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SDL Emerging Trends and Themes

Page history last edited by Darrell Tullier 13 years, 4 months ago


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Emerging Trends and Themes in Self-Directed Learning

The idea of self-directed learning continues to evolve. The evolution can be seen in individuals and authors in the field of adult education, as well as the research that takes place over the years (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991). Research concerning SDL in adult education involves three primary classifications; learning projects, qualitative studies and quantitative measures. Various research tools and approaches have been used as the research in this area has increased.


This page includes

  • Brockett & Hiemstra's (1991) PRO model that is intended to illustrate and explain the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner. 
  • Research tools used in SDL; Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI) and Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS)
  • Trends and Themes that emerging in SDL


Framework for understanding self-direction in adult learning 

The "Personal Responsibility Orientation" (PRO) Model 

(Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 25, Fig. 2.1)


Personal Responsibility as a Central Concept

  • As can be seen in Figure 2.1, the point of departure for understanding self-direction in adult learning, according to the PRO model, is the notion of personal responsibility.
  • By personal responsibility we mean that individuals assume ownership for their own thoughts and actions.
  • Personal responsibility does not necessarily mean control over personal life circumstances or environment.
  • However, it does mean that a person has control over how to respond to a situation.


Self-Directed Learning: The Process Orientation

  • Self-directed learning, as we have come to view the term, refers to an instructional method.
    • It is a process that centers on the activities of planning, implementing, and evaluating learning.
    • Most of the writings and research on self-directed and self-planned learning from the early and mid-1970s were developed from this perspective (e.g., Knowles, 1975; Tough, 1979).
    • Similarly, the definitions of self-directed learning that we have used previously (Hiemstra, 1976a; Brockett, 1983a) stress this process orientation. Further, one of us (Hiemstra, 1988a; Hiemstra & Sisco, 1990) has described this as individualizing the teaching and learning process.
  • The process orientation of self-direction in adult learning focuses on characteristics of the teaching-learning transaction.
  • Some may wish to think of this process orientation as "self-directed education." We do not disagree with this term, but choose to refer to the process as "self-directed learning" in order to stress the link to the foundation laid by Knowles.


Learner Self-Direction: The Personal Orientation

  • the importance of understanding characteristics of successful self-directed learners has generally been stressed as well.
  • Knowles (1970) identified several assumptions underlying the concept of andragogy as a model for helping adults learn. The first of these assumptions was that the self-concept of adult learners is characterized by self-direction, whereas dependence characterizes the self-concept of the child.
  • Knowles (1980) later revised his view of pedagogy and andragogy from a dichotomy to a continuum. However, his emphasis on self-concept reflects the centrality of personality as an element of self-direction in learning. This emphasis on personality characteristics of the learner, or factors internal to the individual, is what we refer to as the "personal orientation" or learner self-direction.


Self-Direction in Learning: The Vital Link

  • self-direction in learning is a term that we use as an umbrella concept to recognize both external factors that facilitate the learner taking primary responsibility for planning, implementing, and evaluating learning, and internal factors or personality characteristics that predispose one toward accepting responsibility for one's thoughts and actions as a learner.
  • The PRO model illustrates this distinction between external and internal forces. At the same time it recognizes, through the notion of personal responsibility, that there is a strong connection between self-directed learning and learner self-direction. This connection provides a key to understanding the success of self-direction in a given learning context.
  • the internal and external aspects of self-direction can be viewed on a continuum.
  • Where difficulties and frustrations arise is when the balance between internal characteristics of the learner are not in harmony with external characteristics of the teaching-learning transaction.
    • Individuals who enter a learning situation with a clear idea of how and what they wish to learn are likely to become frustrated and disenchanted if not given the freedom to pursue these directions.
    • In the same vein, the learner who seeks a high level of guidance and direction will probably have similar feelings in a situation where the facilitator emphasizes an active leadership role by the learners.
    • For individuals in either situation, the problem is that the teaching-learning situation is not in harmony with the needs and desires the learner brought to the situation. This does not mean that the learner was "unsuccessful," nor that the facilitator was "ineffective." Rather, it suggests that success and effectiveness are relative terms that depend on clear communication of needs and expectations among all parties engaged in the teaching-learning transaction.


The Social Context for Self-Direction in Learning

  • The final element of the PRO model is represented by the circle encompassing the other elements.
  • One of the most frequent criticisms of self-direction in learning has been an overemphasis on the individual, which is usually accompanied a failure to consider the social context in which learning takes place.
  • In the PRO model, the individual learner is, in fact, central to the idea of self-direction. However, such learning activities cannot be divorced from the social context in which they occur.
  • in adult learning, the social context provides the arena in which the activity of self-direction is played out.
  • In order for us to truly understand the phenomenon of self-direction in adult learning, it will be crucial to recognize and deal with the interface between these individual and social dimensions.


Notice: This section on the PRO Model is directly copied and put in bullets for quick reference from (Brocket & Hiemstra, 1991, pp. 25-33). The book is available free online at Roger Hiemstra's website.


PRO Model revisted: presented by Ralph G. Brockett and Roger Hiemstra at ISDLS on February 4th, 2010 

NOW....Person Process Context (PPC) Model...MORE COMING SOON! (Still being developed and discussed add your input below)

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph G. Brockett and Roger Hiemstra

All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing or via email from one of the authors.






  • Person
    • Characteristics of the individual. Creativity, critical reflections, enthusiasm, life experience, life satisfaction, motivation previous education, resilience, and self-concept.


  • Process
    • Teaching-Learning Transaction. Facilitation, learning skills, learning styles, planning, organizing, and evaluating abilities, teaching styles, and technological skills.


  • Context
    • Environmental and Sociopolitical Climate. Culture, environment, finances, gender, learning climate, organizational policies, political milieu, race, and sexual orientation.


Dynamic Interrelationships Between the Three Elements


Copyright © 2010 by Ralph G. Brockett and Roger Hiemstra

All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing or via email from one of the authors. 

Please discuss and give your input concerning PPC model ideas HERE...


While discussing the PPC model above, a picture was developed to represent the model in such a way that an individual's PPC elements could be plotted should an instrument be developed to identify such information.  See link below or scroll to see figures 1 and 2.

PPC Triangle.docx

Figure 1.  The ideal self-directed learner is balanced in all three areas.

Concept suggestion submitted by Darrell Tullier


Tools used to research SDL

 The Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI)

  •  Oddi (1984, 1985) made an effort to clarify the concept of self-direction and developed an instrument designed to identify what she refers to as "self-directed continuing learners" (p. 230).
  • The Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI) is a 24-item Likert scale and measures self-directed continuing learning.
  •  The development of this instrument was an outgrowth of the need to distinguish between personality characteristics of self-directed learners and the notion of self-directed learning as "a process of self-instruction" (Oddi, 1985, p. 230).
  • There have been critics of the OCLI, but there is research that supports the reliability. (Owen, 2002)


The Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS)

  • 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.
  • Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) is a 58 item Likert scale that measures if an adult is ready to accept responsibility for his or her own learning activities (Owen, 2002).
  • Research supports the reliability of the SDLRS (Owen, 2002)
  • Various authors (e.g., Brockett, 1985; Field, 1990; Bonham, 1991) have raised questions/concerns about aspects of the instrument; however, Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) concluded that the contributions of the instrument have most likely outweighed these concerns in the long run, as long as the instrument is used appropriately.


The Personal Responsibility Orientation Self-Directed Learning Scale (PRO-SDLS)

  • Developed by Susan Stockdale (2003)
  • More about development of PRO-SDLS
  • To be reported by Stockdale and Brockett (in press) in Adult Education Quarterly
  • Designed for use in the higher education classroom setting
  • Reliability is high. Stockdale (.92); Fogerson (.91).
  • Good evidence of validity




Trends and Themes emerging in SDL

Future of SDL research and learning needs according to these SDL scholars as recorded by (Donaghy, 2005)

  • Ralph Brockett

    • Need future emphasis on social considerations
    • Qualitative research on is not new, but becoming more frequent and even prominent
    • SDL is not a fad
    • Make connections to business and technology
  • Stephen Brookfield

    • Do more than just empirical studies
    • Consider value in and philosophy behind the process of SDL
    • Cyber learning and the digital era is opening up new forms of learner control and access to information
    • On-line learning is not going away, need to learn how to work on and interact with the Internet
  • Rosemary Caffarella

    • Move to different ways of thinking about studying SDL
    • Look at how SDL has made a difference in the world...look at Highlander
    • Doing things for the societal good and public good
    • Test some of the models like Brockett and Hiemstra's, Spear and Mocker's, and Garrison's
    • Revisit Tough's research
    • Look at connection to transformational learning
    • Go back to deeper roots than humanistic...interpretist and hermanistic
  • Lucy Guglielmino

    • World changing fast and so we must be SDL or we will be in trouble
    • Promoting SDL in everyone...starting with families
      • better parents are better contributors to organizations and  better citizens and better members of larger society
    • SDL important part of readiness for success in e-learning
  • Roger Hiemstra

    • Online environment leading to different kind of facilitator and learner
    • Defending SDL...helping individuals accept more responsibility for their own learning
    • Internet emphasizes SDL...big role for educators in the future
    • Information counseling...helping people leanring good search techniques and able to utilize information
    • Future research ideas
      • analyze Straka's books
      • Look at the work of Houle, Knowles, and McClusky...does source of information go back to Lindeman?
      • Link SDL to other streams of learning theories
      • Understanding the lineage of SDL
      • Think about the people outside of academia doing research on SDL...look at symposia proceedings
  • Carol Kasworm

    • No future vision for SDL...feels distant and detached from those pursuing SDL
    • Believes that current adult ed focus is on transformative learning...similar to where SDL was 10 to 20 years ago
    • Need to consider positive and negative aspects of SDL
  • Huey Long

    • New changes in technology increase requirement for new research concerning SDL
    • Effective learning is as important as efficient learning...need to know how people learn
    • Computer generated virtual realities will have a tremendous impact on learning
    • We have overabundance of information...need to translate information into knowledge
    • Need to be skillful database searchers, but important that individuals posses analytic, interpretative, and synthetic skills
      • again...need to understand how people learn
    • Challenge of preparing people for jobs not envisioned yet...how do we learn about things that we don't know that we need to know about?
    • Instead of using the term self-directed learning to describe learning in the future, he used the term "heuristic learning"
  • Allen Tough

    • Future study looks at what we, to some extent...can control and plan for what happens

    • There is danger in educators trying to help take control of the process

      • Educators should keep their hands off this process

      • Should not be in control and the should not figure themselves center of the universe

    • Learner and the learning are the center of the universe!

    • Change is an important aspect of the future role of SDL...your path changes as you go along


Favorite SDL Quotes 

  • "Self-direction in learning is a way of life" (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 18). 

  • "Self-education occurs outside of formal institutions, not inside them. The skills can be taught and practiced in schools, teachers can gradually transfer the authority and responsibility for self-direction to students, and self-educational acts can be simulated, but self-education can only truly occur when people are not compelled to learn and others are not compelled to teach them--especially not to teach them a particular subject-matter curriculum. While schools can prepare students for a life of self-education, true self-education can only occur when a person chooses to learn what he can also decide not to learn." (Gibbons & Phillips, 1982, p. 69)

  • "it is a misconception to assume that learners necessarily enter a learning experience with a high level of self-direction already intact. Self-direction is not a panacea for all problems associated with adult learning. Nor is it always necessary for one to be highly self-directed in order to be a successful learner. However, if being able to assume greater control for one's destiny is a desirable goal of adult education (and we believe it is!), then a role for educators of adults is to help learners become increasingly able to assume personal responsibility for their own learning" (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991, p. 27).



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