Self-Determined Learning Theory: Construction, Verification, and Evaluation

Self-Determined Learning Theory: Construction, Verification, and Evaluation

Self-Determined Learning Theory: Construction, Verification, and Evaluation

Self-Determined Learning Theory: Construction, Verification, and Evaluation


This volume brings together four semi-autonomous bodies of research (choice, self-determination, self-regulation, and self-management) to form a new theory of self-engaged learning entitled, Self-Determined Learning Theory. This theory explains why and how students self-engage. It identifies the factors that give students the sense of control over their learning that is needed for sustained, adaptive, and ultimately successful learning. It begins by describing the characteristics of disengaged learners, then describes and illustrates self-determined learning theory within both normal and special populations. It then examines the theory's predictive value across several special population contexts and then concludes with a critique of the theory's credibility and worth.

Divided into three sections--theory construction, theory verification, and theory evaluation--this volume is organized using the four steps of a previous book, Learning to Theorize: A Four Step Strategy. Step 1 defines a problem of not understanding something as discrepancy between what is known and not known about a circumstance. Step 2 searches for information and explanations to change the condition of not knowing into a condition of knowing. Step 3 evaluates the credibility and worth of the explanation constructed in Step 2. Step 4 adjusts existing beliefs so they are consistent with the new theory.

Although aimed primarily at leaders in special education, it should also appeal to researchers and scholars in psychology, educational psychology, and school psychology who are interested in the applications of self-regulated learning theory--in this case to special populations.


We wrote this preface to prepare you for the task that lies ahead, which is to introduce to you a different way of explaining learning. We appreciate that there may be obstacles to accepting our explanation, mainly because there are many beliefs about learning you could hold that are different from the one in this book. Knowing this, we ask you to set aside those beliefs for the next 14 chapters. Then, after reviewing our case for self- determined learning theory, you can decide for yourself whether those beliefs need adjusting in light of what you have learned. We look forward to your review and, of course, any adjustments you may make toward adopting our explanation for learning.

In the upcoming chapters you will learn that self-determined learning theory is based on the claim that learning is adjustment. We explain this by showing a causal connection between opportunities to learn, engagement in those opportunities, adjustments to them, and learning. These factors function as follows. Opportunities for gain provoke engagement, engagement affects adjustments, and adjustments determine what is learned. This is self-determined learning theory in a nutshell. It explains why, how, and what people learn. People learn when they are provoked by an event that interrupts their goal pursuits—the why of learning. They engage the event by altering their expectations, choices and actions to control the event—the how of learning. And they adjust by altering their beliefs and patterns of responding to the event—the what of learning.

Self-determined learning theory explains this process of learning through adjustment by claiming that when provocative opportunities are . . .

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