Making Sense of the Data
As I studied the data, a number of themes stood out as playing a key role in a learners readiness to engage in self-directed learning. One recurring theme surrounded the fact that a learner needs to already possess a certain amount of knowledge on a subject before he/she is capable of making informed choices about which learning path to take. Providing learners with a vision of the content possibilities, along with some idea of what those possibilities might entail seemed to be central to this theme.
It also became clear that learners who experienced difficulty in the self-directed learning environment tended to rely on the teacher to give direction on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. This seemed to go hand in hand with trying to get away with doing less. The motivation to complete the task focused on meeting the teacher expectations, with little thought given to the quality of learning or personal growth. An example illustrates this point. A learner was thrilled when I told her it was entirely up to her as to how she could use a calculator. The feeling was short lived, however, when I pointed out to her that it all depended on what she decided was a learning goal. If she wanted practice in the use of a calculator, or if she was engaged in high level problem solving, and didnt want the mechanics of arithmetic to get in her way, then the use of a calculator would definitely be called for. On the other hand, if she was working on building her own skills in arithmetic operations, then completing the problems with the calculator might not match the learning goal. She reluctantly chose to put the calculator away, and carried on with her work. Coaching each learner towards identifying personal learning goals, and helping learners evaluate learning choices in terms of how they might work towards achieving that personal learning goal seemed to be crucial. Furthermore, explicit negotiation of the roles in a learner-led, teacher assisted model is needed in moving a learner towards self-direction.
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