Few topics, if any, have received more attention in the field of adult education over the past two decades than self-directed learning. Ever since the 1971 publication of Allen Tough's seminal study, The Adult's Learning Projects, fascination with self-planned and self-directed learning has led to one of the most extensive and sustained research efforts in the history of the field. During the same time, a host of new programs and practices, such as external degree programs and computer and video technologies, have gained enthusiastic support from many segments of the field. The time seems appropriate for drawing some meaning from all of these theory, research, and practice developments."
Self-Direction in Adult Learning: Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Practice is our effort to make sense out of this body of knowledge and array of practices that have done so much to shape the current face of adult education in North America and, indeed, throughout much of the world. The purpose of the book is twofold. First, we have attempted to provide a comprehensive synthesis of major developments, trends, issues, and practices relative to self-direction and adult education. Second, we have offered an array of strategies that have direct application to practice. The ideas presented in this book represent over 25 years of combined commitment to better understanding the area of self-direction in adult learning.
In attempting to bridge theory and practice, the book was written with several audiences in mind. First, it was written for practitioners from a wide range of settings concerned with developing programs for adult learners where self©direction is an integral part of the program. Included here are practitioners involved in such areas as independent study/external degree programs, training and development activities, agricultural extension, health and human services, literacy efforts, and continuing professional education. We hope that the book will be of value not only to those who are currently employed in programs where self-direction is stressed, but also for those who may be considering adopting some of these approaches within existing programs. We also hope that the book will be helpful to those readers with a more general interest in learning about areas of current development relative to the education of adults.
Another major audience for which this book is intended is made up of those professors, graduate students, and researchers in adult education who have an interest in the area of self-direction in adult learning. We have tried to provide a comprehensive look at the "state of the art" of self-direction and, thus, believe that the book could be used effectively either as a primary text for courses on self-direction in adult learning or as a supplemental text for courses on adult learning or current issues in adult education. In addition, it is our hope that the book has generated many questions that are worthy of further investigation; thus, the book is also intended as a tool for researchers exploring the territory of self-direction.
The 13 chapters of the book are arranged into five sections, or parts. Part One, "Introduction," consists of two chapters. Chapter One sets the stage for the book by presenting scenarios for three types of learners in order to illustrate that self-direction is a way of life. We also present and discuss a number of popular myths that have helped to create confusion about self-direction and its potential for adult learners. In the second chapter, we define self-direction and offer a model designed to help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding the many ways in which self-directed learning and related terms have been described. In this model, we suggest that self-direction can best be understood as both an instructional method and as a personality dimension.
Part Two, "The Underlying Knowledge Base," consists of three chapters that critically examine the research literature on self-direction. Here, we look at the various ways in which self-direction has been studied and provide a critical analysis of this research.
The next two chapters, which comprise Part Three, "Process and Personal Orientation," are intended to bridge theory and practice. These chapters present strategies for facilitating self-directed learning as an instructional method and for enhancing learner self-direction as an aspect of adult personality. Thus, each chapter emphasizes one of the dimensions presented in the model in Chapter Two.
In Part Four, "Fostering Opportunities for Self-Direction in Adult Learning," we present four chapters that address what we believe to be major issues for practice. Chapters in this section focus on self-direction in institutionally-based adult education programs, policy issues, international perspectives on self-direction, and ethical issues.
Part Five, "A Glance at the Future," begins with a hypothetical scenario of what a family of the near future might look like if they embrace the ideals of self-direction. The final chapter includes a number of recommendations that we believe are important in creating future growth of self-direction ideals.
Finally, it might help to put this book into perspective by knowing a little more about our own journey over the past several years in trying to better understand the idea of self-direction in adult learning. We both have carried out and supervised research studies where we have watched with amazement how alive people become when they begin to talk about their own learning and how they have been able to take control of these efforts. When they come to realize that it is "okay" to be the major planner of such learning, that enthusiasm generally jumps another notch. The enjoyment and thrill of seeing this self-discovery has lead us to talk about self-direction at professional meetings, to conduct workshops on the topic, and to continuously search for new ways to enhance opportunities for self-direction within the university classes we teach. This book is an attempt to document our "odyssey" in the search for new and creative ways to embrace the ideals of self-direction in adult learning. If we have been able to further stimulate awareness by conveying our enthusiasm for self-direction and our expectations for future promise, we are doubly gratified.
We would like to offer a special thanks to Peter Jarvis, Series Editor for Routledge, for believing in our project and Sue Joshua, Editor for Routledge, for her advice and assistance. We are especially gratified for the editorial support and advice offered by our colleague Mary Beth Hinton. A special thanks is owed to Wanda Chasteen, who provided valuable assistance in preparing the final manuscript. We would also like to thank the many graduate student colleagues from five different universities with whom we have worked on research projects, in classes, and during workshops; our own ideas have been vastly refined over time as a result of these interactions. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the support given to us by our families: Patricia and Megan Brockett; and Janet, Nancy, and David Hiemstra. They have lived with us through the struggles and the joys of our work in self-direction, and this book is our way of saying "thanks."
Ralph G. Brockett, Knoxville, Tennessee
Roger Hiemstra, Fayetteville, New York
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