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Self-Directed Learning and Transformational Learning

Self-Directed Learning and Transformational Learning


In this lesson, students will learn to examine self-directed learning theories and transformational learning theory as it relates to adult learners.

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Source: Globe, Clker,; Thinking Person, Clker,; Grill, Pixabay,; Learning Sign, Pixabay,; Class, Pixabay,

Video Transcription

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Hello, there and welcome. In this lesson, we will take a real close look at how adults learn, specifically through the lens of self-directed learning in transformational learning theories. Let's get started.

It was that time of year again, the beginning of summer. I really was in the mood for some hamburgers and so as the rest of my family. I took out the patties from the freezer, defrosted them, and then seasoned them, and probably marched to my backyard. Opened the cover to the grill and hit the ignition button. Click, click, click. Nothing. How frustrating?

For some reason, the propane was not getting from the tank to the burner. Why not? I read the manual. I searched online. The answer was that something must have been blocking the flow of gas. Ultimately, I took the hose off and found that the nozzle had a tiny bit of dirt in it. I literally blew into it, and just like that, the problem was solved. We will talk more about grilling later.

The three major theories of adult learning are andragogy, self-directed learning, and transformational learning. Self-directed learning is related to Malcolm Knowles' assumption of need to know. Self-directed learning is pertinent to lifelong learning, human resource development, and even online learning.

The last of the three adult learning theories is transformational learning. All three adult learning theories are, of course, critical to teacher development and growth. Whether it's through professional development offered by your district or peer-to-peer interactions that you initiate, there needs to be a need to know. Use of these theories fosters positive and engaging learning environments for teachers.

The transformational learning process is critical, because it allows the learner to take their experience, critically reflect on it, and then half valuable discussions that might lead decisions to make changes later on. Transformational learning was first defined as a cognitive process by American sociologist Jack Mezirow in 1978. According to Mezirow, transformational learning is a process of making meaning of one's experience, which, of course, comes from critical reflection.

You will see many districts incorporate this philosophy in their teacher evaluation models. The thinking is that when individuals have the ability to reflect upon their learning and their environment, transformational learning will follow. It is that intense focus and critical reflection that helps learners change how they think and also their prospective. The foundation of the theory is basically that learners make new meaning of their experiences.

Transformational learning is not confined to the classroom, however. It can happen anywhere-- the workplace, community, even within the individual learner. The transformational learning process is made up of four main components. They are ones experience, the learners ability for critical reflection, reflective discourse, and taking action. Mezirow, in 1991, stated that for adults the most significant learning happens in steps two, three, and four, because that is when learners begin to reevaluate their lives and make necessary changes.

When this is happening, whatever they set out to learn in the first place actually becomes secondary. The first comprehensive descriptions and models of self-directed learning came from the work of Cyril Houle in 1971, Allen Tough in 1967 and 1971, and, as we've mentioned, Malcolm Knowles in 1980. The term self-planned learning and self-teaching, and later, self-directed learning are all connected to Knowles' assumption of self-concept.

Self-directed learning is a reflective process in which individuals take the initiative in planning, executing, and evaluating their own learning. Today, the term self-directed learning is often interchangeable with self-teaching, self-learning, self-study, learning projects, self-education, and independent learning. Being self-directed in one's learning is a natural part of adult life, in which the learner is empowered to make decisions about content, methods, resources, and evaluation of learning.

According to the work of Dr. Rosemary Caffarella, there are four main goals of self-directed learning, and they are-- goal one-- to have the aspiration to gain knowledge or develop a skill, for example, the desire to learn a new language. Goal two-- to become more self-directed in learning. For example, not only wanting to learn language, but taking classes and trying to converse with others in that language.

Goal three-- to foster transformational learning essential to self-directed learning. For example, after traveling to the foreign country, one discovers the connection of the people and their culture to their own situation or environment. And finally, goal four-- to promote emancipatory learning, support social justice and political action as integral parts of self-directed learning. For example, taking the connection and becoming politically active to support the foreign country.

These goals truly build upon one another and put ideas into action. Adults are able to, and have the means to, take more control of what they want to accomplish. It isn't always easy, however, but those who follow through achieve these goals or something similar to them.

Self-directed learning is consider both a process of the instruction and an attribute of the learner. For example, a person can take it upon themselves to go out and learn something the way that they want to learn it. Think back to the grill example that I opened with in this video. Self-directed learning can also apply to the actual instruction and how learning is presented. Instruction can be organized to put the learner into a specific role and given a preference to learn in a self-directed way.

For the purposes of this example, let's say I took a grilling class and the instructor gave me activities to choose from about learning how to operate a grill. Self-directed learning can also be collegial. One may choose to form a peer learning group, such as a professional learning community. Back to the grilling example. I could have called a friend who was having the same problem and we could have figured it out together.

In all these examples, the common thread is that self-directed learning contributes to lifelong learning, human resource development, and can be supported by online learning. Self-directed learning can take place in formal settings, as well, but requires involvement of the instructor to guide learners. This may take the form of helping students with setting their learning goals or helping to guide strategies and facilitating evaluation of learning.

Self-directed learning is very versatile and can be used in multiple contexts and settings. For instance, to earn continuing education units, or CUs, in teacher licensing renewal or even for students who participate in service learning projects. So, it's time to go ahead and summarize this lesson. We opened by reviewing adult learning theories. And then took a closer look at transformational learning. Then, we looked at the components of transformational learning. Next, we covered self-directed learning and then outlined the goals of this theory.

And now, today's food for thought. Here's a question to ponder-- In what ways can knowing adult learning theories help you get better at what you do? For more information on how to apply what you've learned in this video, please view the Additional Resources section that accompany this presentation. The additional resources include hyperlinks useful for application of the course material, including brief descriptions of each resource. Thanks so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Self-Directed Learning and Transformational Learning"

(00:00-00:11) Intro

(00:12-00:56) The Grill

(00:57-01:38) Adult Learning Theories

(01:39-03:12) Transformational Learning

(03:13-04:09) Self Directed Learning Theory

(04:10-05:18) Coaching

(05:19-06:45) Process and Attribute

(06:46-07:29) Food For Thought/Summary

Additional Resources

Emerging Perspective on Learning, Teaching, and Technology: Adult Learning

This wiki from the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia includes an overview of adult learning theory. In addition, there is a toolkit for considerations when planning for adult learning.

Theories of Learning in Educational Psychology

This site provides a clear and comprehensive overview of transformational learning.