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Posts Tagged ‘sdl

I fished this useful resource, The Four Stages Of The Self-Directed Learning Model, from my Twitter stream recently.

My critique is not so much the model but the temptation to use a descriptive model prescriptively. It is like history repeating itself with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Some folks interpret the model to mean that one should start at stage 1 and move up progressively.

What is wrong with prescriptive interpretations? For one thing, that there may be a fixed starting point, and for another, a directionality of progression.

Presuming that most people start at ground zero is like telling someone with access to a fibre optic Internet connection to start with dialup access, move on to DSL, and then to cable.

The problem with stages is that they are presented like stairs. If you skip stairs in real life, you risk injury. That mindset can get transferred to something like a model for self-directed learning (SDL).

Using the step-like analogy, do people not also walk down stairs? Some people will place value in the stages and typically higher is better.

This may be true of some models, but SDL is not a mono-directional process. You can be at stage 4 for something you are passionate about, but at stage 1 for something you are just learning. You are not at stage 2.5 on average.

You can move in between stages depending on the circumstances. Are you alone by choice or circumstance? Are you in the presence of knowledgeable others? Where you are in the spectrum of SDL is contextual and needs based.

Models can be misleading even though they may not be designed that way. Perhaps it is our need to simplify or compartmentalize that create problems.

Perhaps we need to be model literate. Perhaps, more simply, stage-like simplification is a step (ha!) towards more continuum-oriented, systemic thinking.

At the end of 2012, I tweeted this in response to a slew of other tweets I was reading about self-directed learning (SDL). There are too many misperceptions and malpractice with SDL implementations.

Like how SDL is just one concept or practice. It is not and I recommend this resource as a good start to SDL (but it is by no means an end to learning about SDL).

Or, if you are sold on the idea that SDL is a spectrum (Gibbons, 2002*), how it can remain teacher-directed (when it should evolve to be purely learner-directed).

Or for SDL to be developed in the realm of formal learning (when it is more common in informal learning contexts).

Or how you can teach learners to be self-directed (when what you need to do is draw that innate behaviour out of them because schooling has strangled it half to death).

Or that SDL is somehow a 21st century skill (when our Homo species has had to rely on it since becoming sapient).

*Gibbons, M. (2002). The self‐directed learning handbook: Challenging adolescent students to excel. San Francisco, CA: Jossey‐Bass.

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Jeffrey Cufaude believes that all learning is self-directed learning (SDL) in his TEDx talk, Life’s a great teacher, are you a great student?

Even without watching the video or processing educational psychology tomes, some independent thought might reveal very simply that learning is what happens in the learner; teaching is what a teacher tries to do.

No matter what teachers do (or do not do), student will not learn (or learn). If students learn at all, it is because they want to or see the point.

I do not think tests ensure that students learn anything at all. Learning happens when mindset, attitudes, and/or behaviours change. A lot of test-taking behaviour is to cram as quickly as possible only to forget just as quickly once the test is over.

Memorization is part of learning, but it is not all of learning.

Folks who find out more about SDL discover that other folks have defined it to be a spectrum ranging from teacher-initiated activity to full independence. I think we kid ourselves into thinking there is a spectrum.

Break the phrase apart: Self. Directed. Learning. Not teacher-led, prompted, or organized. I think a teacher comes into the SDL picture only when the self-directed learner includes the teacher as a resource.

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I am writing this blog entry later than usual because I wanted to observe a group of students using iPads for Math in a local school earlier today.

Amongst many other things, the lesson was designed with self-directed learning (SDL) in mind. Unfortunately, I saw very little evidence of SDL. That is not just a critique of the classroom I just observed but many other lessons or plans that make the same claim.

Where do they falter in SDL?

In most cases the teachers tend to have a very conservative view of SDL as the lessons are still heavily scaffolded or teacher-controlled. The references are provided, the processes laid out, the worksheets ready and waiting. How much self direction can students make in such environments?

It’s difficult for the teachers to let go. There are issues of trust, time on task, traditional tests to answer to… the list goes on.

But the point of technology-mediated pedagogies is to change the way teaching, learning and testing are done, not to maintain the status quo.

I always tell teachers this: If you aren’t going to change things, don’t use technology. If you use technology for its own sake, your students will see through it, the effort will not be sustainable and you will be frustrated.

So teachers must first learn to let go when it comes to technology-mediated SDL. To help them let go, I ask them two simple questions:

  • Where in the SDL spectrum does the learning activity lie? (Rate from 1 to 10, 10 being the most independent.)
  • Where on the SDL spectrum would you like to see your learners?

SDL is less about what the teacher can teach and more about what the students can discover. If we keep our eyes on the prize, we will find ways to get them there and we need not (and should not) hand-hold them all the way.


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