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In adult education, the concept of self-directed learning has great importance. This term arose in the field of adult education in the s and is still a widely used term in the field. Annual symposiums have been held by the International Society for Self-Directed Learning sincededicated to the promotion of self-directed learning.

The society also publishes an international journal of self-directed learning. A term of more recent origin is self-regulation, used by some authors sometimes interchangeably with self-direction. This review article focuses on the term self-directed learning, which is the term most frequently used in adult education. Many consider the tendency for self-direction to be a fundamental difference between children and adults in a learning situation. This article deals with some factors that affect the understanding of self-directed learning. At the beginning is given a short case story and an for different perceptions of self-directed learning.

This is followed by a clarification of different aspects of self-directed learning, such as why it is advisable, what affects the tendency to self-directed learning, and if self-direction is essentially innate or learned. The situational aspect is dealt with separately as a relatively self-contained aspect of self-directed learning. The presentation is based on a literature study.

The concept of self-directed learning has been present since my first contact with the field of adult education in the mids. To me, self-directed learning has always been there like a mantra in the field of adult education, showing up in literature and professional converse and debate. Despite this extensive focus in certain fora, I rarely met a learning situation where this approach was systematically used in practice. My experience tells me that self-directed learning has been a concept present in theory, discussions, and exchange of views, but seldom systematically put to practice in adult education.

For the last three decades, I have held a position in higher education. In this field, a challenge is how to de appropriate educational programs to increase student activity and student responsibility concerning their own learning. From my point of view, the situation in higher education is also an obvious reason for increased focus on self-directed learning. Research in the field of self-directed learning may form a useful reflection basis for this transformation and provide a good basis for constructive planning of student active learning.

The field of higher education requires a transformation from the authoritative role of the educator into the educator as a facilitator of learning. Self-directed learning should be a well-suited reflection basis for this shift. In my opinion, an essential condition for practical use of self-directed learning is to clarify all aspects of the concept, so that practice is not based on a limited understanding.

The purpose of this article is not to locate all relevant literature related to self-directed learning but to give a basic understanding of the field based on essential written material. This article is a narrative review based on secondary sources which fit for the purpose of clarifying the different aspects of self-directed learning. The main text section is broken down to subparts showing different aspects considered central to the field of self-directed learning.

The intention is to for these aspects in a unified presentation, to provide a quick overview. The principle of self-direction can be dated long back to England in the s, where terms such as self-helpself-improvementand self-education were used [ 1 ], p. However, there are obvious reasons to date the scholarly study of self-directed learning back to the beginning of the s.

This book made visible self-directed learning as an important part of adult learning [ 3 ]. Houle did not often use the term self-directed learning, but through his definition, he helped to create space for self-directed learning as a legitimate form of adult education, Brockett and Donaghy state [ 3 ].

In his definition of adult learning, he did not presuppose an educational agent to whom the learner should relate to. This understanding cleared the way for the term self-directed learning. Houle is also linked to self-directed learning through two of his doctoral graduates, Allen Tough and Malcolm Knowles. Tough was also the first one to give a comprehensive description of self-directed learning [ 45 ]. He concluded that adults spend a remarkable amount of time on what he called learning projects for the purpose of acquiring and maintaining specific characteristics and skills or changing in one way or another [ 6 ], p.

The learning can be performed through reading, listening, observation, course participation, reflection, exercise, or otherwise. In the mids, Knowles also published a book on self-directed learning [ 8 ]. Lindeman hardly used the term self-directed learning, but his works dealt with problems relevant to the field of self-direction. In the s, Candy [ 10 ] observed that the notion of self-direction had attained something of a cult status in the literature of adult education.

Self-directed learning is clearly a multifaceted concept that should not be approached through one perspective. According to Kerka [ 11 ], the biggest misconception may be in trying to capture the essence of self-directed learning in a single definition. Van der Walt [ 12 ] also points to the terminological confusion regarding this concept, which has led to communication difficulties about the subject of self-directed learning. Van der Walt concludes that researchers in the field of self-directed learning have two options.

One is to continue the terminological confusion by defining their understanding of the concept, or, as a second option, they can depart their research from the original definition of self-directed learning provided by Knowles and his colleagues [ 12 ], p. In the following, some notions of the self-directed learning concept are ed for. Self-directed learning entails individuals taking initiative and responsibility for their own learning. You are free to set goals and define what is worth learning. Self-directed learning can take place both inside and outside of formal educational institutions.

When teachers are involved, they should be facilitators of learning, not transmitters. What is common to most conceptualizations, according to Garrison [ 13 ], is the notion of some personal control over either or both the planning goals and the management support of the learning experience.

Garrison [ 14 ] also accentuates that the ultimate goal of self-directed learning is not necessarily fully autonomous learning because it is a matter of degree. Self-directed learning does not entirely depend on the opportunity but also the ability to make learning decisions. Therefore, according to Garrison, in a formal learning situation, it should be seen as a collaborative process between the teacher and the learner. Seen from a critical point of view, it is incomplete to reduce self-direction to a question of external control.

Brookfield [ 15 ] also criticizes self-directed learning for ignoring social context by focusing on the individual, isolated learner and stresses the social construction of knowledge and the social context of learning. Merriam and Caffarella [ 16 ] call for a wider recognition of the interdependent and collaborative aspects of self-directed learning.

Garrison [ 13 ] claims that the individual does not construct meaning in isolation; to take responsibility of your own learning does not necessarily mean to make decisions in isolation. Garrison [ 13 ], p. He states that meaningfulness and worthwhileness reflect the cognitive and social perspectives of an educational experience. Knowles [ 8 ], p. In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance 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.

According to Knowles, self-directed and teacher-directed learning are grounded on two different sets of assumptions, andragogical and pedagogical, respectively.

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A self-directed learner has a self-concept of a nondependent person. According to Knowles, pedagogy is traditionally considered as transfer of information and that outer influences determine the learning outcome [ 19 ], p. Both self-directed learning and andragogy are attempts to define adult education as a unique field of practice and differentiate the field from learning in general and childhood education in particular [ 19 ]. It should be mentioned that as early as the s, Rosenstock-Huessy used the andragogy concept to describe a new direction for adult learning.

To Rosenstock-Huessy, andragogy was a new kind of teaching, aimed at solving social problems and moving towards a better future [ 22 ], p.

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So, there is a link between those three great contributors to the field of adult education and learning. In her opinion, to be resourceful and independent is not similar to being self-directed. It also requires awareness about the learning process and the possibility to make critical judgement on the basis of knowledge of the limit for possible choices. Therefore, the development of judgement ability is central. It is possible to direct your own learning as technically competent without questioning the underlying norms.

In the future, we ought to differentiate between the techniques for self-direction and the inner change of consciousness which we might call self-directed learning [ 15 ]. However, in his opinion, there is also a risk in emphasizing a great extent of control of the purpose and intention of the learning activities. Even if this is one important premise of self-directed learning, adults may be tempted to enter into an intellectual journey without knowing the aim of this journey, he asserts.

Different perceptions of self-directed learning can also be expressed as dimensions, divided on the basis of different features or attributes of self-directed learning. Several authors have contributed to this sort of classification.

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Candy [ 26 ] uses two interacting dimensions in his definition of self-directed learning. One dimension is control within an institutional setting. The opposite extreme is where the learner has full control over the learning experience.

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According to Candy, self-direction is an outcome of the interaction between a person and the environment. In his opinion, the focus on autonomy has limited the understanding of self-directed learning, leading to a mismatch when implementing it in an educational setting. If the learner lacks appropriate skills or self-confidence for self-directed learning, the opportunity to be autonomous is purposeless. In this dimension, the student makes the decisions about learning, such as what is to be learned, what are the learning activities, when and where will the learning activities take place, and how to evaluate the learning outcomes.

Brockett and Hiemstra [ 27 ] also use two dimensions in their definition. The first one is personal responsibility in the teaching-learning process. In this dimension, self-direction is a process where learners assume primary responsibility for planning, implementing, and evaluating the learning process. In this dimension, self-directed learning is referred to as a goal. Learners may have control over their response to a situation even if they do not have control over the actual circumstances in which they need to react [ 2728 ]. There are many other definitions of self-directed learning.

Dehnad et al. This is part of the terminological confusion Van der Walt points to, which le to communication difficulties when discussing self-directed learning [ 12 ], p. Abdullah [ 30 ] states that there may be slight variations in how different educators define it, but a survey of the literature on the subject identifies several tenets that are central to the concept.

Self-directed learning views learners as responsible owners and managers of their own learning process [ 30 ]. Long [ 28 ] identifies three dimensions of self-directed learning: sociological, pedagogical, and psychological. The sociological dimension emphasizes the social isolation of the learner, claiming that self-directed learning is usually associated with social independence in the learning situation.

Then, learning will take place independently of others in a socially isolated situation [ 31 ], p. Web-based learning might be an example of self-directed learning in a sociological sense. A main point is that the learning activities should not be determined by one or another social authority. This is the autonomous, independent individual undertaking learning for personal growth [ 16 ]. Whether the learning can be defined as self-directed depends on the degree of freedom when it comes to determining learning goals and influence on planning, implementation, and evaluation, as well as other things associated with the pedagogical parts of learning activities.

Seen from the pedagogy side, self-direction can be learned and developed and is considered a goal. This means that self-directed learning can take place without social isolation. Self-directed learning can take place in groups as well or in cooperation with institutions or others. Neither social isolation nor total independence is necessary. Psychological self-direction is about the personal characteristics of the learner, including focus on necessary abilities and skills to carry out self-directed learning. Psychologically, self-directed learning is a question of to what extent the learner maintains an active control of the learning process.

The mental activities are in focus. The most important are not the external factors but the inner psychological control in the learning situation. Here, Long underlines the importance of the individual experiencing a personal control of the learning situation, despite external factors. Long [ 28 ] argues that psychological self-directedness is necessary for self-directed learning, meaning that the learner must take the responsibility for a critical judgement of the content.

In his view, when the learner is not in active control of the learning process, it is not psychological self-directedness.

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Long [ 28 ] claims that much of the discussion on dimensions of self-directed learning has focused on the sociological and pedagogical and that the psychological dimension is generally ignored. His focus is on the interaction of two dimensions, namely, pedagogical and psychological control. Pedagogical control, as he defines, is the degree of freedom to determine learning goals, seek resources, and set the mode of evaluation.

Psychological control, as he defines, is the degree of willingness to maintain active control of the learning process.

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Self-Directed Learning: A Core Concept in Adult Education