Self-Directed Adult Learning: Some Implications for Practice


Roger Hiemstra

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY


Adult Education Program, Occasional Paper No. 2




This report is derived from a course conducted during the spring semester of 1981 at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY. Participants who contributed greatly to this report included Mary Beth Bombardi, Ralph Brockett, Carol Cameron, John Champaigne, Joseph Ebiware, Sheila Green, Ken Landers, Joan Murphy, Hilda Patino, Dorothy Paynter, Candace Pearce, Phyllis Read, Julie Smith, Agnes Walbe, and Nancy Ziegler. Appendix A provides more information about each participant.

The report is made available through efforts of students and faculty in adult education at Syracuse University. It is hoped that the information will contribute to dialogue, thinking, and research related to self-directed learning.

              Roger Hiemstra

              March, 1982


This report is dedicated to the memory of Mr. John Champaigne, one of the workshop participants, who was killed in a traffic accident in December, 1981.






The Class       

Learning Projects Research

Definition of Terms

Additional Suggestions Derived During Group Discussions


History of Self-Directed Learning

Policy Statements

Colonial America

Readers’ Advisory Services at the New York Public Library

Mohandas Karamanchad Gandhi

Self-Directed Adult Learning in Higher Education

Are Institutions of Higher Education Facilitating Self-Directed Learning?








Appendix A: Workshop Participants and Staff

Appendix B: Workshop Information

Appendix C: Abstracts of Students’ Term Project Papers

Appendix D: Lecture/Discussion Topics in Class               

Appendix E: Learning Projects Interview Materials




Interest in adult learning projects research and on the whole body of knowledge frequently referred to as self-directed adult learning remains high. Funded and student research on the  general topic continues to be reported, although much of the more recent research appears to be aimed at either the refinement of earlier findings or general expansion of knowledge about adults as self-directed learner.

My own work in this area through personal research and reflection or through the research efforts of several colleagues to whom I have provided some guidance has reached the stage, for the most part, of contributing to the development of theory about self-directed learning and thinking through programming or policy implications for actual practice. For example, one colleague (Hassan, 1981) completed a study in which she compared measurements of self-directed readiness using the SDLR Scale (Guglielmino, n.d., 1977) with actual demonstrations of self-directed learning involvement as measured by the learning projects interview technique (Penland, 1978, 1979; Tough, 1978, 1979). Two colleagues and I completed a chapter on self-directed learning theory for a book (Brockett, Hiemstra, & Penland, 1982). Two other colleagues (Leean & Sisco, 1981) completed an NIE sponsored research project in which rural adults from Vermont became co-researchers in determining actual self-directed learning methods and approaches.

The above reflect only a small portion of the research on this topic recently completed or currently underway. Yet, there has not been much development, to date, related to developing implications for practitioners or building a visible theory base in support of or to better understand self-directed adult learning. I coordinated a course on policy development related to self-directed adult learning (Hiemstra, 1980), but we did not focus on theory building or programming implications. Thus, I conceived of the idea to involve a group of people in such a task. A semester-long class (meeting once per week for 150 minutes) for three graduate credits was the vehicle used. This publication is a report of our activities, deliberations and products. Obviously, only a start at such a task is possible in such a setting. However, I believe we have made a contribution upon which subsequent research and theory building efforts can be built. Feedback and interactive discussions are welcome.

I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts put forth by all class members. The willingness of each member to work hard, to be flexible, and to remain enthusiastic about the tasks made the experience most worthwhile and rewarding. In addition, I would

like to thank my colleagues Professors Dennis Gooler, Sid Micek, Sei Miura, and Dick Pearson for their helpful contributions. The interests of most participants appeared increased through the class experience and so I suspect that their future contributions through research, professional writing, and working with others will be many. Finally, my long term agenda for research and program development at Syracuse University includes more research and theory development in this area. Thus, the course and this product has been a vital stimulant to my ongoing efforts.

              Roger Hiemstra


              March, 1982




One of the most stimulating areas of research related to adult education is the work that has taken place during the past decade relative to self-directed adult learning. Initiated by Tough's (1979) work on adults' learning projects, self-directed learning has been defined as "a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes" (Knowles, 1975). Thus, the notion of active participation and performance on the part of individual learners has numerous implications for higher education, adult education, and others whose professional activities tend to center on institutional forms of education for adults.

Unfortunately, there have not been many reports in the literature relative to thinking through such implications. Several people have suggested some research needs in the conclusions section of their research reports. Cross (1981), Gross (1977), and Tough (1979) discuss some notions about resource needs or needed changes in practice. Hiemstra (1980) tells about some needed policy for adult learners and adult education agencies. This current report reveals some thinking on the part of several individuals thinking and working together over the course of a semester. The synergistic result provides some additional insights as to what may be needed in future practice if the needs of all learners are to be met.

There are several concerns as yet unanswered:

  • What are the rights of learners and the responsibilities of the educator?
  • Should the educator intervene in self-directed learning activities?
  • Can better resources for self-directed learners be created, such as high quality learning guides, improved self-study packets, and improved mechanisms for using currently available resources?
  • Can adult educators and others be "trained" to facilitate the self-directed learner outside of  institutional settings?


It is with such concerns in mind and in the determination to help increase the knowledge in this area of study that the class was conducted and that this report is presented.


The Class


A three semester hour graduate course on self-directed adult learning was held during the spring semester 1981 on the campus of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. A total of 15 persons representing a wide variety of professional backgrounds, experience, and interests made up the class membership. Four  colleagues in addition to the instructor (Hiemstra) provided some informational support to class members. Appendix A describes the participants and instructional support individuals.

Class members met weekly, afternoons, for 150 minutes. In addition, considerably time was spent outside that period for small group work, individual study, learning projects, data collection, and final project development. For those readers interested in duplicating portions of the class process or informational contents, Appendix B contains a description of the course, the requirements, and the approximate schedule followed. Appendix C summarizes the types of individual projects completed by class members. Appendix D summarizes some of the lecture/discussion topics covered in class in addition to information on learning projects and self-directed learning.

An interactive process for maximizing participant involvement, input, and feedback was utilized during the course. This included individual and group diagnosis of need, small and large group discussions, agenda building activities, clarifying procedures, formats, and commitments through processing (interactive feedback), individual discussions with the instructor, and various evaluation activities. As much as possible within the confines of an institution-based credit course, self-directed learning activity was encouraged.

Perhaps the most difficult task during the course was determining some implications for practice. We used brainstorming and large group techniques, small group discussions, and individual developmental efforts. One major problem was trying to find ways of interrelating the different areas around which groups of people clustered. This was not easy, nor was making good collective sense out of all the separate contributions. A start at understanding something about some important implications for practice has been made, but considerable work still remains. It is hoped that this report will stimulate some of the remaining effort required to build theory, derive application suggestions, and facilitate needed research.


Learning Projects Research


A fairly consistent pattern of findings has emerged from the various researchers who have examined adults' pursuit of learning projects (Hiemstra, 1975; Penland, 1978, 1979), Tough, 1979). Thus, some predictions can be made regarding the amount of effort, the nature, and type of planning preference related to learning efforts by adults.

With such predictions in mind, class participants were asked to gain some interviewing experience and a better understanding of the learning projects research by carrying out at least five interviews. Appendix E includes the interview materials provided to students. In addition, all class members participated in a three hour training session conducted by the instructor that included practice interviewing.

A total of 71 people were interviewed by 14 students. The age  range of the subjects was 22-78 with the average age being 48. Of the total, 64% were female, 73% were classified as employed in professional occupations, and the average number of years of completed formal education was nearly 16 years. Table 1 shows a comparison between these findings (labeled Syracuse University Group), Tough's (1979) original research findings, and a later composite of several studies (Tough, 1978).

Although there were similarities between the two reports and the Syracuse data, the disproportionally high number of professional people and highly educated individuals in the Syracuse sample from what would be found in a random sample of the general population skewed the data. A higher number of learning projects and hours were reported by the Syracuse subjects, for example. On the other hand, there were close similarities across most of the other categories. A picture can be drawn of individuals who prefer self as the primary planner of their learning, who are engaged in mainly non-credit activities, and who have several current projects underway.

In summary, considerable knowledge about adults as learners in terms of planning preferences and the amount of involvement has been obtained. In essence, the research stimulated through the learning projects notion (Tough, 1979) has helped to change images about adults. A lifelong potential for and involvement with learning appears to be a prevalent or at least acceptable label for most adults. It is hoped that some of the information created in this course will help in the understanding of these changing images.


Table 1. A Comparison of Summary Data from Various Learning Project Studies.


Data Description




Syr. Univ.


Number of Learning Projects:












Number of Hours of Participation:








Percent of Participation in Learning Project Activity




Current Status of Projects:












Credit Status of Projects:












Planner Type:
















Resource Planned










Definition of Terms


As group discussions developed during the early stages of the course, a need emerged to examine the concept of self-directed adult learning as described in the literature. The instructor and various students presented definitions from a review of the literature. Several of the definitions generated are presented here. A later section describes additional related concepts from an historical perspective. .


A fundamental purpose of adult education is to facilitate growth of persons toward self-understanding and maturity (Overstreet, 1949).


Self-knowledge is one of the fundamental aims of adult education. If the individual is not aware of personal strengths and weaknesses, how is growth possible? (Axford, 1969).


Self-knowledge is an awareness of one's own skills, abilities, assets, and liabilities (Broady, 1960).


Disciplined independent learning can ignite the spirit of inquiry and discovery which is the essence of real learning. Such activity helps the learner feel that doing things by self is possible...experiencing the thrill of independent discovery, which stimulates a desire for further learning (Bergevin, 1967).


Self-planned learning is a learning activity that is self directed, self-initiated, and frequently carried out alone (Hiemstra, 1976).


Lifelong learning means self-directed growth. It means understanding yourself and the world. It means acquiring new skills and powers -- the only true wealth which you can never lose (Gross, 1977).


Self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. Other labels found in the literature include:


 self-planned learning

 inquiry method

 independent learning





 autonomous learning (Knowles, 1975).


Self-directed learning begins with the learner. It sees the learner as the primary impetus for an initiator of the learning process. Teachers, classes, and other educational features are then put in a secondary light, as aids to the learning process rather than its central elements (Draves, 1980).


Independent learning opportunities include all efforts to assist learners proceeding on their own, at their own pace (Peterson, 1979).


Self-education -- the directing of one's own education without depending upon an external educational agent (Jensen, 1964).


In self-planned learning, the adult must perform many of the planning tasks that would be performed by the instructor during a course (Tough, 1978).


A self-planner retains the major responsibility for day-to-day decision-making about needs and criteria for selecting and using informative data (Penland, 1979).


 One possible planner is the individual learner where personal control of and responsibility for decisions about what and how to learn are retained (Tough, 1979).


Additional Suggestions Derived During Group Discussions


Self-planned learning is a systematic learning effort that is self-directed, self-initiated, self-evaluated and frequently carried out alone.


Any definition of self-directed adult learning (SDAL) must take into account the context in which the learning takes place (i.e., formal vs. informal; institutional vs. non-institutional; etc.).


SDAL is that learning which is self-planned, self-implemented and self-evaluated.


It is imperative to view SDAL as an attitude.


SDAL beings with self-knowledge (awareness of one's own skills, assets, and liabilities). The impetus for learning begins with the learner who then retains the control of and responsibility for decisions about what and how to learn. This means that teachers, classes, and other educational features in learning are seen as secondary, as aids to the learning process. SDAL means an investment in oneself, it includes growth and the process of acquiring new skills and power (the only true wealth one can never lose).


SDAL usually takes place in association with various kinds of helpers, such as teachers, tutors, mentors, resource people, and peers. There is a lot of mutuality among a group of self-directed learners. SDAL results in experiencing the thrill of independent discovery which stimulates a desire for further learning.


A definition of SDAL ought to include: a statement of philosophy; a statement of methodology; should grow out of a clarification of the values and assumptions we hold about learning and adults; a statement regarding the learner's freedom to choose.




History of Self-Directed Learning


Though the term "self-directed learning" is fairly recent, the concept that it describes has been a major force in the education of adults throughout history. Kulich (1970) has stated that prior to the widespread development of schools, "self-education was the prime way for...[people] to cope with the world around...[them]." So often, educators find themselves reinventing the wheel. By  examining the history of adult learning, it should be possible to avoid some of this duplication and build our knowledge of self-directed learning on a foundation of existing information. Thus, the following examples illustrate the way in which influential people or institutions can be studied to better understand learning. A specific period of time, a specific institution, and an individual were chosen to demonstrate some of the possible sources of historical information.


Colonial America.


               The history of adult education in the U.S. prior to the Revolution has been documented by Long (1976). According to Long, the "absence of a well-developed system of schools in Colonial America" did not mean that there was a lack of  learning activities. Rather, the lack of formal educational institutions combined with the social conditions that existed at the time to produce a desire among many to engage in self-directed learning activities.

               Self-directed learners in Colonial America had a wide range of resources to assist them in their learning efforts. An important part of these efforts was the "oral tradition," which was facilitated by the use of letters, diaries, and written records of events of the times that could be passed on orally from one person to another. Some of the important resources described by Long included societies and associations, libraries, and printed materials, many of which remain important today as learning resources.

Societies and associations, through a broad range of objectives and activities, frequently provided valuable assistance to the self-directed adult learner. The Junto, a discussion group formed by Benjamin Franklin and several friends, is an illustration of this type of organization. In the Junto, members had an outlet in which they shared the fruits of their various self-directed inquiries.

               Libraries were another important resource for self-directed learners. Personal libraries were not uncommon among those persons wealthy enough to afford a collection of books. Subscription libraries, where patrons paid a specified amount for the use of its services, made libraries accessible to a greater number of people. Additional information on libraries appears in the next section.

               In addition to books, several other kinds of printed materials were important to self-directed learners in Colonial America. Almanacs provided information about a variety of topics, much as they do today. One of the most famous almanacs in American history, Poor Richard's Almanac, was begun during this time. Newspapers played an important role in the political activity surrounding the Revolution. Magazines were another source of valuable information for self-directed learners.

               There are but a few examples of the resources that were available to self-directed learners during the Colonial period in American history. While certainly not all-inclusive, it serves to illustrate the way in which a period of time can be studied to produce information about self-directed adult learning. 


Readers' Advisory Services at the New York Public Library.


               The self-directed learning research during the 1970s might lead to the assumption that the phenomenon has developed only recently. The concept is not new, as pointed out earlier; under a variety of names, and in numerous settings, self-directed adult learning has been present in the lives of many adults throughout history.

               One of the settings where self-directed learning has traditionally taken place is the library. The library's resources have always been focused for self-directed learners, but in the 1920s and 30s, the interaction between self-directed learners, librarians, and library resources was made explicit through readers' advisory services developed in many libraries throughout the country. Of all these services, the most famous was the Office of the Readers' Advisor at the New York Public Library (Flexner and Hopkins, 1941; Monroe, 1963).

               The Office of the Readers' Advisor was established under the direction of Jennie M. Flexner in 1928. It existed for twenty years; for sixteen of them, Flexner was the guiding force behind its services. As it was first established, individuals pursuing learning projects were referred to the Readers' Advisor who would interview them regarding their learning interests and then develop a personally-tailored reading list.

               During the Depression years, the Office of the Readers' Advisor served thousands of self-directed learners, many of whom were out of work. After 1936, readers' advisory services spread to many of New York Public's branches, thus making individual services to self-directed learners even more accessible.

               The Office of the Readers' Advisor was a success primarily because it was integrated into a setting where self-directed adult learners had traditionally been present -- the public library. Its success was not due solely to its institutional setting, however. The period of the Depression and the strong personal influence of Jennie M. Flexner combined with the library setting to produce an important historical example for future librarians and adult educators to emulate. 


Mohandas Karamanchad Gandhi


               One of the most prominent figures in our recent history is Mohandas Gandhi. In addition to his fame as a fighter for India's freedom, Gandhi also is a good example of a self-directed learner. Innumerable speeches and writings demonstrate his constant concern for education. Although Gandhi may not be accepted as an educator in a conventional sense of the word, the views on education that he expressed, experimented with, and enforced in practice mark him in an historical sense as an educator and learner of an exceptionally high order. Gandhi's "integrated and comprehensive outlook on life and its problems has given him a truer perception of what real education should be than most of the so-called educationists whose ideas of education are generally of the narrow, conformist type" (Gandhi, 1970).

Being a naturally avid learner, Gandhi studied during his life almost all scientific subjects from Geography to Astronomy. Yet he did not consider that the study of such subjects guarantees by itself self-realization: "...whether you take elementary education  or higher education, is not required for the main thing. It does not make men of us. It does not enable us to do our duty" (Gandhi, 1951).

Gandhi's ideas regarding education are radical and revolutionary. Searching the philosophical foundations of education, he starts by asking, "What is the meaning of education and what should be its aim and object?" In Gandhi's view, education means much more than intellectual knowledge. Its primary aim is the building up of character. Education that helps to build up sound character and promotes self-development is true education. And the true education of the individual, which is all round development of personal faculties, is best obtained through action. Gandhi's "scheme of education bases itself on the sound and indisputable fact that knowledge and understanding develop in relation to problems set by action" (Gandhi, 1951).

With this idea in mind, Gandhi proposed that education should create a suitable atmosphere for productive work. The mind and the body are in organic harmony; therefore, true education is the development of all personal faculties in a correlated manner so as to produce a harmonious and well-balanced personality. In this way, practice and intellectual exercise should be equally important.

In regard to intellectual development, Gandhi was a strong promoter of library services. In his opinion, the ideal library should be one that is constantly expanded to embrace new books and other reading materials. "It should provide facilities for arranging occasional lectures, and for students and scholars engaged in research work to come and make use of the books there in an atmosphere of peace" (Gandhi, 1962). In other words, libraries must be the temples of knowledge and wisdom.

Of all the many good things that Gandhi gave to India, his scheme of education, placed before the country for adoption, is considered to be the best. Gandhi's ideas about true education are the fruit of a life dedicated to learn, meditate and practice this learning. Thus, Gandhi is an actual example of self-directedness and self-fulfillment through learning and experience.


Self-Directed Adult Learning in Higher Education


Interest in self-directed adult learning has not been confined just to the non-formal, non-credit areas. Although the research in this area has demonstrated that a great deal of adult learning takes place outside of any formal classroom, many leaders in higher education have begun program development activities aimed at increasing self-directed learning opportunities. Indeed, the growing numbers of adult learners attending higher education institutions dictates the examination and inclusion of various non traditional opportunities.

For example, Harrington (1977) describes the future of adult education in terms of both existing efforts and what is needed in higher education for adults. Vermilye (1974) and associates talk about lifelong learners as a new clientele for higher education.  Peterson and associates (1979) describe a variety of resources, materials, and groups connected in some way with lifelong learning. Even such individual planning resources as those developed by Gross (1977), Knowles (1975), and Cooper (1980) can be used by participants in higher education to guide their learning pursuits.

Thus, the following sub-sections talk about various aspects of programming for self-directed adult learning by higher education institutions. These include how such institutions currently are dealing with the phenomenon, how individual adult students are being involved in program development, some suggested implications related to classroom methodology, and suggestions regarding related areas that need to be developed.


Are Institutions of Higher Education Facilitating Self-directed Learning? Any consideration of the concept of self-directed adult learning and its relationship to higher or postsecondary education has to begin with posing at least three questions:


1.      What do institutions of higher education do to foster self-directed learning?

2.      What do institutions of higher education do to hamper self-directed learning?

3.      What attempt do institutions of higher education make to attract self-directed adult learners?


Experience with such institutions leads one to wonder, at times, if anything at all is being done to foster self-directed learning. Most tours through an undergraduate course of study, for example, are not guided tours in pursuit of an individual's learning interests, but rather they are limited explorations of territory bounded by semesters, credit hours, and instructors' interests and values. Graduate school can be somewhat different, the boundaries may be somewhat broader, but the roadblocks to be surmounted (examinations, oral defenses, research paper requirements, etc.) often are much higher. As pointed out in the opening comments for this section, some changes are being made, but the_ appear few and slow in their development.

Within the structure of individual academic programs there is little room for an individual to explore personal interests; few courses are designed or few instructors equipped to develop the values, attitudes and skills necessary for students to become more self-directed in their approach to learning. The process and outcomes of credentialing and certification frequently take precedent over other possible participation objectives. Though most people subscribe to the notion that the college graduate is educated or learned, what is really possessed is a credential that entitles a person to be the holder of a place in society. Most often this place has to do with the employment or the career of the individual.

Thus, the thesis of this sub-section message is that the structure of higher education as it presently exists does little to foster self-directed adult learning. Further, much in that very  structure effectively hampers such learning efforts. Instructors are seen by themselves and by their students as experts rather than facilitators. What is to be learned often is decided by the state, the institution, and/or the nature of the discipline. How content is to be learned and how learning is to take place frequently are decided by matters of cost and efficiency. When the year is divided into 15 week semesters or 11 week quarters, classrooms have chairs in rows facing a podium, and papers are required and exams held on specified dates, learning becomes routinized and efficient. Perhaps one could question if this is learning at all!

Obviously, there are efforts to change the system taking place in higher education institutions. Independent study, external degrees, and credit for life experience are attempts to loosen the structure, break down the barriers, and permit adults to certify their self-directed learning efforts. For some learners, these options are quite appropriate. They provide ways to achieve certification that fit into adult lifestyles and take into account adult learning accomplished outside of institutions. Unfortunately, a major conclusion can be drawn that much more will be required before the self-directed learning potential existing in most learning can be adequately tapped.


Involvement of Adult Students in Program Development


Curriculum. There appears to be a growing philosophical difference between the adult student of today and institutions of higher education. No longer are such students satisfied with whatever they may find useful from preplanned programs. The student of today is aware that he or she is a consumer and wants a definite voice in planning the total program, and especially his or her own program. Thus, it is very important that faculties anticipate that need.

In addition to planning, the student has a definite role in assessing what curriculum is needed and evaluating both the product and the method in which the teaching is done. When participating in these activities, the student needs an active voice rather than just serving as an informed observer. Also, the student needs to be actively involved in any self-study efforts regarding curricula that might be undertaken for accrediting bodies.


Classroom. The best place to start is to emphasize the importance of treating each adult learner as an individual. This means realizing that each has had unique life experiences as well as learning experiences. Assuming that students have had a voice in determining what courses they would take, there should be a fairly high motivation about the whole learning process. Very early in the learning process, the facilitator (faculty member) would assist the student in outlining his or her learning needs. The two would then draw up a learning contract stipulating objectives, learning methodologies, and a method of evaluation.

 Faculty should have a fairly clear idea of how the class as a whole learns best once the learning contracts have been completed. There would probably be several methods of learning chosen. If, because of some unusual situation, a straight lecture method is needed for a course, students should still have a voice in selecting the content.

The "classroom" can literally be wherever the students will learn best. We do not need to limit the learning setting to the usual four-wall formal setting. Thus, in one learning process, several "classrooms" might be used.


Recommendations (Based on DeMott, 1974)


  1. Graduate training should include field experience for those who need it.
  2. Faculties need technical consultative regularly with staff and suggest evaluative criteria.
  3. Discipline-based seminars should be conducted every 3-5 years to examine prevailing methodologies of teaching, to probe neglected areas of social reference and to study the broader points of the discipline.
  4. Professional associations should appoint blue ribbon committees of inquiry to scrutinize current academic understandings of the social uses and provenance of the major disciplines.
  5. Course sequences, residence regulations, and other institutional requirements should be adapted to meet the needs of adult students.




What does the current state of the art in thinking about self-directed learning mean to those people who plan and carry out programs for or provide services to adult learners. It is one thing to trace some history related to self-directed learning or to talk about how some institutions are dealing with self-directed learners, for example, but it is another to begin the process of deriving implications for institutional representatives and others who must either change some of their practice or learn some new approaches.

Members of the course spent considerable time talking about their individual course projects, the state of the art relative to knowledge in this area, and the combined findings of our learning projects interviewing efforts. A variety of implications were discussed and suggestions made. The following represents the editor's (course instructor) attempt to synthesize from the discussion and suggestions some thoughts relative to three audience levels: Learners, Education Researchers, and Adult Education Agencies




Four assumptions about adults as learners guide much of the thinking by adult educators as they think through instructional strategies and programming needs (Knowles, 1980):


  1. The self-concept of an adult moves from that of being a dependent person toward being a self-directed person within the process of maturation, but at different rates for different people. Learning Implications: Teachers have a responsibility for nurturing such change. Adults, themselves, have a need to be self-directing, but at times many also have a need for dependency.
  2. During the growth and maturation process, an increasing accumulation of experiences become a rich potential resource for learning. Learning Implications: Teachers should use that capitalize on such experience, such as field experiences or problem-solving activities. Learners should be helped to feel confident in using and building on past experience in their learning efforts.
  3. Individuals' readiness for learning is associated with life's real problems and personal developmental tasks. Learning Implications: Teachers need to facilitate needs assessment and self-discovery techniques. Learners should be helped in applying their learning efforts to real problems and current developmental needs. Thus, the timing of learning efforts is an important consideration.
  4. Competency-based and problem-centered learning is the primary focus of most adult learners. Such learners are seeking immediate information or even gratification from their learning efforts. Learning Implications: Adult education needs to address the perceived needs of learners. Learners should be helped to diagnose needs and develop related learning objectives or goals.


These assumptions provide considerable help in understanding learners and give some direction to thinking through the service provided to self-directed individuals. Self-directed learners, therefore, can be seen as active learners, able or desiring to diagnose needs, and frequently possessing strong self-concepts that facilitate personal ownership of learning planning and implementation.

Perhaps one of the most significant contributions from all the research regarding learning projects and self-directed involvement has been the formal acknowledgement that most adults are engaged in learning, often at a rate much greater than ever before imagined. Certainly, the research conducted for this course substantiated that notion. Thus, promoting self-directed involvement may be an important strategy in reaching learners who are often overlooked in educational efforts -- the older person, minority individuals, and others not normally in the mainstream of institutional programming. Through the implementation of self-directed learning activities in addition to more traditional adult education forms, it may be feasible to provide services to most adults who would benefit by them. Learning Implications: Learners in a wide variety of age groups, minority categories, and socio-economic classifications are capable of considerable self-directed learning; subsequently, adult education and agency administration should endeavor to facilitate involvement in such learning by these various people.

Another area receiving attention by researchers has to do with the views held by learners regarding themselves and others. Sabbaghian (1979), for example, determined that a strong relationship exists between a person's self-concept and self-directed learning readiness. Learning Implications: (a) means to encourage and develop a learner's positive self-concept should be explored; (b) learners should be helped to develop abilities in personal decision-making.

Another area of discussion during the workshop pertained to the rights and responsibilities of learners in self-directed learning. The responsibilities of the educator, the rights of the learner regarding costs of learning assistance, and the needs for policies and guidelines were other related topics introduced during the workshop. Various small group and large group conversations facilitated some ideas of potential value. Learning Implications: (a) the self-directed learner may need to be protected against manipulation by others, perhaps through a code of ethics; (b) learners should be helped to guard against manipulation by others.

There also was some discussion regarding the use of learning resources by self-directed learners. Because such learners use a wide variety of resources, it was a general consensus that attention must be given to improving both the resources themselves and the access to them. Learning Implications: (a) there is a need to develop a variety of high quality learning guides; (b) programmed learning materials or other types of learning kits should be developed on a variety of topics; (c) a greater mobilization of the entire community and its available resources for learning is needed; this could include such activities as promoting learning networks, study circles, and learning exchanges.

Finally, because there were three international students in the workshop, considerable discussion was generated related to helping learners from other countries adapt to a self-directed learning environment in a typical U.S. environment. The sharing of feelings, orientation sessions, and helping with special problems were some of the general topics examined. Learning Implications: (a) educators should provide orientation sessions, tours of places like libraries, and a buddy (support) system; (b) learners should meet in a group periodically with an instructor to be sure everything is going well and to seek answers to questions; (c) educators should provide help with language problems, especially before a person flounders; (d) educators should search for special problems outside the learning environment some international students may be experiencing which get in the way of either learning or expressing feelings; (e) educators should find out the system of learning in the learner's home country and determine if transitional help is needed; (f) educators should build support groups between learners and knowledgeable leaders to begin practicing self-directed adult learning; (g) educators should provide opportunities for learners to gather and share ideas informally to promote better understanding of ideas and each other.




Considerable discussion centered on the premise that the promotion of SDAL cannot be successful without certain levels of support from the agency sponsoring or administering the learning or the necessary resources. The range of support needed is vast.



  1. Faculties need technical consultative panels to meet regularly with staff and suggest curricula and evaluative criteria.
  2. Course sequences, residence regulations and other institutional requirements should be adapted to meet the needs of adult students.


Even if there are certain levels of support provided by an organization or agency, there is no guarantee that all institutional faculty or trainers will "buy into" the concepts foundational to the promotion of SDAL. Subsequently, it was suggested during the workshop that staff development training on self-directed learning be provided. Hopefully, the result will be educating colleagues about the potential of SDAL techniques, resources, and philosophy in improving educational opportunities for adults.




  1. Provide an acceptable rationale for why a personnel development system is needed.
    1. overcome resistance to something "new"
    2. ensure them that adult-like techniques will be used for the workshop
    3. don't let it be just another central administration "generated" program
    4. use as rationale the growing need to reach adult audiences.
  2. Assign responsibility and authority for planning to a person or committee.
    1. someone needs to take charge and to plan
    2. don't let it become just another "bull" session.
  3. Involve faculty in planning.
    1. this embraces the self-directed learning concept of participatory planning
    2. build in a "commitment" before the training actually begins.
  4. Provide sufficient flexibility.
    1. differing staff needs and self-directed theory, itself, means that options are needed in terms of format, approach, time, etc.
    2. allow administrators and teachers adequate flexibility.
  5. Balance institutional priorities and individual needs.
    1. knowing what are institutional requirements (or constraints) and individual needs should facilitate a "reasoning together"
    2. work to arrive at a common understanding of what is possible.
  6. Make participation voluntary.
    1. related to concepts of maturity and self-directedness
    2. would be based on recognized need rather than some expert's view of that need.
  7. Have administrative staff participate in staff development activities.
    1. build in a “real” commitment to participate and to being a part of any faculty (staff) changes or needs
    2. faculty need to feel they have administrative support to change.
  8. Include part-time faculty.
    1. part-time staff frequently have fewer opportunities for training, for understanding the philosophy of the organization, and for socialization
    2. Include them in the planning process.
  9. Reward participation.
    1. thank you notes, administrative recognition, and public recognition
    2. provide adequate financial support, released time, travel support, etc.
  10. Exercise common sense in scheduling.
    1.  provide opportunities in such a manner that heavy participation is possible
    2. provide for continuity and ongoing opportunities.
  11. Consider the instructional techniques to be used in the program
    1. practice what you preach
    2. provide opportunities for colleagues to "experience" self-directed adult learning.
  12. Mix internal and external resources.
    1. there is usually internal staff with expertise
    2. use outside consultants as needed.
  13. Publicize the program adequately.
    1. permit time for adequate advance scheduling, thinking about, and preparation for the training
    2. publicity materials could include examples of what is possible from the training.
  14. Evaluate the results.
    1. if it is worth doing, it is worth evaluating
    2. use the evaluation results
    3. publicize the evaluation results.
  15. Provide adequate funding.
    1. if it is worth doing, it is worth supporting
    2. don't cut corners to the point of debilitating the potential experience.
  16. Provide critical non-monetary support for the program.
    1. formal policy statements may be required
    2. adequate space and resources are required
    3. pay attention to the learning environment.




During the course, a variety of implications and recommendations pertaining to roles for educators and researchers

were generated. For example, on the basis of the discussion presented earlier pertaining to some historical predecessors of self-directed learning, several research recommendations are offered:




  1. A priority in research on self-directed adult learning should be an examination of the historical antecedents of this approach to learning.
  2. Historical research on self-directed learning should examine individual self-directed learners who played a role in history, the institutions that promoted (directly or indirectly) self-directed learning, and periods of time where self-directed learning played an important role.
  3. Historical research on self-directed learning should both describe events and activities important to an understanding of self-directed learning and provide an interpretation and synthesis of the impact of these landmarks.


There also was some thinking about methodological and teaching issues. In general, there was consensus that the instructional process needs to prove from "teacher-centered" to "learner centered." A learner focus indicates that the instructor has to change from an egalitarian mode of instruction to more of a planned eclecticism or learning facilitation mode of instruction. By this  is meant that the course requirements, methods of delivery and evaluation devices must offer the widest possible opportunity and choices for students. Consequently, with the individual learner as the focus, the individual becomes responsible for the learning.


  1. Clear Course Objectives and End Goals.
    1. all objectives should be in writing, spoken, and discussed by learners
    2. learners should be provided with examples of alternative methods of obtaining the objectives learners should be able to negotiate requirements and goals
    3. learners should be able to negotiate requirements and goals
    4. learners should see examples of previously acceptable work
    5. objectives should lend themselves to attainment in a variety of ways.
  2. Alternatives to Meet Requirements.
    1. programmed learning
    2. field experiences
    3. contract learning
    4. televised learning
    5. peer group learning
    6. self-paced learning
    7. independent learning.
  3. Increase Student Participation.
    1. buzz groups
    2. group discussion
    3. panel discussion
    4. symposium discussion
    5. debates
    6. shared experience discussion
    7. reaction sheets
    8. brainstorming
    9. role playing
    10. collage construction
    11. group tasks
    12. paired tasks
    13. value clarification exercises
    14. simulation experiences.
  4. Develop Inquiry Skills.
    1. goal setting exercises
    2. listening exercises
    3. role reversals
    4. discovery method
    5. question development
    6. exercises interviewing techniques
    7. consensus building exercises
    8. "How I Learn" exercises
    9. public interviews
    10. study skills methods
    11. relate learning to previous experience.
  5. Personal Development.
    1. public interviews
    2. personal assessment
    3. value clarification exercises.
  6. Evaluation Methods.
    1. teacher validation
    2. term papers
    3. diaries and reports
    4. objective/essay tests
    5. oral reports
    6. taped reports
    7. peer/mentor validation
    8. problem solving application
    9. evidence of application of material in a real setting
    10. student self-assessment of work.


There also was some discussion that focused on the notion that we need to be careful in adult education that we don't professionalize ourselves into an elite group of learning facilitators where an "andragogical" or self-directed learning approach becomes just another slick way of controlling people. In other words, it will take real commitment and, frequently, some real institutional changes to move toward giving the learner considerable control over the learning.




Institutions of higher education and other supporters of learning by adults need to make a concerted effort, perhaps through vehicles like policy or staff training ,: to promote self-directed learning wherever it exists in the community.


Finally, more brainstorming took place in both small and large groups pertaining to needed research. Several areas for future research were suggested:


Research Areas


  1. Motivation -- why does one choose SDAL?
  2. Psychological conditions underlying when learners are or are not motivated.
  3. What are important external factors -- i.e., stress, major life changes, etc.?
  4. The work setting and SDAL -- what is the relationship of learning to job requirements?
  5. Staff development; helping educators use SDAL.
  6. Risk taking in relation to SDAL; e.g., with educators.
  7. How to raise the consciousness of ourselves as learners.
  8. Matching knowledge about SDAL with supporting research areas such as differing cognitive styles, brain hemispheres, etc.
  9. Does the development of greater self-directedness help a learner "get through" or make better use of the traditional learning situation?
  10. How much should institutions of higher education "interface" with adults' independent learning efforts? Should they promote or support self-directed learning, both within their structures and beyond? If so, what are the best ways to do so?
  11. What are the competencies needed for an adult learner to become self-directed? How can institutions of higher education help in the development of these skills and competencies which may include: access to information, problem identification, decision making, self assessment, media usage skills, self-control, and time management?
  12. How can networking of adults within courses and degree programs be promoted by institutions?




Axford, R. (1969). Adult education: The open door. Scranton, PA: International Textbook Company.


Bergevin, P. (1967). A philosophy for adult education. New York: Seabury Press.


Broady, H. (1960). Aims in adult education: A realist’s view (Notes and Essays in Education for Adults. No. 28). Chicago: Center for the Study of Liberal Education for Adults.


Brockett, R. M., Hiemstra, R., & Penland, P. R. (1982). Self-directed adult learning research: Implications for adult education. In C. Klevins (Ed.)., Materials and methods in continuing education. Los Angeles: Klevins Publications.

Cooper, S. S. (1980). Self-directed learning for nursing. Wakesfield, MA: Nursing Resources, Inc.


Cotton, T. L. (1960). Public understanding of adult education. In Knowles, M. S. (Ed.), Handbook of adult education in the United States. Washington, DC: Adult Education Association of the USA.


Cross, K. P. (1981). Adults as learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


DeMott, B. (1974, February). Reflections on a recent panel reforming graduate education. Change, 25-29.


Draves, B. (1980). The free university. Chicago: Follett Publishing Co.


Flexner, J. M. & Hopkins, B.C. (1941). Readers’ advisors at work. New York: American Association for Adult Education.


Gandhi, M. K. (1951). Basic education. Ahmedabid: Navajivan Publishing House.


Gandhi, M. K. (1962). True education. Ahmedabid: Navajivan Publishing House.


Gandhi, M. K. (1970). My views on education. New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation.


Gross, R. (1977). The lifelong learner. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Guglielmino, L. M. (1977). Development of the self-directed learning readiness scale. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia, 1977). Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 6467A.


Guglielmino, L. M. (n.d.). Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale. Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University.


Harrington, F. H. (1977). The future of adult education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


Hassan, A. J. (1981). An investigation of the learning projects among adults of low and high readiness for self-direction in learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University.


Hiemstra, R. (1975). The older adult and learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 117 371).


Hiemstra, R. (1976). Lifelong learning: An exploration of adult and continuing education within a setting of lifelong learning needs. Lincoln, NE: Professional Educators Publications. Revised in 1984 and 2002. Available electronically: /lll.html


Hiemstra, R. (1980). Policy recommendations related to self-directed adult learning (Occasional Paper No. 1). Available electronically: /policy1.html


Jensen, G., Liveright, A. A., & Hallenbeck, W. (Eds.). (1964). Adult education: Outlines of an emerging field of university study. Washington, DC: Adult Education Association of the USA.


Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education. New York: Association Press.


Kulich, J. (1970). An historical overview of the adult self-learner. Paper presented at the Northwest Institute on Independent Study’s "The Adult as a Self-Learner" session, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.


Learned, W. J. (1924). The American public library and the diffusion of knowledge. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.


Leean, C. & Sisco, B. R. (1981). Learning projects and self-planned learning efforts among undereducated adults in rural Vermont (Final Report). Washington, DC: National Institute of Education.


Long, H. B. (1976). Continuing education of adults in Colonial America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Publications in Continuing Education.


Monroe, M. E. (1963). Library adult education: The biography of an idea. New York: Scarecrow Press.


Overstreet, N. (1949). The mature mind. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.


Penland, P. R. (1978). Self planned learning in America. (ERIC Document Repro­duction Service No. ED 152 987).


Penland, P. (1979). Self-initiated learning. Adult Education, 29, 170-179.


Peterson, R. E., & Associates. (1979). Lifelong learning in America. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1979.


Sabbaghian, Z. S. (1979). Adult self-directedness and self-concept: An exploration of Relationship. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, 1979.


Tough, A. (1978). Major learning efforts: Recent research and future directions. Adult Education, 28, 250-263.


Tough, A. (1979). The adult's learning projects (2nd Ed.) Austin, TX: Learning Concepts. (The 1st edition, 1971, was published by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.)


Vermilye, D. W. (Ed.). (1974). Lifelong learners – A new clientele for higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.




Workshop Participants


Mary Beth Bombardi

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Ralph G. Brockett

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Carol G. Cameron

Hospital Svcs. Education Coordinator

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


John Champaigne

Chairperson, Department of Developmental Studies

Community College of the Finger Lakes

Canandaigua, NY


Joseph M. Ebiware

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Sheila Kay Green

Research Student in Gerontology

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Keneston W. Landers, Jr.

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Joan C. Murphy

Assistant Professor

SUNY College of Technology

Utica, NY


Hilda Patino

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Dorothy K. Paynter

Director, Energy Education Training Division

College of Continuing Education


Rochester, NY


Candace M. Pearce

Graduate Student in Counseling and Guidance

Syracuse University


Phyllis T. Read

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Julie C. Smith

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Agnes Nakas Walbe

Graduate Student in Adult Education

Syracuse University


Nancy F. Ziegler

Director of Graduate Programs

Elmira College

Elmira, NY


Workshop Staff


Dr. Dennis Gooler, workshop presenter, is Director, EDCAS Division, Syracuse University. He talked about the importance and necessity of self-directed adult learning and adult education fitting into the larger educational structure. He also talked about the need for universities to be supportive of self-directed learning.


Dr. Roger Hiemstra, workshop leader, is Professor and Chair, Adult Education, Syracuse University. He has carried out or directed several research studies related to self-directed adult learning. He presented a variety of information on self-directed learning.


Dr. Sid Micek, workshop presenter, is Area Head, Administrative and Adult Studies, Syracuse University. He described the efforts of the School of New Resources as an organizational example for promoting self-directed adult learning.


Dr. Sei Miura, workshop presenter, is a Fulbright Scholar in Adult Education and on leave as Associate Professor in Social Education, Fukuoka National University of Education, Fukuoka, Japan. He compared the independent learning notions of North American education with the group learning aspect of Japanese adult education. He also described his interest in adapting such U.S. concepts as free universities, learning exchanges, and networking to Japan.


Dr. Richard Pearson, workshop presenter, is an Associate Professor, Counseling and Guidance, Syracuse University. He discussed the importance of understanding developmental stages in promoting self-directed learning. He also talked about various adult counselor roles.




Workshop Information




Adult Education is an exciting field to study and is equally exciting to be associated with as a workshop participant or as a professional. It is a field that is dynamic, growing, and full of opportunity.

Perhaps the most dynamic area of activity and study is that related to self-directed adult learning. Tough's initial work on adults' learning projects (1979) and the subsequent research of many has resulted in the awesome awareness of how much people are involved with self-directed study and how little prepared professional adult educators are to provide assistance with such study. Needed are new instructional skills, a better understanding of needed roles for adult educators, and policy guidelines for future funding, training, and resource development. Further, Cross in 1981 (Adults as Learners) urged the study of "the improvement of the help and resources available for self-directed learning" (p. 195).

Therefore, the general purpose of this workshop is to obtain a comprehensive view of present research and practice related to self-directed learning and to study implications for the future. The derivation and discussion of needed resources and other recommendations for professional adult educators will be an important activity.


Competency Expectations


At the completion of the course, each participant should be able to perform in the following ways:


  1. Understand the state of the art regarding knowledge about learning projects and self-directed learning.
  2. Contribute to the discussion of implications for adult educators and suggest recommendations for future practice.
  3. Develop a variety of recommendations for needed resources for self-directed adult learners and contribute to a monograph that will be disseminated in various ways.




  1. Participate in the course activities and read the available materials. Bibliographic and media reserve lists will be provided. The text requirements are as follows: (a) Roger Hiemstra, Workbook/Supplemental Materials; (b) Malcolm Knowles, Self-directed Learning; (c) Allen Tough, The Adult’s Learning Projects, 1979 edition.
  2. Participate in group activities on developing recommendations for needed resources for the self-directed adult learner. (Learning Activity #1)
  3. Conduct at least five interviews with any adults using the Tough learning projects protocol and obtain information relative to learning activities, hours spent, level of activity, and "planner" preferences. (Learning Activity #2)
  4. Develop a statement of intent (learning contract) relative to the term project requirement of the workshop. This could include interviewing additional self-directed adult learners, doing extensive readings, or a variety of other activities. A descriptive sheet will be provided.


Term Project


(Select any one of the following)


  1. Select and interview at least five people as to the number of learning projects completed in the last year. (An interview schedule is provided.) Analyze and summarize your findings with enough tables, narrative, and discussion of implications to capture the essence of your interviews.
  2. Complete the series of readings necessary to provide you with a comprehensive view of the "state of the art" in self-directed adult learning. Develop a log, diary, or some other means of recording your personal ideas, reactions, learnings, and relevant recommendations for change.
  3. Carry out some mini-research project that examines theoretically and/or empirically some aspect of self-directed adult learning.
  4. Develop a concept paper outlining what some specific agency or group do to institute basic concepts about self-directed adult learning practice.
  5. Select some activity of your own choosing that makes "sense" to you in relation to the content of the workshop. Present a write-up on your activity.


Schedule of Events


Week One

1.      Introduction, resources, goals, learning tasks

2.      "Self-Directed Adult Learning - The State of the Art -- Roger Hiemstra


Week Two

1.      "Self-Directed Research Activities and Needs"  -- Roger Hiemstra

2.      Initial group formation


Week Three

1.      Training in Tough's learning projects protocol

2.      Practice with interviewing


Week Four

1.      Debriefing and discussion of the interview protocol

2.      "Developmental Stages and Adult Counseling Roles" -- Richard Pearson


Week Five

1.      Small group work

2.      "Incorporating SDAL into a Larger Organization" -- Dennis Gooler


Week Six

1.      Sharing of learning projects interview data and discussion of implications

2.      "School of New Resources as an Organizational Example of SDAL" -- Sid Micek


Week Seven

1.      Small group work

2.      Large group discussion and feedback


Week Eight

1.      Small group work

2.      "Adaptation of SDAL to Japan" -- Sei Miura


Week Nine

1.      "Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale" -- Roger Hiemstra

2.      Discussion and deriving implications


Week Ten

    1. Small group work
    2. Large group discussion and feedback


Week Eleven

1.      Small group reports

2.      Large group critiquing


Week Twelve

1.      Small group reports

2.      Large group critiquing

3.      Examining an outline of the monograph


Week Thirteen

1.      Small group reports

2.      Large group critiquing


Week Fourteen

1.      Small group reports and feedback

2.      Initial drafts of monograph critiqued


Week Fifteen

1.      Summarization and feedback

2.      Course evaluation activities




Abstracts of Students' Term Project Papers


Ralph Brockett: "Helping Skills and the Adult Educator"


Urged that as adult educators become more involved with Self-directed Adult Learning (SDAL) concepts, they need to increase personal helping skills in line with better understanding of the processes through which learning takes place. They include:

  • Attendance
    • physical attending = helping skill of "being with" the learner
    • psychological attending = awareness of verbal and non-verbal behavior
  • Basic Skills
    • empathy = understanding learner's point of view
    • respect = accepting the leader as an individual
    • genuineness = being oneself; sincerity
    • concreteness = explicit expression of feelings, behaviors, etc.
  • Advanced Skills
    • confrontations = pointing out distortions and facades
    • immediacy = dealing with feelings in the “here and now”
    • self-disclosure = spontaneous sharing of similar personal (helpers) experiences


Several applications to adult education were also provided.


Dorothy Paynter


Looked at the "fun" of learning that attracts some self-directed learners -- it actually is the opposite side of the "numbers" game most institutions play. Thus, we need to find ways for institutions to understand and work with SDAL individuals without removing their fun and enjoyment.


Candace Pearce


Talked about how the traditional socialization of women toward submission, docility, non-directive behavior, etc. and how that presents problems for women in even realizing that SDAL is possible. She believes that helping women understand the phenomenon, how to obtain resources, etc. is needed. Enhancing positive self-concept also is important (See ,Sabbaghian, 1979).


Phyllis Read


Described the hemispheric differences (brain hemisphere dominance theory) in men and women and suggested that the traditional education approaches in the U.S. generally have tended to promote more analytic (left side) approaches. Such a situation, if true, may get in the way of creative learning through self directed activities.


Julie Smith


Described the New York Public Library's readers advisory service that was in existence during the early 1900s and developed under Jennie Flaxner. Participating libraries provided many self directed services such as individually designing reading lists, preparing reading lists for groups and locating other types of resources.


Agnes Walbe


Examined the literature and found several different definitions of and explanations for SDAL.



Nancy Ziegler


Looked at some possible ways of adding self-directed learning concepts and techniques to teacher education programs.


John Champagne


Examined the implications of learning projects research in terms of using the Tough style interview technique for counseling, admissions, etc. activities and to assist adults with planning their learning. He suggested that there also is a need to

facilitate placing the focus of control and responsibility for learning into the hands of the learners.


Joan Murphy


Looked at the value of the literature on SDAL relative to teaching at the college level. She made an initial start at reviewing and discussing some of the relevant literature.


Sheila Green


Suggested some needs and recommendations for helping learners in elementary grades become more self-directed.


Mary Beth Bombardi


Suggested some ideas on how future learning consultants could help learners learn how to use all their personal senses in their lifelong individual learning efforts.


Joseph Ebiware


Carried out a mini study with 30 international students. All were asked about the types of instructional facilities used and what style of learning delivery they preferred. Fifteen were also administered the Guglielmino learning readiness scale. High motivation and involvement correlated with high self-directed readiness. He also wrote a short paper suggesting that instructional TV was best suited for self-directed learners (proactive) as there are not enough cues, etc. for reactive learners.


Hilda Patino


Used a research format similar to the project described above (Ebiware) with another group of international students. Similar results were obtained.


Ken Landers and Carol Cameron


This pair of individuals teamed to examine possible relationships between self-directedness and cognitive styles.




Lecture/Discussion Topics in Class*


Establishing a Learning Environment


·         Encourage informality and a spirit of mutuality

·         Create a non-threatening setting and work to reduce any initial anxiety that may exist

·         Arrange for comfortable seating, an attractive setting, and the maximization of adequate sight and sound qualities

·         Facilitate learners getting acquainted with each other through use of introductions, name tags, circle seating, etc.


Develop a Planning Mechanism


  • Use mutual planning techniques
    • Form small planning and discussion groups
    • Encourage cooperative efforts in the planning process
  • Provide for adequate input by learners in the planning effort to promote feelings of personal ownership


Diagnose Learning Needs and Interests


  • Provide some initial focus and guidance in determining basic or potential learning parameters
  • Facilitate some initial self-diagnosis by learners through self-rating forms or personal interviews
  • Help to refine the majority needs through small group discussions, decision-making techniques, or facilitator-student dialogues
  • Establish a mechanism for continuous diagnosis or rediagnosis
    • Develop periodic feedback devices
    • Encourage students periodically to re-examine their progress in relationship to need


Formulate Student and Group Objectives Based on Determined Needs


  • Provide a tentative outline of group objectives based on the needs assessed above and stated in measurable terms
    • Discuss the objectives in a large group setting or facilitate small group discussion of them
    • Revise the objectives as necessary
  • Facilitate the development of individual learner objectives in relation to the group objectives for maximum learner growth
    • Use a learning contract process (Knowles, 1975)
    • Obtain a personal commitment toward and ownership of the learning necessary to meet objectives


Design and Implementation of the Learning Experience


  • Promote the use of a wide variety of learning resources
    • Make available instructor-developed and instructor located materials
    • Use outside content specialists to meet any unique needs
    • Encourage learners to locate and provide learning resources to their peers
  • Promote self-directed inquiry and the use of resources outside the traditional learning environment
  • Help learners design appropriate experiences according to need and ability
    • Match objectives (via learning contracts) to appropriate resources
    • Promote peer examination and discussion of learning contracts
    • Provide instructor feedback on design appropriateness
  • Encourage the use of a variety of self-directed learning activities
    • Form study groups to focus on a single topic
    • Use reading logs, diaries, or related experiences
    • Promote mini-internships, field visits, interviews, etc.


Evaluate the Learning Experiences


  • Encourage individually determined evaluation techniques
    • Use peer group validation
    • Use evaluations by outside experts
    • Ask students to rediagnose their learning needs in terms of growth or change

·        Use mutually determined evaluations by the student and the instructor (through the learning contract)

·        Use non-graded or anonymous testing procedures where feasible

·        Provide continuous feedback on learner progress


Personal Approach of the Instructor


·         Be positive, supportive and helpful

·         Work to make the learner feel welcome

·         Maintain an environment of informality and levity

·         Help to promote learner confidence and self-respect


Sensitivity to Needs (Sensory, Physical, Perceptual)


  • Pay attention to the physical environment
    • Reduce distractions
    • Ensure that comfortable heating and proper ventilation exist
  • Be sensitive to declining vision difficulties in some learners
    • Ensure that lots of light is available
    • Use high contrast on visuals and handouts
    • Reduce glare or direct sunlight
    • Use large, bold print or type
    • Allow time for adjustment when going from light to dark or vice versa (showing a film for example)
  • Be sensitive to declining hearing problems for some learners
    • Use extra voice or media amplification
    • Be prepared to help some learners move closer to sound sources
  • Be sensitive to the manner of the presentation
    • Read material aloud where possible
    • Use combined auditory and visual presentation modes


Relating to the Needs and Experiences of Learners


  • Base the learning activities on the needs and interests of the learners
  • Help learners to relate new knowledge to past experiences
  • If text material is utilized, help learners tie the information to knowledge they have already
  • Be flexible in terms of differing needs, interests, and abilities that may exist


Attention to the Pace of Learning


  • Allow more time for all aspects of the educational activity
  • Keep sessions shorter, the discussion time of subject matter shorter, and present small amounts of information at anyone time
  • Keep the pressure of time at a minimum
  • Allow for longer periods of time between stimuli, for responding to questions, and for group discussions
  • Avoid sudden surprises or changes
  • Permit and promote self-pacing
  • Promote certainty, confidence, and success by moving from easy material to difficult (build on earlier successes)


Involving the Learner in the Learning Process


  • Facilitate the learner’s active involvement in all aspects of the learning process
  • Facilitate self-directed learning
    • Encourage self-directed determining of learning goals, learning approaches, and learning resources
    • Reduce learner dependency on the instructor and increase self-responsibility
    • Enhance the development of a positive self-concept
  • Promote self-motivation and learning efficiency
  • Utilize discovery techniques


Organization and Meaningfulness in the Learning Material


  • Be highly organized
    • Instructional objectives can help to focus and orient
    • Use pre-questions, outlines, study guides, or other forms of advanced organizing techniques
  • Help learners organize and reorganize their learning
    • Stress overlearning, differences between concepts, tying together of concepts, and relevancy of information as opposed to just memory work
    • Encourage learners and show them how to outline or take notes
    • Make organizing the material part of the learning process
    • Encourage practicing techniques
    • Explain the use of specific encoding procedures
  • Utilize various cuing devices
    • Use headings, summaries, review helps, etc.
    • Encourage the learners to develop various mediators or mnemonics (visual images, rhymes, acronyms, self designed coding schemes, etc.)
    •  Seek cues that are familiar or that can be tied to past knowledge
  • Utilize materials and information that will have real meaning to the learner
    • Use a highly stimulating approach that will appeal to several senses
    • Use concrete examples, based on past experiences of the learner where possible


Evaluation Related to the Learning Effort


  • Use recognition techniques as opposed to more traditional recall methods
  • Utilize multiple choice testing instead of essay
  • Minimize the chance of failure, the impact of making errors (test-retest, pass-retake, non-grading, etc.)
  • Provide regular feedback on progress
    • Utilize positive feedback techniques
    • Use review strategies
    • Use peer group feedback/evaluation techniques
  • Reduce or eliminate required homework and graded testing procedures



*Adapted from Hiemstra (1980) and Knowles (1980).




Learning Projects Interview Materials


Miscellaneous Notes for Interviewers


Do not interrupt the person’s list of learning projects in order to ask criterion questions unless it is clear that the person is far off track. Whenever there is a long pause, though, you may want to clarify the one, two, or three possible learning projects that have just been mentioned. Use all your insight and questioning skill in order to understand just what the real focus was. Try to become precise about just what the person was attempting or wanting to learn. Especially if he or she selects one of the methods or subjects from the lists, try to get him or her to their own phrase rather than ours. Record the desired knowledge and skill, the task or responsibility, the question or interest, or whatever the focus was.


Do not quarrel with the person’s decisions and data, but do sometimes make one or two attempts to check his or her understanding of the question or to clarify an answer. Record any doubts you have about the responses you obtain for later examination.


Whenever the person mentions some activity or some area of his or her life that you think might have produced other learning projects, too, ask about such possibilities.


ID ________

Community _____________________________________________


Gender __________   Race ___________  Social Class ______________  Living Arrangement ________________________________


(Introduce yourself. Say something like I’m helping the Adult Education Program of Syracuse University to discover ways to serve better the people of Syracuse. Our research is about people and the sorts of things they learn. We would also like to determine what are other things they would like to learn about in the future. Are you or is some person in the household 25 years of age or older? [Interview that person.]


I’m interested in discovering your learning efforts in the past year and your potential learning needs so that the Adult Education Program might be better prepared to help the people of Syracuse.)


What is your age? ___________     Marital status? _____________________  How many years of formal education (P) ____________


Other types of training or education (P) ____________________________________________________________________________


Profession or occupation (P) ____________________________________________________________________________


Many things stop people from taking a course of study, learning a skill, or following a topic of interest. Which of the following do you feel are important in keeping you from learning what you want to learn? I’ll read them to you and you may select as many as you would like by indicating yes or no.


____ COST


























Now I’m interested in listing the things you have tried to learn during the past year. When I say “learn” I don’t just mean learning the sorts of things that people learn in schools and colleges. I mean any sort of deliberate efforts at all to learn something or to learn how to do something. Perhaps you tried to get some information or knowledge – or to gain new skills or improve your old ones – or to increase your sensitivity or understanding or appreciation. Can you think of any efforts like this that you have made during the past 12 months.



















(P) Try to think back over all of the past 12 months – right back to __________ of last year. I am interested in any deliberate effort you made to learn anything at all. Anything at all can be included, regardless of whether it was easy or hard, big or little, important or trivial, serious or fun, highbrow or lowbrow.




(P) It doesn’t matter when your effort started, as long-as you have spent at least a few hours at it sometime since last month or so.





(P) We want to get as complete a list as possible, because we think that people make far more attempts to learn than anyone realizes. We can include any sort of information, knowledge, skill, or understanding at all that you have tried to gain -- just as long as you spent at least a few hours at it sometime during the past 12 months.





(P) Can you recall any other efforts to learn that were related to your home or your family? Anything related to your hobbies or recreation? Your job? Your responsibilities in various organizations, or clubs, or in a church or synagogue, or on a committee, or some other responsibilities? Anything related to some teaching, writing, or research that you do outside of your job?





(P) Going back over the past 12 months, can you recall any other times that you tried to learn something by reading a book? When you read newspapers or magazines, do you read certain topics or sections because you want to remember the content? Have you tried to learn anything else from booklets, pamphlets, or brochures? From memos, letters, instructions, or plans? From technical or professional literature? From material from a library? From workbooks or programmed instruction? From an encyclopedia or other reference source?















(P) Have you learned anything at all from a medical doctor? From a lawyer? From a counselor or therapist? From a financial or tax advisor? From a social worker? From a private teacher? From a specialist or expert? From individual private lessons?





(P) Have you learned anything from documentaries or courses on television? From TV news or some other TV programs? From radio? In a theatre? Have you tried to learn from conversations? Or from asking questions: that is, have there been any topics or areas that you have tried to learn about from your friends or other people? Have you deliberately sought to learn by seeking out stimulating individuals? Have you tried to learn anything from your spouse or other relatives? From a neighbor?





(P) Perhaps you have learned something in some group or other? Perhaps in some meeting or discussion group? From attending a conference? From a retreat or weekend meeting? From an institute or short course or workshop? From a committee or staff meeting? From taking a course? From attending evening classes, or lectures, or a speech? From a correspondence course? From attending a club or group meeting?





(P) Perhaps tape recordings or phonograph records or "a language lab” helped you learn something during the past year? Have you learned in a church or synagogue? In a college, university, or school? In some community organization? In a company or factory or office? In a government program? In an exhibition, museum, or art gallery? In some vacation spot?




Now I have a list of some of the things people learn (Sheet One). It may remind you of other things that you have tried to learn during the past 12 months. Take as long as you want to read each word, and to think about whether you have tried to learn something similar. (Give him or her the sheet, or read it aloud if necessary.)



OK, that gives us a fairly complete list. If you suddenly think of something else you have learned, though, please tell me.



ID ________


Now I want to find out a bit more about each of your efforts to learn. Let's begin with the first one on the list. It was your efforts to learn ____________________ . Here is a sheet that will help us learn more about your efforts and estimate the number of hours that you spent at learning this, and the number of hours spent at planning and preparing for that learning. (Hand him or her the second sheet – Sheet Two.)


(If possible, pin down and record just what the learning segments were. For example, you could ask, "How did you go about learning this? How was it learned? What did you do? Was there anything else you did to learn _______________?" Examples that you might record to help understand the total effort are: Watched an expert, listened to a record, read, practiced, attended a meeting, etc. This list of activities is primarily for your benefit in helping the person esti­mate his or her time accurately: We do not need the data for any specific purpose other than it might help you later determine the subject matter source. In other words, don't make any special effort to get it or to record it, but on the other hand don't discard it either.)


(Ask for a time estimate in total number of hours. If the number of hours is below 14, check two criteria. First, "within some six-month period during the past year, did you spend at least five hours at the learning itself -- that is, at the ______________ learning effort." Second, "within some six-month period or shorter period during the past year, did you spend at least seven hours altogether on the learning effort?" If both criteria are met write “yes” and proceed; if both are not met write “no” and move to the next learning project.)


(Ask them to select whether they have been active or not active.)


(Determine their reason for undertaking the project. Ask, "in any of your efforts on the learning endeavor, was credit any part of your motivation? That is, did you hope to use any of your learning efforts for academic credit -- towards some degree, certificate, diploma, or grade achievement? (Pause) Was any of your learning directed toward passing a test, examination, or course -- or toward some license or a driving test? (Pause) Or was it toward some requirement or exami­nation or upgrading related to a job? (Pause) Or did you undertake the learning activity for your own enjoyment or self-improvement? Note: You will need to determine the primary reason.)


Now we are going to think about your learning effort and try to decide who or what was the director or leader. That is, who decided what you would learn – and how you would learn -- whenever you spent some time trying to learn? Here is a sheet explaining what I mean (Sheet Three).   (If no one resource was primarily responsible --51% or more -- classify it as mixed. If he or she does not seem to understand, or if you feel doubtful about the response, ask who the particular director or leader was. If you anticipate difficulty or if the learner asks, say that we are interested in whom the leader was for the past 12 months rather than earlier.)


(Finally, determine the major source of subject matter. That is, what resource provided most of the content -- a book, a pro ski in­structor, a discussion group, a television broadcast, etc?)


(Repeat for each learning project, recording the appropriate data.)


That completes the interview. Thank you very much for your time and assistance. I think your efforts will help to make education more meaningful in the lives of many adults.


Some things that people learn about!


1.      A sport or game; swimming; dancing; bridge

2.      Current events; public affairs; politics; peace; biography

3.      Sewing; cooking; homemaking; entertaining

4.      Driving a car

5.      Home repairs; woodworking; home improvement project; decorating and furniture

6.      A hobby or craft; collecting something; photography

7.      Raising a child; discipline; infant care; a child's education

8.      Nature; agriculture; birds

9.      Mathematics; statistics; arithmetic

10.  Speed reading; effective writing; public speaking; vocabulary; literature

11.  Science; astronomy; humans in space

12.  Health; physical fitness; posture; clothes; appearance

13.  History; geography; travel; some region, city, or neighborhood

14.  Personal finances; savings; insurance; investing; purchasing something

15.  Psychology; effective relationships with people; groups; leadership; socia1 skills

16.  Typing, data processing; mechanical skills

17.  Some personal problem; mental health; an emotional problem; an illness or medical condition

18.  Various careers; choosing an occupation; finding a job

19.  Gardening; landscaping

20.  Something related to a job or responsibility or decision

21.  Musical instrument; singing; music appreciation

22.  Professional or technical competence; sales skills; how to teach or supervise

23.  Some aspect of religion; ethics; philosophy; moral behavior

24.  Current changes in society; the future; problems in cities; pollution; sociology

25.  Relationships with the opposite sex; manners; marriage; relationships within the family

26.  Art; painting; architecture; the opera; movies; television

27.  Business management; economics; business ownership

28.  Sensory awareness; human potential; communication; understanding oneself; personal efficiency

29.  New techniques, a new way of doing something; an innovation

30.  Spanish; French; some other language

(Sheet One)



1. We need your best guess about the total amount of time that you spent at all aspects of this particular learning effort during the past 12 months. (Do this for each individual learning project)

Please include the time you spent reading -- listening -- observing -- or learning in some other way  -- if your main purpose during that activity was to gain and retain certain knowledge or skill. In other words, we will include all the time during which at least half of your total motivation was to gain certain knowledge or skill, and to retain it until at least two days later.

In addition to the time you spent at the actual learning itself, please include all the hours that you spent, during the past 12 months, at deciding about the learning, planning the learning, and preparing and arranging for it. This can include any time spent at deciding what to learn -- deciding how to learn -- deciding where to get help -- seeking advice about these decisions (from other people or from printed materials) -- traveling to some of the learning activities, such as a meeting or practice session or library -arranging appropriate conditions for learning -- choosing the right book or person for the actual learning -- obtaining that book or reaching that person.

Of course, you cannot remember exactly how many hours, so just give your best guess. If you wish, just choose the closest number from the following list:


1  3  6   10   20   30   40   50   60   70   80   90   100   120   140   160   180   or more



2. Which of these following two answers best describes this particular learning effort at the present time?


(A) NOT VERY ACTIVE -- that is, you have dropped it or completed it, or you have set it aside for a while (or you are spending much less time at it now than you were before)




(B) DEFINITELY ACTIVE -- that is, you are definitely continuing this learning effort right now, and you are spending about as much time as ever at it.













(Sheet Two)


There are four different sorts of learning efforts, according to who directs them. That is, a person's efforts to learn can be classified according to who was responsible for the day-to-day planning. We have to look at who planned or decided exactly what and how the person should learn at each session. For example, who decided what the person should read or hear, or what else he or she should do in order to learn?


1. Group-Planned Learning


In some learning projects, you may decide to attend a group and let the group (or its leader or instructor) decide what and how you learn during each session. A group may be of any size, with a minimum of five people. Examples might be lectures, study groups, workshops, small informal groups, or conferences.


2. One-to-one Learning


In some learning projects, the planning and deciding of what to learn and in what order is handled by one person, who helps the learner in a one-to-one situation. That is, there is one helper (or instructor, teacher, expert, or friend) and there is one learner. These two persons interact usually face-to-face, although it could be by telephone or by correspondence. Even if 2-4 learners were receiving individualized attention from one other person at the same time, it would be included here.


3. Material Resource Learning


In these learning projects, the major part of the detailed direction on what to learn and what to do at each session resides in some material resource, object, or nonhuman resource. A programmed instruction book, a set of tape recordings, or a series of TV programs are examples: The learner follows the programs or materials and they tell him or her what to do next.


4. Self-Planned Learning


In other learning projects, the learner him or herself retains the major responsibility for the day-to-day planning and decision-making. He or she may get advice from various people and use a variety of materials and resources, but he retains the responsibility for deciding what activities to try next, what to read, and what skill or knowledge should be next in the sequence. Instead of turning the job of planning over to someone else, he or she makes the day-to-day decisions alone.









(Sheet Three)


ID ________


Learning project name or number   ____________________________________________________________________________


How was 1t learned?   ____________________________________________________________________________


Number of hours?  _______________  (criteria check – does it meet the requirements for including)  _______________________


Not very active now ___________________   or  Definitely active now ____________________


Reason for project  ____________________________________________________________________________


Director of learning  ____________________________________________________________________________


Source of subject matter  ____________________________________________________________________________



Learning project name or number   ____________________________________________________________________________


How was 1t learned?   ____________________________________________________________________________


Number of hours?  _______________  (criteria check – does it meet the requirements for including)  _______________________


Not very active now ___________________   or  Definitely active now ____________________


Reason for project  ____________________________________________________________________________


Director of learning  ____________________________________________________________________________


Source of subject matter  ____________________________________________________________________________



Learning project name or number   ____________________________________________________________________________


How was 1t learned?   ____________________________________________________________________________


Number of hours?  _______________  (criteria check – does it meet the requirements for including)  _______________________


Not very active now ___________________   or  Definitely active now ____________________


Reason for project  ____________________________________________________________________________


Director of learning  ____________________________________________________________________________


Source of subject matter  ____________________________________________________________________________



Learning project name or number   ____________________________________________________________________________


How was 1t learned?   ____________________________________________________________________________


Number of hours?  _______________  (criteria check – does it meet the requirements for including)  _______________________


Not very active now ___________________   or  Definitely active now ____________________


Reason for project  ____________________________________________________________________________


Director of learning  ____________________________________________________________________________


Source of subject matter  ____________________________________________________________________________





April 29, 2005


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