Self-directed learning: The way forward for education after the COVID-19 crisis

Image: EdTechReview

Neak Piseth
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand
August 03, 2020

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Education in developing countries is generally grounded in a traditional paradigm in which teachers are a manager in the classroom, while students learn based on stiff, pre-determined content from textbooks mainly through surface learning. This conventional teaching philosophy can devastate students’ creativity and sense of ownership, which contradicts the authentic and original learning concept which may take place without reinforcement from their teachers. Thus, learning can be seen neither as an obligation nor a problem, but it is a way to exist in the world. Students learn as they desire to pursue their goals and engage in projects that are meaningful for them. As a result, students can take their courage to learn independently and to create new ideas or products for their community – a real meaning of education.

During the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, most of the countries in the world have no choice, but to abruptly close schools for the safety of students teachers, and the community. At this critical situation, attending face-to-face classrooms is no longer available. The traditional roles of teachers as a manager or leader are less feasible, while the new role of teachers as a facilitator of students’ learning should be further reinforced to foster self-directed learning amid the COVID-19 crisis. In this sense, students need to be in control of their own learning, which means they have to manage their own learning schedule and revise their learning strategies to adapt to this unprecedented situation.

Malcom S. Knowles, a founding father of andragogy and self-direction in learning, wrote a book entitled “Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers” in 1975. In the book, Knowles has provided guidance for two main actors: teachers or facilitators and students. As the author notes, teachers should change their roles in the classroom from a leader to a facilitator as well as a source provider to give more chances for learners to acquire knowledge through consultation and questions. To foster self-directed learning and lifelong learning, eight elements of andragogy have been put forward.

  1. Preparing learners (assist learners to be well-prepared for their participation),
  2.  Setting climate (informal, warm, mutually respectful, collaborative, and supportive),
  3. Planning activities (establishing mechanisms for mutual planning by learners and the facilitator),
  4. Diagnosing needs (conducting mutual assessment between the facilitator and learners for constructing learning models),
  5. Setting learning objectives (mutual negotiation between the facilitator and learners),
  6. Designing learning plans (focusing on problem solving and real life),
  7. Operating learning activities (engaging learning programs through experiential techniques),
  8.  Evaluating program (mutual measurement of the program, and mutual re-diagnosing of needs).

Based on the concept of self-directed learning learners should be proactive and have the desire to learn more things rather than be reactive and passive learners who learn from what has been taught. No doubt, people have different views about learning. It is generally believed that learning takes place at school, but to be adequate for our strange new world we must come to think about learning as living. This analogy implies that learners in the modern world should not learn only in the school, but they can learn from the surrounding people and environment in order to develop their education to a full-fledged one.

Considering the highly critical situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, self-directed or self-autonomous learning has played a crucial role in helping learners cope with problems and help them transform challenges into learning opportunities. In a similar vein, once learners obtain the spirit and mindset as self-directed learners, they can learn in any places and circumstances without being constrained by external factors. As a matter of fact, distance learning seems to be no longer a big issue as learners are seemingly ready for their learning. Thus, promoting self-directed learning is an ideal way forward to improve the quality of education.

What is more, it is a necessity and an obligation of teachers to instill a self-directed learning mindset in students and to assist them in learning so that they can attain the real and meaningful education. Changing conventional ways of learning and teaching and adapting modern things are vital to learners’ education in the future. As Alvin Toffler rightly notes, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” What he tries to imply is that in this contemporary world, being able to just read and write may not be enough for a person to cope with the ever-changing world. Therefore, learners have to step up their learning endeavors, forget the traditional and out-of-date knowledge, and start to learn new knowledge and skills.

To achieve the concept of “learn, unlearn, and relearn”, self-directed learning is one of the most suitable approaches teachers should consider to stimulate today’s learners to cultivate their real potential for learning. Hence, COVID-19 may be seen as a silver lining in the crisis that can foreground the significance of the concept of self-directed learning, which has the potential to empower learners to take advantage of numerous learning resources available on the internet. As learning through online platforms is time-consuming and usually tedious, students who have a self-directed learning or self-autonomous learning mindset should be able to sustain their learning motivation as they can gain experiences and learn new skills from the many sophisticated online platforms.

In a nutshell, behind the scene of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a positive aspect for learning opportunities that can allow learners to benefit from online learning platforms and unlimited online resources using technology at their disposal. As a university lecturer, I personally believe that self-directed learning is for learners as they travel through their lifelong learning journey. Thus, ironically, COVID-19 which may be viewed as one of the key catalysts for change can push learners out of their comfort zone to take risks and explore something new. Through self-directed learning, knowledge and the possibility for innovation will be enhanced.

The Author

NEAK Piseth is a founder of The Way of Life Cambodia. He is a recipient of Thai Royal Scholarship and is pursuing a master’s degree in Non-Formal Education at the Department of Lifelong Learning, Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He obtained two bachelor’s degrees in BEd (TEFL) and International Economics from the Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh. He has worked as an Assistant to Director at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center and an English Lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He is an author of a book, entitled “The Genuine Chapters of Life”.

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