Promoting and Implementing Self-Directed Learning (SDL): An Effective Adult Education Model

Promoting and Implementing Self-Directed Learning (SDL): An Effective Adult Education Model

Victor C.X. Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Patricia Cranton (University of New Brunswick, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/javet.2012070102
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Abstract

Although Westerners have used over 200 terms to describe self-directed learning (SDL), it is educators in Confucius heritage cultures (CHC) that have successfully promoted and implemented SDL. This article argues that for learners in the Western cultures, especially in the United States to catch up with learners in other industrialized nations including newly emerged China and India, SDL must be promoted and implemented at all levels of education, not only within adult education. Amongst theories/models, SDL is the single most popular model that helps learners master skills for the sake of competency development. The goal in learning is to achieve the changed status on the part of learners or “perspective transformation.” Without implementing SDL, it may be hard to implement the theory of transformative learning. SDL and transformative learning are intertwined.
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Introduction

In no other fields of education is self-directed learning (SDL) promoted and implemented more than in adult education. In no other fields of education can you find conferences closely related to SDL than in adult education. In adult education conferences, SDL is still discussed at length, and in practice, self-directed learning is commonly implemented. SDL as a model is taught in almost all adult education courses on methods and strategies for teaching, and it is often addressed in research in adult education. As of February, 2012, the 26th international conference on SDL was held in Florida, USA, where international adult educators presented their research related to promoting and implementing SDL (International Society for Self-Directed Learning, 2012). A search of the literature reveals that over 200 different names have been given to SDL. All these different names address the same concept, “self-concept” in adult education.

Why is such SDL so popular in adult education especially in Western countries (i.e., North America, West Europe and other English speaking countries)? In these Western countries, SDL is directly related to the cultural norm of “independence.” People, young and old, living in these countries are encouraged to learn to live independently. Competition is valued over collaboration; autonomy is valued over connectedness. People are “frowned upon” if they choose to depend on others such as parents or relatives, which could be the cultural norm in some other countries. People can be taught to become independent. For the most part, people learn to be independent via SDL. SDL has become a powerful model in terms of maximizing learning on the part of learners.

As powerful as it is, why has SDL not helped produce the best learning products especially in the United States? The Nation at Risk Report of 1983 indicated that our high school students did not compare with students in other industrialized nations. The No Child Left Behind Report of 2002 brought educators’ attention to the same problem. While the Nation at Risk Report was generated as the result of the former Soviet Union successfully launching “Sputnik,” the No Child Left Behind movement came out as the result of two emerging economic power houses, China and India. In both cases, the United States felt an imminent threat coming from other military and economic powers. For the first time, students (15 year olds) from mainland China participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares the performance of 15-year-olds from 60 nations and half a dozen so-called regional economies (Mervis, 2010). Chinese students took the world by storm: they were the first prize winners in reading, mathematics and science. The US students, in contrast, ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math. While some scholars/researchers quickly pointed out some reasons as to why Chinese students shone like this for the first time in history, no scholars/researchers have touched on the compelling reason, that is, SDL as a driving force behind Chinese students’ accomplishments in a second language, English. While such as reasons as more time spent in schools, more efforts made on the part of the learners and higher expectations from teachers and parents all count, none is more important than SDL initiated by the Chinese learners themselves.

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