From School-Directed Learning to Self-Directed Learning

Adaptability, flexibility, a growth mind-set and self-directed learning (SDL) skills have gained tremendous relevance since early 2020 when lockdowns around the world translated into school closures and emergency online teaching. Self-directed learning is defined using Knowles’ (1975) work as techniques where students set goals for their learning, and identify and use appropriate resources and learning materials to achieve these goals.

The Transition to Self-Directed Learning

As classrooms and teachers moved to online spaces, they met learners who were highly familiar and comfortable in such environments, but who had often not used these spaces to support school-related learning endeavours. Using a device for school-related learning is after all rather different than using it to learn a new game or how to engage on social media. In a short time, many learners had to adapt to become self-directed in their school tasks, to set goals and to pace themselves to complete assignments. In some instances, this meant managing their time and task-completion to meet goals set by teachers, but eventually one would hope that this would mean becoming co-creators of their curriculum and learning.

The Assessment

Having emerged from emergency online teaching, we wondered to what extent education practices evolved to support the ongoing development of self-directed learning skills. We surveyed educators in four African countries about their beliefs and perceptions around teaching and learning, and their assessment practices. 42 school teachers and teacher educators from higher education institutions participated in the online survey and follow-up interviews. Using the Concerns-Based Adoption Model we analysed the results. Findings indicated that although educators often scored high on personal use of technologies, this did not often correlate to high levels of use of strategies to support students’ self-directed learning or assessment practices to achieve this. Thematic analysis of the responses indicated that these educators valued the ideals of self-directed learning as “[t]aking charge of your own learning, resources and outcomes’. However, this was not reflected in their planning, suggesting that while the educators value self-directed learning ideals such as independence, self-determinism and control of the learning process, they did not prioritise the development of learners’ competencies and skills to achieve this.

Written by Dr I. Tarling, TOGI Lecturer