Self-Directed Learning by Undereducated Adults
Terry, Marion, Educational Research Quarterly
In 2002-03, a qualitative study examined the experiences of 70 stakeholders connected to two community-based adult literacy programs in Manitoba, Canada. Self-directed learning was one of several elements that these research participants considered essential to the learning process. These literacy stakeholders defined self-directed learning as a combination of factors related to giving learners choices over what, how, and when to learn. They saw self-selected subject areas, assignment topics, learning pace, and attendance schedules as means to nurture self-direction by adult literacy students and other adult learners. This article uses these research participants' understandings of self-directed learning as a foundation for making conclusions and recommendations that should be of interest to readers associated with literacy programs and other adult education settings.
In 2002-03, a qualitative study examined the experiences of stakeholders connected to two community-based adult literacy programs in Manitoba, Canada. Self-directed learning was one of several elements that these research participants considered essential to the learning process. This article uses these stakeholders' understandings of self-directed learning as a foundation for making conclusions and recommendations that should be of interest to readers associated with literacy programs and other adult education settings.
All given names in this article, including program titles, are pseudonyms. The following definitions of terms apply, in accordance with their use by the study's 70 program stakeholders. The 37 learners were adult literacy students (18 men and 19 women). The 2 coordinators/instructors were equivalent to teaching school principals. The 11 other staff were paid and volunteer instructors and office support staff. The 7 parents/significant others were learners' close relatives and friends. The 2 administrators were volunteer advisory board members. The 8 referral agents were government and community agency representatives who referred learners to the programs. The 3 provincial funding agents were the government representatives responsible for administering annual literacy grants.
Review of the Literature
The literature describes adults as having needs for independence (Boulmetis, 1999; Ntiri, 1999) and autonomy (Kerka, 2002; Perin, 1999) that color their academic identities. Adults want to be actively involved in classroom processes (Norton, 2001; Saskatchewan Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training, 2002), which means taking responsibility for their own learning (Bonnett & Newsom, 1995; Rosenthal, 1990). Bonnett and Newsom associate this responsibility with me change process that accompanies learning, and Rosenthal contrasts active and passive learning according to the degree of control a learner assumes for his/her education. For Garrison (1997) and Knowles, Holton, and Swanson (1998), self-directed learning is a natural part of the psychological and social development that defines adulthood. Hatcher (1997) correlates self-direction with "deep" learning, and Garrison views self-monitoring of cognitive and metacognitive processes as a prerequisite for self-directed learning. Billington (1990) reports that adults experience heightened "ego growth" (p. 14) in self-directed learning programs.
Totally self-directed adult learners plan, control, and evaluate their own learning (Hatcher, 1997), but not all adults are fully responsible, self-directing students. Merriam (2001) has replaced the notion that all adults should be self-directed with an image of individuals occupying different positions on a continuum of self-direction under different life and learning circumstances. Kerka (1994) writes that this image of differentially self-directed learning as an individually determined phenomenon is "fairer" (p. 3) than expecting all learners to be fully self-directed. Knowles et al. (1998) acknowledge that self-direction depends on one's levels of psychological and social maturity, as generated by the assumption of adult life roles, and on whether one maintains an internal or external locus of control. …