of the research and related literature pertaining to self-direction in learning.
  2. Provide employees workshops, in-service training, and resource material related to self-direction in learning.

Policy Recommendation XI

Agencies, organizations, and institutions working in some way with adult learners need to develop and maintain various measures or criteria for accountability and evaluation so that the effectiveness and value of self-directed learning can be ascertained.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Develop reporting systems that will include and facilitate the use of various nontraditional data collection and reporting mechanisms, such as learning contracts, mentoring or internship reports, and credit for work experiences.
  2. Experiment with new and innovative evaluation methods, such as interviewing, networking assessments, and validation through electronic means.

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Policy Recommendation XII

Agencies, organizations, and institutions working in some way with adult learners need to seek legislation and funding to promote and facilitate self-direction in learning at local, state, and national levels.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Secure learning resources and other kinds of study opportunities, such as internship assignments, agency visitations, and sharing of library materials, from a multitude of community agencies.
  2. Influence legislation by working with professional associations, contacting legislators, and seeking various kinds of public support for individualized learning efforts.

Policy Recommendation XIII

Agencies, organizations, and institutions working in some way with adult learners need to provide support services that help those desiring to be self-directed as they adjust to various individualized activities and any related changes in self-concept or approaches to learning.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Establish centers or special locations within agency settings where such learners can gather, obtain necessary resources, and support each other.
  2. Provide support personnel with appropriate expertise to counsel with and help adults make effective use of their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

Policy Recommendation XIV

Agencies, organizations, and institutions working in some way with adult learners need to provide physical environments that accommodate and facilitate self-direction in learning.

Implementation Strategies:

  1. Examine the various physical environments in which learning takes place and make changes consistent with many of those recommended in this book, and elsewhere (Hiemstra, 1988a; Hiemstra & Sisco, 1990; Vosko, 1984, 1985; and Vosko & Hiemstra, 1988).
  2. Provide an on-site specialist on physical learning environments who can work with facilitators and learners in designing appropriate physical conditions.

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Policy is a concern that is frequently overlooked by educators of adults. Yet each of us is, in one way or another, involved in the development or implementation of policy. Our intent in this chapter has been to present a series of recommendations with the hope that these might serve as some basic goals toward which the adult education field can strive. Further, we hope to encourage readers to become proactive regarding the creation of a future in which the self-directed learner can thrive. Other recommendations outside the area of policy are made in the final chapter.

Many of the policies and implementation recommendations presented actually may appear impossible to achieve, impractical to manage, or even too visionary in nature at first reading. Some obviously require considerable change in philosophies, new administrative mechanisms, and the expenditure of new monies. In addition, what may seem practical or appropriate in one locale will not be possible or feasible in another.

However, it is our belief that what may seem visionary or impossible today will become commonplace procedures if the learning approaches to life that we project throughout this book come to full fruition. In fact, many experimental programs and creative means for reaching self-directed adult learners are already in place, as noted in earlier chapters.

It also is obvious that refinement of the policies suggested above must take place as we learn more about self-direction in learning and as various facilitators or agencies attempt to utilize them. Many new policies will be required, too, as research and experience pushes forward the knowledge about learning preferences, approaches, and needs. We believe that the increasing interest in serving adult learning needs and in helping adults cope with the ever-increasing pace of change will facilitate the meeting of such requirements.


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