Going Back to School – A question of perspective
I have been reading an article by Song and Hill (2007) titled “A Conceptual Model for Understanding Self-Directed Learning in Online Environments” from the Journal of Interactive Learning Online at www.ncolr.org/jiol
The authors ask the following questions about the role of learners’ motivation for SDL contexts:
how does a learner become motivated in a SDL context that requires high level of learner autonomy? How does a highly self-directed learner become motivated to learn in a structured learning context where she or he does not have a lot of power?
This intrigues me. Supporting autonomous learners within a networked learning environment is complex. Self-directed learners need to shift between different learning settings, and remain motivated while participating in both cohort-based learning, seminars, independent study, and non-formal learning opportunities such as mini-courses and Special Interest Groups. To successfully navigate the different contexts, a lot has to be learned about learning online that is not in any of the courses’ or programs’ stated learning outcomes.
What I think is needed for success is for a self-directed learner to be capable of bolstering their personal self-motivation in a number of different settings:
a) a structured, cohort-based instructional setting,
b) a group seminar,
c) a learning partnership,
d) a sharing circle,
e) an independent student working with a mentor, as well as
f) an open learning setting.
The most shocking revelation for me is that, without a clear focus, without strong self-motivation, I would not have pushed the boundaries and pushed myself to learn in these various settings. I would have settled and taken what was given to me. I don’t know if I would have been as satisfied with the experience, but I was immensely satisfied with being more independent, choosing my own learning goals. But what were the essential elements that led me to negotiate my learning contexts?
And just as important: what enabled me to persist in the traditional learning contexts, successfully completing most of my courses tolerating the more limited choices, the more limited choices, and the fears and anxieties associated with being dependent on one expert evaluator’s final say?
It wasn’t all that black and white, for one thing. I am not saying the cohort-based courses were “worse” than the independent-study courses, just quite different. The balance, however, required me to use different skills sets and use different strategies to cope and persist to complete the courses and finsih the program.
For one thing, the courses I took all had excellent instructors, always willing to accommodate me in my interests, and permitted me on numerous occasions to write papers that weaved my professional experiences in with the theory. Literature reviews were very flexible. On several occasions the assignments were negotiated, so there was overall a lot of flexibility. In the one case where I really missed the mark, and wrote a paper that did not meet requirements, the instructor allowed me to re-write the paper. The opportunity to rewrite was humbling, but I rose to the challenge, to get it right. I learned a lot from that experience. It required me to write from a professional business perspective. It was a hard lesson, but a good one, one that has served me well. I recognized that the professor has a lifetime of professional experience, that he was willing to give me a second chance, to offer me a chance to redeem myself. It was a tough situation, but I got through it, and became a better writer because of it. I did not let my injured ego get in the way of learning something valuable. I had the self-motivation to choose not to settle, but to get it right and re-submit it for re-marking.
The independent study courses were supervised, very rigorous, and I needed to be very self-motivated to meet the agreed-upon deliverables in a timely fashion. I needed to bear most of the responsibility for getting the tasks done. The process involved a different set of skills, knowledge and attitudes. There was some anxiety to reconcile, some deadlines (self-imposed, and some suggested by my supervisor) to meet, and some concern about the feedback and grades. Just a different mix of attitudinal challenges.
But just as crucial to the equation was what was my thinking that enabled me to persist in courses in which I felt less empowered, less-self-directed, and more dependent?
In my previous post I explained that I had often felt ambivalence, anxiety and worry about getting my essays graded, giving presentations, and being evaluated. I still feel a great deal of reluctance to stick my neck out, and enter into discussions with students. I take the position that it is best to create content, invite others to comment, and I engage others on a case-by-case basis.
When I do return to school, I will have to adjust to the next teacher’s point of view, and adjust rapidly to the unspoken rules of what is to be discussed, the language to be used, the standard of interaction. And do this again and again as I start a new course, adopting differing strategies to collect and analyze vital data that informs me how to engage others and the evaluator.
Just as it crucial for me to become a more independent, self-directed learner, I need to also balance that drive for autonomy with the equally important drive for conformity, for placing myself in a dependent position, humbly and gratefully accepting the advice that I am offered. I need to be receptive to feedback, and balance my own need to feed my ego with the need to improve and acquire excellence. The two are not mutually exclusive.