[For more information on self-directed learning, see the topic's web page.]
Interest in and knowledge about self-directed learning has been accelerating in the past decade:
Much of this information about self-directed learning has grown out of two different but related areas of attention. Both areas were developed in North America during the 1960s, but their impact has come to be worldwide.
The concept of andragogy has perhaps played the most important role in stimulating theories about, approaches to working with, and literature related to instructing adults. But parallel to many of the andragogical assumptions has been the thinking on self-directed learning that stemmed from learning projects research.
The concept of self-directedness in learning was first discussed in educational literature as early as 1926 (Brookfield, 1984b). From these writings, a preliminary description of self-directed learning emerged. In Lindeman's (1926) words: "Adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that learning will satisfy ... adults have a deep need to be self-directing;
therefore the role of the teacher is to emerge in a process of mutual inquiry" (p. 16).
Actually, self-directed learning has a long and rich history. Kulich (1970) noted that prior to the evolution of formal schools, self-education was the primary means individuals had of dealing with the changes going on about them. Self-education, for example, has been an important tool in the lives of scholars throughout the history of Western civilization-Socrates and Aristotle, for example (Tough, 1967).
Long (1976) noted that a spirit of self-directedness was prevalent in the learning of colonial American adults, and cited many self-improvement societies, the instructional content in newspapers, and an expanding subscription library system as supporting examples. Long (1983) also points to such people as Benjamin Franklin, Cotton Mather, Abigail Adams, Colden Cadwallader, and Eliza Pinckney as quintessential adult learners.
Fundamental to contemporary studies of self-directed learning was the pioneering work of Houle (1961). Houle used an interview technique with several adult learners to develop a motivational typology of learning styles. He discovered that people generally were either goal oriented (some specific goal or objective serves as the learning stimulus), activity oriented (being with others in the pursuit of learning is the primary motivation), or learning oriented (enjoyment of learning for its own sake is the stimulator). More recent research that involved both formal and informal learning prompted one of us to add to the typology a fourth category identified as "the self-reliant, autonomous, and independent learner" (Hiemstra, 1976a, p. 35).
The, chain of research following Houle's work began with a study conducted for the National Opinion Research Center (Johnstone & Rivera, 1965). The researchers used interview techniques rather than the more commonly used polling procedures to estimate the amount of self-directed learning that had taken place during the year preceding the interview. They determined that at least nine million adults in the United States carried out one or more self-instruction projects during a year.
Tough then undertook some related research in 1966 as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, where Houle was a
professor. He based his work on the notion that people accomplish considerable learning without assistance by teachers (Tough, 1967). This research culminated in 1971 with his seminal work on adults' learning projects (Tough, 1979). Using a probing interview technique, Tough determined that most adults spend as much as 700 hours each year in deliberate learning projects. Nearly two-thirds of his original sample reported that these projects were self-planned. A number of subsequent studies have substantiated these original findings. Caffarella and O'Donnell (1988), Penland (1978, 1979), and Tough (1978) provide summary information about research on learning projects.
Cross (1977) also summarized this body of research by looking at several studies conducted prior to 1977. She drew the following conclusions about the learning efforts of adults: Almost every adult undertakes some sort of learning or receives some sort of training each year, with the number of activities falling between three and thirteen. She also noted that there are clear differences in the time spent in learning by different populations and that the majority of such learning is self-planned.
A different approach to examining the self-directed phenomenon was initiated by Gibbons and others (1980). Utilizing the biographies of twenty high achievers, the researchers determined that self-directed characteristics such as creativity and self-confidence were common among the subjects. Another approach to measuring self-directedness is found in Guglielmino (1977). She developed a scale to measure characteristics related to self-directed learning styles and readiness to undertake self-directed learning. Although the instrument has received some criticism (Brockett, 1985a; Brockett & Hiemstra, forthcoming; Field, 1989; Landers, 1989), it has been widely used during the past decade (Guglielmino & Guglielmino, 1988). Oddi's (1985, 1986) more recent instrument is another effort to provide an instrument to measure personality characteristics related to the self-directed learning phenomenon. Only very limited use of the instrument has been made thus far, and it, too, has received some criticism by other researchers (Landers, 1989, Six, 1987; Six 8c Hiemstra, 1987).
There has thus been a steady progression in our understanding of self-directed learning and, as a result, there have been numerous
changes made in educational and training practices with adult learners. Some of this information has been developed into instructional suggestions (Hiemstra, 1980a, 1988a; Sisco, 1988), some into policy recommendations (Caffarella & O'Donnell, 1988; Hiemstra, 1980b), some into implications for future research (Hiemstra, 1982b, 1985c), and some into efforts to create new theories related to instructing adults (Brookfield, 1985). Most of this increased understanding centers on the view that the individual learner is capable of assuming considerable responsibility for and control of learning activities when such opportunities are provided. As such, the research serves as another foundational progenitor of the individualizing process.
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