Developing Self-Directed Learning to Cope With Open and Distributed E-Learning

Developing Self-Directed Learning to Cope With Open and Distributed E-Learning

Bernadette Winefrede Geduld (North West University, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9316-4.ch005


Self-directed learning is a significant requirement for the development of lifelong learning and has globally developed into a vital role in academic learning. In this chapter, the author will firstly reflect on the social, cultural, educational, and economic characteristics of ODeL students studying through an open and distributed e-learning model. The purpose of this chapter is to reflect on various skills such as cognitive, organizational, emotional, and information communication technology skills that studying through an open and distributed e-learning model (ODeL) demands. A few situational challenges stemming from students' social, cultural, and previous educational contexts are discussed. Thereafter, the concept, self-directed learning, as a requirement for successful academic achievement in ODeL is presented. Lastly, instructional strategies are recommended to support and enhance students' self-directed learning to empower them to overcome the academic challenges in open and distributed e-learning.
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The South African education sectors are struggling to provide quality education due to the education crisis they are facing. This education crisis is manifesting through, among others, high dropout and failure rates in higher education (National Development Plan, 2030). In an effort to manage the crisis and the socio-economic and other consequences thereof, the South African government embarked on a national plan to provide the highest quality education that offers life-changing skills and knowledge to all South Africans (The National Planning Commission, 2012).

The implementation of policies that widen access to open distance education (ODL) is one of the strategies employed by the South African government to provide quality education (The National Planning Commission, 2012). ODL, also referred to as “online learning”, “e-learning” or “open and distributed e-learning” (ODeL), is viewed as a flexible, promising and practical strategy to address issues of access to higher education (Morolong, 2018). However, access to and flexibility in accommodating the masses who were previously deprived of the opportunity for higher education do not guarantee academic success and come with many challenges (Unisa, 2008).

Briggs, Clark, and Hall (2012) aver that the transition to higher education may be primarily challenging for mature students with families, students who are the first generation to go to university, and students from ethnic minorities that are underrepresented in the student population. In the same vein, Hassel and Ridout (2018) attribute high failure rates and dropout at higher education institutions to challenges resulting from students being ill-prepared to manage the transition from controlled, teacher-driven school learning environments to independent learning or self-directed learning, as required in higher education. These authors claim that the biggest challenge for students entering higher education is taking responsibility for their own learning, since the greatest portion of learning in ODeL environments takes place outside the institutions (Geduld, 2014). Students who are unable to cope with the cognitive, organisational, and emotional skills demands that are required in ODel may therefore experience difficulty with performing academically (Simpson, 2012). Cognitive, organisational, and emotional skills entail, for example, learning strategies for literacy and numeracy, other abilities to handle work pressure and the demands of family life, the organisation of the learning environment, and prioritisation skills to manage time, stress, motivation and help-seeking.

The abovementioned examples of cognitive, organisational and emotional skills are closely linked with self-directed learning skills. Self-directedness refers to students being in control of their studies and applying self-regulated and metacognitive processes such as planning, goal setting, task analysis, monitoring, and evaluation and reflection of their own progress during the execution of learning tasks (Loyens, Magda, & Rikers, 2008). Similar to the requirements of ODeL, self-directed learning requires that students are able to manage their time, to work both independently and with others, to persist, and to manage personal stress and motivation for the task at hand. ODeL students should also have the ability to overcome the barriers presented by non-mother tongue education, to seek information from different sources, and to create a positive learning environment for optimum study (Geduld, 2016).

As explained in the foregoing discussion, self-directed learning is a prerequisite for academic success in ODeL (Vrugt & Oort, 2008). Developing self-directed learning in order to cope with ODeL can therefore be seen as the metaphorical two sides of the same coin, as the same skills that students require to cope with academic, financial, administrative, and motivational challenges in ODeL are also required to develop as a self-directed person. In this chapter, I draw on Botha (2014), who describes adult learner self-directedness as the capacity to pre-emptively be an active agent in one’s own learning and growth.

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