Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

A professional development program to help academic staff to foster student self directed learning

Alex Radloff, Barbara de la Harpe and Leanda Wright
Centre for Educational Advancement
Curtin University of Technology
    Self directed learning - the ability to identify and achieve learning goals through effective use of learning strategies and to understand, monitor, manage, evaluate and reflect on own learning - is essential for effective university study and lifelong learning. It is widely recognised that students need help to be self directed in their learning. Moreover, theory and research supports the value of self directed learning for quality educational outcomes. However, there is very little in the way of practical strategies and guidance for academic staff wishing to foster self directed learning. In this paper we describe the Self Directed Learning Program (SDLP), aimed at helping academic staff to help their students to be self directed learners. The Program involves awarding small grants to academic staff to assist them to develop, in a unit they teach, innovative curricular, instructional and assessment strategies to foster discipline based self directed learning. It adopts a collaborative, devolved, discipline based approach. Academic staff have on-going professional development support from the Centre for Educational Advancement in the form of workshops, one on one consultation, help with identifying and locating suitable resources, group support meetings, and assistance with monitoring and evaluating outcomes of individual projects. A requirement of the grant is that participating staff disseminate outcomes of their project through the presentation of a paper at this Forum and a seminar for colleagues in their School. The Program also aims to disseminate outcomes of projects and teaching strategies to foster self directed learning through a web site and practical resource booklet.
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Self directed learning - the ability to identify and achieve learning goals through effective use of learning strategies and to understand, monitor, manage, evaluate and reflect on own learning - is essential for effective university study and lifelong learning. Literature (see, for example, Biggs & Moore, 1993; Ford & Nichols, 1987; Long, 1990; Pressley, 1995; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994) suggests that self directed learners are characterised by their capacity to: It is widely recognised that students need help to be self directed in their learning. Moreover, theory and research support the value of self directed learning for quality educational outcomes. Further, recent research suggests that support is best provided by academic staff as an integral part of discipline study (Hattie, Biggs & Purdie, 1996).

There are a number of reasons why tertiary teachers need to encourage and foster the development of self directed learning in all students. First, from the point of view of employers and professional groups, there are increasing calls for graduates to be 'self starters', adaptable, flexible, willing to continue learning, and able to work independently as well as part of a team (Australian Association of Graduate Employers, 1993; Candy, Crebert & O'Leary, 1994; Sinclair, 1997), all characteristics which are predicated on the ability to be self directed learners. Moreover, in many professions, there is growing emphasis on continuing professional education, both on and off the job, which requires the ability to be self directed (EIP Report, 1998; National Board of Employment, 1994).

Second, from the perspective of curriculum and instruction, the growth of flexible learning including the use of new technologies and increasing student numbers leading to large classes requires learners to have skills to undertake independent learning (Green & Bigum, 1997). In particular, they must be able to plan, monitor, adapt and evaluate their learning and to manage time, themselves and learning resources effectively.

Third, higher education as experienced by many students often involves part time study, part time work and/or the necessity to combine family responsibilities with study. Students who are self directed learners are more likely to be effective and successful learners in such settings (Chalmers & Fuller, 1995; Thomas, 1988; Winne, 1995; Zimmerman & Paulsen, 1995).

Fourth, many students, including mature age learners, recognise the need to be self directed but find it difficult to self direct or self regulate their learning (Boulton-Lewis, Wilss & Mutch, 1996; Brookfield, 1986; Pressley, 1995; Zimmerman, 1994; Zimmerman & Bandura, 1994).

For all these reasons staff need to include opportunities and explicit instruction in their courses to help students be self directed learners. Staff generally acknowledge the need to provide such opportunities, but may be unsure of how best to go about helping their students become self directed learners as part of their regular teaching. Moreover, there is very little in the way of guidance and practical strategies for staff wishing to foster self directed learning.

In this paper, we describe a professional development program - the Self Directed Learning Program (SDLP) - aimed at addressing this need. The approach adopted in the program was collaborative, discipline based, bottom up and in line with institutional strategic directions and the Teaching and Learning Plan Objectives, namely, To foster self directed learning among students; To satisfy the diverse learning needs within the student body; and To encourage reflective practice by staff. Such an approach has been shown to be effective in changing staff perceptions and attitudes to their instructional and assessment practices in line with institutional goals (Ramsden, 1998) and in ensuring ownership of any changes (Kember & McKay, 1996).

Professional development program

The SDLP was a 1999 Strategic Initiative Project funded by the Office of Teaching and Learning and supported by the Centre for Educational Advancement (CEA) at Curtin University of Technology. The program aimed to help academic staff to help their students to be self directed learners by offering small grants to staff, on a competitive basis, to develop innovative strategies to foster self directed learning in a unit in Second semester, 1999. The program team comprised a Project Director, a Project Officer and a staff member from the CEA, all with educational expertise.

The program started with the team drafting guidelines and application procedures, and by calling for expressions of interest through emails, flyers and Curtin web sites. Selection criteria were developed, and a selection panel and reference group formed. An information session on the program and a half day seminar on self directed learning were conducted to raise awareness of self directed learning and to help applicants develop their proposals.

Thirty-three staff attended the half day seminar and developed their understanding of self directed learning through activities and discussion. The workshop feedback was positive and indicated interest in self directed learning. A reference list and selected articles were made available upon request, and the program team offered feedback and help with drafting proposals. Throughout the program the team modeled a self directed learning approach by making resources and support available to applicants on request.

Twenty-two applications were received and, after a lengthy and thorough process, the Selection Panel agreed to fund 7 proposals. Six offers were conditional on modifications and/or clarifications to the proposal. The Project Officer helped these six applicants to modify their proposals and all were granted funding after a second review. At the start of the program one of the successful applicants was unable to continue with his project, thus the remaining six projects were funded. Unsuccessful applicants received detailed feedback on their submissions.

Successful projects were:

The project participants undertook to attend three CEA facilitated meetings, report on their progress and present outcomes here at the Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 and at a seminar in their School at the beginning of first semester, 2000.

The next phase of the program involved supporting the project leaders to implement their projects and continuing to raise awareness of self directed learning. Three program group support meetings with project leaders and the program team sharing ideas, resources and reflections. A two hour workshop for staff from Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Podiatry was conducted at the invitation of a project leader. The Project Officer observed lectures, tutorials, workshops and meetings conducted by individual project leaders, and offered feedback and help with resources and ideas. A web site for the program (http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/projects/SDLP/) was developed.

Feedback from workshops and analysis of the project applications indicated a need for more information and practical teaching strategies related to self directed learning in the Curtin context. The program team discussed how best to respond to this need and is now producing a self directed learning resource booklet as part of the program. The final phase of the project will involve assisting the project leaders to draft their final reports, write their papers for the Teaching and Learning Forum and plan their School seminars, and for the program team to complete the resource booklet.

Reflection

Based on feedback from participants and our own discussions, our reflections on the program are: In terms of the participants, we were pleased that all completed their projects within time. They also met all project conditions such as submitting progress reports, attending meetings and submitting papers to this Forum. Participants reported that, while the undertaking was much bigger than they had anticipated and hard work, they found the experience challenging;
This project has been very interesting but demanding!
and satisfying in terms of outcomes;
Great - it was an adventure; new skills and ways to get students to think - too many of them don't; just to see a class enjoying learning was rewarding,
and contributing to their personal growth;
It has given me added confidence to allow students to take more responsibility for their own learning. It has sharpened my awareness that the success of a course lies in its preparation integrating content, delivery and assessment.

Major increase in knowledge and understanding of SDL (self directed learning) - rather than being a statement in a policy it now has real meaning.

They all expressed an intention to continue adapting and refining their projects next year. All the participants mentioned their need for and appreciation of the support offered by the Project Officer.
Good support from Leanda [the Project Officer]. Resources are very important and useful.
In terms of the SDLP, feedback suggested that a half day workshop did not provide enough time for staff to explore fully the idea of self directed learning and the implications for teaching and learning practices. Furthermore, the amount of funding per project was too low for what participants were required to do and the one semester timeframe created some degree of time stress. However, we believe that the program was successful because of its structure, the appointment of a Project Officer and the role she played in coordinating the program and supporting the participants. Another reason was the educational underpinnings of the program and the educational expertise of the program team. Finally, the devolved nature of the program allowed participants to own and take responsibility for their activities and outcomes.

References

Australian Association of Graduate Employers. (1993). National survey of graduate employers. Sydney: Author.

Biggs, J. B., & Moore, P. J. (1993). The process of learning. Sydney: Prentice-Hall.

Boulton-Lewis, G. M., Wilss, L., & Mutch, S. (1996). Teachers as adult learners: Their knowledge of their own learning. Higher Education, 32, 89-106.

Brookfield, S. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Candy, P. C., Crebert, G., & O'Leary, J. (1994). Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. (Commissioned Report 28). Canberra: National Board of Employment, Education and Training Australian Government Publishing Service.

Chalmers, D., & Fuller, R. (1995). Teaching for learning at university. Perth, WA: Edith Cowan University.

EIP Report. (1998). http://www.deetya.gov.au/highered/eippubs/eip98-8/eip98-8.pdf

Ford, M. E., & Nichols, C. W. (Eds.). (1987). Humans as self-constructing living systems: Putting the framework to work. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

Green, B., & Bigum, C. (1997). Re-tooling schooling? Information technology, cultural change, and the future(s) of Australian education (paper). Adelaide: Flinders University.

Hattie, J., Biggs, J., & Purdie, N. (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 99-136.

Kember, D., & McKay, J. (1996). Action research into the quality of student learning: A paradigm for faculty development. Journal of Higher Education, 67(5), 528-554.

Long, H. B. (1990). Psychological control in self-directed learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 9(4), 331-338.

National Board of Employment, Education and Training. (1994). Workplace learning in the professional development of teachers (Commissioned Report 24). Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Pressley, M. (1995). More about the development of self-regulation: Complex, long-term, and thoroughly social. Educational Psychologist, 30(4), 207-212.

Ramsden, P. (1998). Learning to lead in higher education. London: Routledge.

Schunk, D. H & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.), (1994). Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sinclair, K. E. (1997, August). The transition of graduates from universities to the workplace. Paper presented at the 7th European Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction, Athens, Greece.

Thomas, J. W. (1988). Proficiency at academic studying. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 13, 265-275.

Winne, P. H. (1995). Inherent details in self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 30(4), 173-187.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1994). Dimensions of academic self-regulation: A conceptual framework for education. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications (pp. 3-21). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Bandura, A. (1994). Impact of self-regulatory influences on writing course attainment. American Educational Research Journal, 31(4), 845-862.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Paulsen, A. S. (1995). Self-monitoring during collegiate studying: An invaluable tool for academic self-regulation. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 63, 13-27.

Please cite as: Radloff, A., de la Harpe, B. and Wright, L. (2000). A professional development program to help academic staff to foster student self directed learning. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/radloff.html


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