Self-Directed Learning: Pedagogical Influences on Graduate Student Perspectives

Self-Directed Learning: Pedagogical Influences on Graduate Student Perspectives

Jeannine Kranzow (Department of Higher Education, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, USA) and T. Scott Bledsoe (Department of Graduate Psychology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2017070104
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Self-directed learning (SDL), while essential to graduate student success and continued professional development beyond the degree, is rarely addressed intentionally in the college curriculum. In this mixed-method study with 91 participants from two counseling-related degree programs, researchers examined the impact of integrating a unit focused on SDL. Students in both online and face-to-face courses reported their learning and experiences with the topic. Findings suggest that intentionally exposing students to SDL allows them to understand the concept and grow in awareness of its importance. Similar gains were reported regardless of course delivery format. Student perspectives discussed include student appreciation of the process of collaboration for professional growth, student understanding of the centrality of SDL for ongoing development, and student motivation to utilize SDL with those they work with in order to and expand personal agency.
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For decades, it has been recognized that today’s workforce requires self-directed learners (American Association of School Librarians, 2007; Fein, 2014; Guglielmino & Murdick, 1997), and many government policies, university mission statements, and accrediting organizations clearly state and recognize this need (Candy, 1991). “Accreditation standards for many professions now also examine preparation programs for evidence that they prepare their learners for continued, self-directed lifelong learning” (Guglielmino, 2008, p. 5). Among those touting self-directed learning’s essential role in our future are prominent medical schools including Boston University and Johns Hopkins (Boston University School of Medicine, n.d.; Johns Hopkins Medical School, n.d.).

The 1975 insights of Knowles continue to reverberate within the context of this fast-paced, ever changing, global society. Knowles (1975) stated,

We are entering into a strange new world in which rapid change will be the only stable characteristic… It is no longer realistic to define the purpose of education as transmitting what is known… The main purpose of education must now be to develop the skills of inquiry (p. 15).

Knowles’ words only ring truer with time. In order to be well-prepared for the current technological, global environments that students are entering, students must be self-directed simply to keep up with the rapid pace of information expansion (Fein, 2014). DuBravac (2015) highlights that “…digital data will transform the human experience” (p. 49). What do these increasing challenges and demands mean for those in teaching in higher education? Pedagogically, what can be done to assist our students in understanding the imperative nature of being a self-directed learner?



With this in mind, the purpose of this mixed method study was to examine the impact of integrating a unit on self-directed learning (SDL) research into graduate counseling coursework. There were two questions the researchers sought to answer in this study.

  • 1.

    To what extent does a unit on SDL impact graduate students in two different counseling-related helping fields?

  • 2.

    Can similar pedagogical intervention strategies related to SDL be used in both face-to-face and online course structures?

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