Sunday, June 15, 2014

Developing Self-Direction in Online Learning

Two great texts this term...
I am taking two electives for my doctoral work this summer, and both are related to online teaching and learning. One course is titled Online Teaching for Adult Learners, and the name says it all. Since I am already teaching adult learners in our online M.Ed. program, I'm taking this one to (hopefully) learn more, refine my skills, and get better. This week in class, we considered adult learning theory, and in particular how adults learn in online contexts. We read a variety of articles and chapters to build a foundation for this course, and what follows is a synthesis of those readings.

Our professor provided a number of prompts to stir our reflections in response to this week's readings, and I was particularly interested by the personal application I could make to this question:

Where are you on the Grow’s Staged Self-Directed Learning Model described in Ch. 2 of Stavredes? What is the implication of this model for you as an online teacher?

Self-directed learning seems to be a key aspect of learning in the online setting, at least as an adult learner. Stavredes (2011) indicated that “many online courses are designed based on the assumption that adults are self-directed; however this is not always the case” (p. 15). Stavredes then explained Grow’s Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) model: a series of four stages moving from dependent learner, to interested learner, to involved learner, to self-directed learner. This shift from a stance of reliance on the instructor to a stance of responsibility for one’s own learning makes sense to me, and actually rings true with my own experience.

As I reflect on my own growth over my first year of my Ed.D. work in this online program, I can see that I have definitely become more of a self-directed learner. I think that when I began the program last fall, I would describe myself as being at stage 2. While I had a background working with technology in education, I might not have had specific prior knowledge of the underlying philosophies, theories, and terminology in the field. I was interested, excited, and ready to work, but I also recognize that I was dependent on my professors at first. I was grateful that those first two courses I took were highly structured, and that the professors were actively engaged in providing me with feedback and direction.

However,  I now realize that after a Skype session with one of my professors two weeks in to that first semester, I was greatly encouraged in my abilities to learn on my own terms. By the end of that first semester, I think I had shifted into stage 3 of Grow’s SSDL model. I had a much stronger sense of clarity on my goals and intended outcomes from the program. This clarity and focus served me well as I moved into my second semester: I was better able to articulate my own ideas in the courses I was taking, conducting my own research and sharing my own experiences with my classmates. I would say that by the end of the second semester, I had definitely moved toward stage 4, where I was regularly taking full responsibility for my own learning.

I am not sure that I am consistently operating at stage 4 in Grow’s SSDL model. I certainly am taking a more active decision-making role in my own learning now, but I also recognize that I find my instructors’ feedback very motivating, and the structure of the course is a real benefit for me as well.

As I think about how Grow’s SSDL model might apply to my own online teaching practice, I know I will be mindful of this shift for my own students. I see three areas where this will impact my online teaching. First, I will want to have a clearly-defined structure to my courses throughout their duration. This will help all of my students, regardless of their level of self-direction. I will want to be mindful that not all students will require the same level of direction from me, but all students can benefit from a well-structured course.

Second, I think the role of specific, actionable feedback–especially early in the course–is essential for moving students from more dependent to more self-directed learning. With specific feedback about the relative strengths and weaknesses of a particular assignment, students will be more able to work independently in the future, being confident that they are meeting expectations.

Finally, while I will deliberately plan a structure for the course, I will also design opportunities for choices and flexibility. Giving students a voice and opportunities to take responsibility for how they conduct their work fosters self-directed learning.

It is interesting to see how well Grow’s SSDL model matches my own experiences so far. I am pleased by my own development toward greater self-direction!

Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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