Self-Directed Learning in Family Medicine

Self-Directed Learning in Family Medicine

Theresa J. Barrett (New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0164-0.ch008
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Self-directed learners are able to recognize their learning needs, set their learning goals, identify the resources necessary to accomplish those goals, implement learning strategies, and evaluate the results of their efforts (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991). Self-directedness is a skill that many adult learners possess. In an age when biomedical knowledge is increasing at a pace never before seen in human history, being a self-directed learner is not just a necessary skill, it is a critical one for family physicians. This chapter provides a brief overview of several self-directed learning models and the characteristics of self-directed learners, discusses self-directed learning in the context of continuing medical education, and provides an assessment of family physicians as self-directed learners.
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Framework For Learning

Constructivism asserts that learning is an active process that facilitates the construction of learning through personal experiences, dialogue, and social interactions (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Cognitive change and learning occur when a situation or an action does not produce the expected result and causes perturbation, that is, disturbance or disequilibrium, which then leads to a change that will eliminate the perturbation and create a new equilibrium (von Glasersfeld, 1989).

Constructivism had its origin in two philosophical roots; ontology, the nature of being, and epistemology, the origin, limits, foundation, and validity of knowledge (Oxford, 1997). The central elements linking these philosophies is the assumption that because no two people can have the same understanding of an experience, each actively constructs a personal version of reality and knowledge of the world (Cobb, 2000; Owen, 2002).

The idea of constructivism was first presented by the 18th-century Italian philosopher Vico (Cobb, 2000), whose central argument was that in order to know something, an individual had to build knowledge of it through experience. This argument was advanced by Kant, an 18th-century German idealist who put forth the notion that the world exists only in people’s perceptions of it (as cited in Oxford, 1997). Kant laid the groundwork for Piaget, the most significant contributor to the theory of constructivism (as cited in Cobb, 2000).

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