Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed
by Gerald Grow
Development of the Idea
The main outlines of this paper emerged in 1987 as a series of diagrams and teaching practices. Only later did I have the opportunity to begin a literature review. That search uncovered few articles specifically addressing the question of how to teach students with varying degrees of self-direction, but it introduced me to the basic literature on adult education, which contains some of the most exciting thinking about teaching that I have encountered. The search confirmed that others considered this line of thought important. Indeed, nearly every point in this article has been stated elsewhere, in, for example, Mezirow’s urging that “enhancing the learner’s ability for self direction in learning [is] a foundation for a distinctive philosophy of adult education” (1981, p. 21). Reading the dissertations by Candy and Gerstner (at the insistence of an AEQ reviewer) was particularly exhilerating–and humbling.
This paper shares so much with the works cited in it, that I would not have written it if I had known that work. Instead, I might have borrowed a point or two and then concluded that everything important had been said. As it happened, not knowing those works led me to re-invent the subject in a practical format that helped me teach better.
Although the model may apply to less formal learning situations, it is directed to teachers, expressed in terms of “teachers” and “students,” and was devised with educational institutions in mind. This is, however, only secondarily a theory; it is first of all a survival tool. It saved my teaching career–and, along the way, it brought some insights that other teachers may find helpful.
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