Self-directed learning has been a central part of the Ohio’s Science & Engineering Talent Expansion Program (OSTEP) and the Pre-Freshman and Cooperative Education (PREFACE) Program. Through various activities and assignment, students are challenged to become actively involved in their own learning. For example, an independent research project allowed the students to design their own experiments and report their findings. In this way, the students did not learn their knowledge from books or from professors. Rather, they gathered knowledge on their own, which might help improving retention. Reading through the literature on this type of learning, it becomes clear that many people believe that self-directed learning is a better approach than the traditional, teacher-directed learning. However, this approach is not necessarily a good fit for everybody. Self-directed learning is better for students who are willing to take initiative and are interested in the subject, while traditional learning is better for people who are not interested in learning a subject.
In the traditional approach to teaching, the teachers are sole source of knowledge. They decide what the learners need to know and communicate that knowledge from books and from their own experience. In addition, they tell the learner how to learn the materials, and decide on a way to test the learners’ understanding of the subject. The responsibility of the learner is to absorb all of these materials and then demonstrate their understanding in the manner indicated by the teachers. The learners are motivated externally, for example, by grades and other rewards. In addition, the approach assumes that the learners have less experience or that their experiences are less important than the experiences of the teachers and the experts (“Self-directed Learning”). This approach may be describes as being one-size-fits-all. Learners with various differences are taught using the same curriculum by the same teachers.
Self-directed learning, in contrast, is centered on the learner. It assumes that the learners are motivated internally by, for example, their needs for esteem. Additionally, it assumes that, as the learners progress, they gain experience that can be used in conjunction with the teachers’ and the experts’ experience. Lastly, it assumes that, since self-direction is a necessary part of maturing, self-directed learning helps the learners develop this habit of independence (“Self-directed Learning”). In this approach, the teachers are not the source of knowledge, but rather supervisors that provide guidance to help students in their study. Self-directed learning, in theory, caters to the individual learners with specific attitude, learning styles, and experiences.
However, because of these assumptions, this approach is arguably incompatible with many people. First, not all people are internally motivated. Many adults are, in fact, externally motivated by the fact that education will help them...