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SDL Timeline

Page history last edited by Jeff Beard 14 years, 7 months ago
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Historical Timeline for Self-Directed Learning in Adult Education


From the beginning of time...

  • In classical antiquity, Self-study played an important part in the lives of such Greek philosophers as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Some historical SDL included Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Descartes. Social conditions in Colonial America and a corresponding lack of formal educational institutions so many people have to learn on their own (Hiemstra, 1994).



  • 1840- in the United States, Craik documented and celebrated the self-education efforts of several people showing that early scholarly efforts to understand self-directed learning took place some 150 years ago (Hiemstra, 1994).
  • 1895- in Great Britain, Smiles published a book entitled Self-Help, that applauded the value of personal development (Hiemstra, 1994).


Early 1900s

  • 1928- E.L. Thorndike and colleagues authored the book Adult Learning and it was the first major study of adult learning and concluded that learning peaked at 45 instead of the age of 20 as was previously believed. This study kicked off an effort to understand adult learning ability (Salkind, 2008, p. 10)

  • Howard McClusky, Cyril Houle, Malcolm Knowles...



  • 1961- Houle's (1961) The Inquiring Mind, Houle interviewed 22 adult learners and classified them into three categories based on reasons for participation in learning: (a) goal-oriented, who participate mainly to achieve some end goal; (b) activity-oriented, who participate for social or fellowship reasons; (c) learning-oriented, who perceive of learning as an end in itself. It is this latter group that resembles the self-directed learner identified in subsequent research.(Hiemstra, 1994).
  • 1961- Rogers work with "client-centered" therapy with a major goal helping people to become more self-directed. Rogers definition of self-direction "means that one chooses and then learns from the consequences" (Rogers, 1961, p. 171).

  • 1965- Johnstone and Rivera's (1965) Volunteers for Learning



  • 1971- Allen Tough's (1971) The Adult Learning Projects publication is thought be some to be the point of SDL becoming a vital part of education literature (Brockett et al., 2000, p. 4).
  • 1975- Knowles published Self-directed Learning, provided foundational definitions and assumptions that guided much subsequent research: (a) self-directed learning assumes that humans grow in capacity and need to be self-directing; (b) learners' experiences are rich resources for learning; (c) individuals learn what is required to perform their evolving life tasks; (d) an adult's natural orientation is task or problem-centered learning; (e) self-directed learners are motivated by various internal incentives, such as need for self-esteem, curiosity, desire to achieve, and satisfaction of accomplishment (Hiemstra, 1994).
  • 1979- The first attempt to better understand learning-oriented individuals was made by Tough, A Canadian researcher and one of Houle's doctoral students. His dissertation effort to analyze self-directed teaching activities and subsequent research with additional subjects resulted in a book, The Adult's Learning Projects. This work has stimulated many similar studies with various populations in various locations (Hiemstra, 1994).



  • 1980- Gibbons, Bailey, Cameau, Schmuck, Symour, and Wallace conducted a content analysis of the biographies of 22 individuals who obtained expertise in their field without formal training. The biographies included Walt Disney, Virginia Wolff, and Malcom X. They concluded that assumptions underlying formal  schooling and self-directed learning are different (Owen, 2002).
  • 1984- Spear and Mocker's work on organizing circumstances showed how important it is to understand a learner's environmental circumstances in promoting self-directed learning (Hiemstra, 1994).
  • 1984 & 1985- The Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI), a 24-item Likert scale, grew out of Oddi's concern over the lack of a theoretical foundation for understanding personality characteristics of self-directed continuing learners (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991).
  • 1987- Long and his colleagues established an annual International Symposium on Self-Directed Learning. The Symposia have spawned many publications, research projects, and theory building efforts by researchers throughout the world (Hiemstra, 1994).
  • 1988- Houle acknowledged that his research (1961) The Inquiring Mind stimulated new topics for investigation in adult education (Owen, 2002).



  • 1991- Brockett and Hiemstra developed the "Personal Responsibility Orientation" (PRO) based on the premise that self-direction in learning refers to both the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner, where the individual assumes primary responsibility for a learning experience" (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 24).
  • 1991- Pilling created the Self-Directed Learning Test named the Self-Directed Learning Percecption Scale (SDLPS)
  • 1997- Guglielmino developed the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS), an instrument subsequently used by many researchers to measure self-directed readiness or to compare various self-directed learning aspects with numerous characteristics (Hiemstra, 1994).



  • 2005- World Wide Web- Allen Tough commented that the web is "the natural foundation for adult learning" (Donaghy, 2005, p.192).
  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), The Web affords us a unique opportunity in the history of education to harness the energy expended in discrete, local efforts to educate adult learners and their teachers.  The use of digital technologies for learning both supports local efforts to educate adult learners and their teachers and extends educational opportunities to reach new groups of students. Digital technologies for learning, such as self-paced learning modules, multimedia case studies, simulations, video tutorials, and communications and assessment tools, can increase the array of learning opportunities for adult students and their teachers. By creating an online framework, these two communities can access, organize, and collaborate in the production of new knowledge about these enterprises and provide for the possibility that adult students and their teachers will flourish as learners. ("Technology and Distance Learning," n.d.)

  •  Distance Learning will evolve from basic enrollment in computer and web-based courses to virtual learning environments that support online collaboration and classes taught by both live and virtual instructors.” AETC White Paper, On Learning: The Future Education and Training (2008)






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