Advantages and the expectations of Self Directed Learning

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Self Directed Learning (SDL) is a more person-centred way of learning which focuses on learner. As a result, student-centred system in schools which enhance students' participation and interest in the decision making process of the schools policies and their performance on it could be much more effective, something which has little room in the Cypriot educational system.

In this essay the advantages and the expectations of its application in the Cypriot context are mentioned. After that this essay gives a brief overview of the Cypriot schools' context and culture which are the main factors of the restricted application of SDL. Lastly a number of ways are suggested for the best application of this new policy with in the Cypriot society. In the conclusion it is highlighted that this policy cannot be panacea and pitfalls may result from the misapplication of it. However, this can be a good suggestion in order to create integrated personalities who are going to be the future democratic citizens.

A. Introduction

Echoing Crittenden (1978), one of the most important of a school's roles is to create autonomous personalities, something that can be achieved by giving voice to learners. Concepts like "participatory democracy in decisions of schooling, self-directed and individual learning…and learning by discovery" are used often to define autonomy (Crittenden 1978:105). Brookfield (1985:5) highlights that "The decade of the 1970s was undoubtedly the period of self-directed learning characterized as it was by a plethora of empirical studies" and the efforts of significant scholars which popularize the concept. SDL has its roots in adult education. However is an approach that has also been tried with learners in elementary and secondary schools (Knowles 1975; Cropley and Dave 1978; Brookfield 1986; Candy 1991). The issue has grown in importance when students start concerning about schools' system which emphasizes only in reaching high grades and not in personalities and integrated individuals (Fielding 2006). In this essay we highly recommend that the most appropriate person to meet the learning needs it is the learner.

This essay has been divided into five parts. The first part deals with a general introduction and a rationale. Then it goes to a more analytical understanding of the concept of Self Directed Learning, the advantages and the expectations of its application in the Cypriot context. After that it gives a brief overview of the Cypriot schools' context and culture and lastly we are suggesting ways for the best application of this new policy with a gentle way in the Cypriot society. In the conclusion we draw reader's attention to the fact that this policy cannot be panacea and some pitfalls may emerge from the misapplication of it. However, this can be a good suggestion in order to create integrated personalities who are going to be the future democratic citizens.


My reasons for exploring SDL arose from my teaching experience in a Cypriot private school, the 12 years as a student in a public school and also my current job in a Greek school in Salford. The whole system is centralised, and as consequence education is far away from a student centred system because the priority is to follow the National curriculum and what the Ministry of Education orders. In order to change school's environment we have to change "the way we do things around here" (Deal and Kennedy 1983:14 cited in Stoll 1999 p.33). Dialogue between teachers and students and students' freedom to talk and make suggestions in order the lecture and the learning be more interesting and efficient, are prerequisites that the government should take account.

B. Understanding Self-Directed Learning

Learning is a continuous process where human beings acquire knowledge in order to be more educated and more effective in their life. Echoing Fielding (2006:307) "… the person-centred learning community is one in which the functional is expressive of the person" and where changes in human's knowledge, skills, beliefs, attitudes, values and experiences are the result (Cropley and Dave 1978; Mullins 2002). Self Directed Learning (SDL) is more person-centred way of learning and focused on learner. People are different as a result has different needs and motives to learn.

While a variety of definitions about self directed learning have been suggested, this essay will use the definition with the most acceptance by Knowles (1975) who emphasizes the fact of the learner's control over the planning and execution of learning. Particularly Knowles (1975:18) saw SDL as:

"a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcome".

Knowles (1975), Cropley and Dave (1978), Brookfield (1986) and Hammond and Collins (2004) argue that this kind of learning is not implied in isolation but with association with a variety of helpers, like tutors, teachers, peers or resource people. In contrast, concepts like "self-education, self-teaching and independent learning" refer to a more isolated way of learning (Knowles 1975:18).

Advantages of SDL

When people realize the necessity to take responsibility for their own needs then they are recognizing the importance of SDL. Brookfield (1986), who wrote about SDL in adulthood, he highlights that the independent style of learning is more characteristic to adults, in contrast to the dependent field. Knowles (1975) says that SD learners learn more effectively than people who are passively taught. It is also a democratic way of learning because of the high participation of learners in the whole process and the active role that they have (Candy 1991). Learners can be happier and as a result their attainment is more effective because they are more engaged with learning and have personal challenges for their own performance (Smyth 2006, Leven 2006). Additionally, is a flexible way for learners to identify their own needs and find ways to learn what really interests them with the most appropriate and easier method. This way of learning supports their own improvement because when students participate in a decision process they are not passive and become more excited (McIntyre 2006). Furthermore, gaining the ability to 'learning to learn' which is the recognition of the variety of the ways to learn and communicate by a range of skills and abilities, learner will be capable of lifelong learning (Cropley and Dave 1978).

Competences of a SD learner

Robotham (1995:4) argues that a self directed learner must have the ability to identify his own needs, to set appropriate goals, to be self motivated, to have self discipline and be aware of how to learn. SD learners must have the ability to know what and how to learn and accept responsibility for their decisions and the application of them (Nunan and Lamb 1996). Also they must be self controlled which according to Parikh (1994) demands huge emotional discipline. This individual control is the distinctive characteristic of SDL and other ways of learning (Brookfield 1985). Skager (1978 cited in Skager 1984:24) presents seven personal characteristics of a SD learner: "self-acceptance, planfulness, intrinsic motivation, internalized evaluation, openness to experience, flexibility and autonomy". Planfulness and Internalized evaluation are competences of a person who is able to do self-evaluation (Skager 1984). Moreover, Hammon and Collins in their paper in 1991, emphasise in the critical thinking as a necessary competence in a SD learner. This will help them to take more control of their learning and use their knowledge to improve their personal life and their life in work (Hammon and Collins 1991).

What is expected to achieve by applying SDL policy in the Cypriot context

In light with the positive aspects of SDL, by applying this policy in Cypriot Schools the expectations for improvement in our schools are many. Furthermore, an appropriate school environment which will be based on corporate knowledge is necessary for the effectiveness of this method. Schools' staffs have to create an appropriate system of sharing learning which will be useful in the daily routine of the organisation. Pearn et al. (1995), Confessore and Kops (1998) and Smyth (2006) talking about 'organisational learning' and 'learning organisations' where the knowledge is shared through the organisation and is composed by norms, values, trust and culture for efficiency and innovations, something that is expected to gain. Additionally, Candy (1991:15) points out that "self directed learning and lifelong education is a reciprocal one". Lifelong learning equips people with skills and knowledge in order to continue the research after their education (Cropley and Dave 1978). As McIntyre (2006:154) concludes from his research in secondary schools "…autonomous thinking will be necessary in 'grown-up' life, where there will not be a teacher always there to guide". Consequently, from a high teacher and government control, it is necessary and we are expected to move in a more 'pure' autonomous learning style and more student-centred education (Candy 1991:17). Finally, through this policy we are expected to have individuals who are aware about their idiosyncrasies and the plan that they have to follow in order to achieve their personal learning goals (Brookfield 1986). Furthermore, critical learners who can fulfil their democratic rights and obligations are one of the most important elements that schools should take account and seek for it (Hammond and Collins 2004).

C. An exploration to the Cypriot school context

In 1965 the Cypriot Government decided that all the school responsibilities transferred to the Ministry of Education. The public education consists of the pre-primary, primary and the secondary education which is divided in the 'Gymnasium' for students 12-15 years old and the 'Eniaio Lykeio' with pupils between 15-18 years old (Pashiardis 2004). The responsibilities that the Ministry of Education and Culture has, has to do with the decision making, the preparation of the curricula, textbook, transfers, promotions and payment (Pashiardis 2004).

Cypriot education is completely 'Centralized' and 'Conservative' (Michaelidou and Pashiardis 2009 and Pashiardis 2004). According to Pashiardis (2004) the centralized character of the education is determined by three factors. Schools do not have any authority in money, in personnel management and local power. Additionally, another one factor that determines the culture of Cypriot schools as more traditional, strict and goal oriented is the seniority within the system (Pashiardis 2004; Kasoulides et al. 2006). Based on Kasoulides et al. (2006:7) research, the average years in Cypriot principals are 30,8 in contrast with the English headteachers who have about 21,2 years of teaching career in schools. As a result the Cypriot schools are leading by Principals and Deputy Principals whose ideas in most cases are attached in an old ineffective way of teaching and leading and new methods of teaching seems risky to them, time consuming and costly instead of beneficial and timeless.

Based on the studies of the sociologist Hofstede (1984:65-231; 1991, 2001, 2005) we can describe the Cypriot school Culture as High Power Distance. Students respect their teachers and obey the rules in order to avoid any kind of punishment. In addition, rules in the classroom are strict and students do not have the opportunity to express their thoughts and suggestions because everything is defined by the Ministry.

Following Hargreaves' model (1999) which has to do with the social control and social cohesion we can describe Cypriot schools culture as Formal. In Formal schools the social control is high and these schools are more traditional and centralized to the social system, than flexible to take responsibilities for their needs (Kasoulides et al. 2006).

Lastly, closer to Stoll and Fink's (1995) model, who examine school's culture based on Effectiveness and Improvement, is 'Cruising' type where teachers and students place much more emphasis on the grades and the final exams instead of learning methods. Moreover Cypriot school culture has some common features with the Struggling schools. Principals and teachers are afraid of taking risks or to try new teaching or leading methods. Resistance and uncertainty are very frequent phenomena in Cyprus.

D. Suggestions for the application of self-directed learning

It is apparent from the above description of the Cypriot school culture that the system is highly centralized, a determining factor for not promoting a more self directed learning. In order Cypriot schools reach their goal which according to Pashiardis (2004:657) is "…to create free, democratic, and autonomous citizens who have a well-rounded personality, they are healthy, honest, creative and contribute through their work to the social, scientific, economic and cultural advancement of their country…" the whole system and policy of learning has to change by giving more emphasis in flexibility and freedom to the learners to take responsibility for their needs. Consequently, the application of a more SDL policy in the Cypriot schools will develop a new way of learning which needed for the preparation of critical thinkers. We must now conceder some points which if recognized might have the positive effect of creating public education within the parameters of a self directed learning.

Following Rosenholtz (1991) school's culture affects the commitment of the teachers and also the students' attainment. Changes can be achieved by modifying peoples' believes and assumptions, attitudes and values then innovations and a more flexible way in teaching methods can be achieved. (Durrant and Holden 2006; Dalin et al. 1993; Schein 1985). An effective leadership team should create the conditions which are needed in a school in order to be prepared to accept and sustain this new policy (Harris 2003). In Cyprus more authority should be given to the principals of the schools and the teachers in order to minimize the government's control. The mentality of the Cypriot teachers and students and the National culture background, which determine their behaviours and assumptions, has to change in order to bring innovation in the educational system.

Furthermore, based on the Education Reform Act 1988 which Aggleton and Rowe (2002:27) mentioned in their study, curriculum should "promote the spiritual, moral, cultural… development of pupils … and… prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life". Also, we agree with West and Muijs (2009:128) who argue that "… the national curriculum and its attendant pedagogic practices did not seem to be serving all learners". There is not a curriculum which fit in every occasion. Nunan (1988) supports that the difference between National and Student-Centre Curriculum is the collaboration between teachers and learners because students can take part in the decision making process in a student-centre curriculum. Consequently, this curriculum which involves students' decisions will respond effectively to students needs especially when these decisions referring to structures operating outside the classroom (Nunan and Lamb 1996).

The option of some elective courses will give the choice to the students to choose what interests them more and do not be forced to follow a structured timetable (West and Muijs 2009). Additionally, the students' involvement in the assessment process will offer a great account of the students' perspectives on schooling. Also, the acknowledgement of the specific individual needs in the curriculum will give as a more personalized curriculum which will promote a SDL policy (West and Muijs 2009). Particularly, in a language class, which relates more with my qualifications and degree, in order for teachers to get rid of the traditional way of teaching languages and move to more communicative approaches to language pedagogy it will be good to give emphasis on communication, on simple daily dialogues, in content and meanings of a text and not only in grammar and spelling (Nunan 1988; Nunan and Lamb 1996). This can be achieved with the active participation of the students by discussion. Students can work in pairs or small groups (Cropley and Dave 1978, Nunan 1988), with some language games, with presentations of some subjects that they like in the specific language and by using videos or other visual aids methods.

Additionally, another basic concept is the respect and the acknowledgement of students' autonomy because as Sennett (2003 cited in Fielding 2006:309) says, pupils know a great deal of things based on their experiences as learners, and a specific way of teaching is preferred by them because that helps them to perform higher. Following Candy (1991:101) autonomy means 'self-rule' and also has the meaning of freedom, independence and self-sufficiency, concepts that are crucial and necessary to exist in a student oriented school system. As a result, by appreciating students' autonomy and new ideas which are based on their needs and interests these can contribute for the improvement of the educational system and enhance SDL.

In line with the autonomy as a basic concept for the self directed students, the encouragement and the acknowledgement of students' voice in the decision making process and in classroom changes can also affect the student's lives (Mitra 2006; Fielding 2006). Teachers and leaders should give place and the opportunity to students to participate and influence the school environment in which they learn and forming their personalities in order to feel more comfortable by doing what interests them most. According to Leren (2006:365) "a student council is a permanent way of organizing the student voice and it provides a high level of influence in decision making process". In these meetings students' representatives can inform principals about students' needs and suggestions in order to make the learning process more interesting for them because it will be developed by their ideas. It is very important principals to listen students' voices and make the necessary efforts and changes in order students' suggestions become a reality for the improvement of the whole system. Reflecting on Fielding (2006), we agree that student voice enhance the development of wise persons. However, in more young ages voice should be given to parents in order to support their children in the educational process.

Furthermore, a continuous dialogue between students and teachers can determine content and learning objectives (Fielding 2006; Freire 2006; Nunan 1988). However, trust and confidence between teacher and student are the basis for an effective dialogue (Leren 2006). Moreover Fielding (2006) highlights, that mutual trust, care, autonomy and respect are concepts which should characterize the relationship between students and teachers in a student-centred learning. Consequently, following these concepts, there are more chances for young voices to be heard and their desires to take action. This way of decision making is totally democratic and through this process students are prepared for their life after school where as democratic citizens should be able to assert their rights (Fielding 2006).

Furthermore, it is essential to bring new methods of teaching in which will emphasize the students' involvement in the decision process in the curriculum in order to meet their needs. According to Leren (2006), mid-term evaluation in the students' personal achievement and also class meeting between teacher and student to discuss about the positive and the drawbacks of this process will give them the opportunity to evaluate to what extent students meet their needs and also their effort for collaboration with the school's teachers and principals. Some workshops and specific training programs that will give the appropriate qualifications and knowledge to the teachers it will be also beneficial and also compulsory (Nunan and Lamb 1996).

Moreover, using visual aids will be an interesting and pleasant way of learning. Particularly, internet includes a great amount of knowledge in a variety of topics that may interest students, assuming that they know how to use it properly. Additionally, Nunan and Lamb (1996:195) point out that there are some specific computer programs that offer a great deal of 'power and responsibility' to the student by stimulating interactive discussions. Also, games and fun activities based on relevant topics would be an interesting way to attract students' interest to learn what they really like (McIntyre et al. 2005). Also, watching educational films, going in museums, zoo, and libraries, going for excursions or visiting workplaces where specialist talk about their experiences and answer questions about their day life in work, are some more different ways of learning (Nunan 1988; Leren 2006). Furthermore, working some weeks in youth centres, or sport organizations, in political parties, or in whatever interests them more would be some alternative ways and more proactive ways in learning by acquiring practical experience in areas which most interest them (Cropley and Dave 1978).

Additionally, teaching should link more with the community and more courses should take place outside the class (Cropley and Dave 1978; Carr 1985). As Vygotsky (1978) and Rieber (1997) correctly highlight the development cannot be separated from its social context. Being attached to the society, face the real life and moving the lecture out of the school environment in order to have more contact with the community, like visiting museums, libraries, zoos, cultural institutions (Carr 1985; Brookfield 1985) is a real example of how life is outside school. That will prepare pupils as the next citizens and also will give them the opportunity to learn how to learn through their daily routine (lifelong learning). However, all these methods are costly and specific to a more student oriented way of learning which is far from the reality of Cyprus. During recent years, there have been some efforts to upgrade the schools by increasing visual aids and computers which unfortunately are not enough for all the students of the class.

In addition, another practical implication is the size of the class, which can prevent or enhance this type of learning. In Cyprus the student number in each class is from 30 to 35 students, a factor which makes the application of self-directed learning and a more democratic decision-making process much more difficult. Glass et al. (1982) note, that class size affects both students' and teachers' performance in school. Students' attendance, self-concept and interest in school are lower in big classes when the individual is not apparent. Also the teachers' attitude toward students and the instructional processes are different in both cases because in bigger classes cannot take place a variety of activities (Glass et al. 1982). Furthermore, the individualization of the students in the learning process is impossible because the limited time that the teacher has is based on the National Curriculum, and the instructions of the Ministry of Education in Cyprus they have to follow closely. By increasing individualization, the teacher will be able to encourage students, place more emphasis on their individual needs and then recommend the appropriate ways of learning, give more explanations and provide special need when is needed and also create a relationship based on trust and constructive dialogue.

E. Conclusion

Finally, this paper has drawn attention to the necessity of the application of self directed learning in the educational system of Cyprus where the highly centralized system gives little and restricted room for the acknowledgement of the individual. However, SDL is no panacea for all the main problems and complexities that any educational system has and educators should avoid the pitfall that this is the best and only way for children to learn (Candy 1991; Brockett and Hiemstra (1985).

This kind of learning should take place after students' agreement and nobody can force them to follow this learning model, unless this will be unsuccessful and ineffective. Teachers should be prepared to face situations when students do not want to participate in process like that and take more responsibilities because they cannot see the benefit of it (Leren 2006). Knowles (1975) assumes that learners should be motivated by internal incentives, like the need for self-esteem, the willingness to achieve, the need to know and curiosity. These can be established by teachers who are able and capable enough to inspire students in order to give them the incentives to be responsible for themselves and their learning and from the teacher assistant to move in a more independent level of learning. Consequently, SDL must stem from teachers who should be motivated by the urge to grow and the satisfaction of accomplishment (Knowles 1975).

Moreover, it is crucial to distinguish SDL from learning in isolation (Knowles 1975; Cropley and Dave 1978; Brookfield 1986; Hammond and Collins 2004). Teachers should provide guidance to the students to meet their needs and not leave them in isolation because as Brockett and Hiemstra (1985) argue individuals vary in their readiness for SDL and teachers should assist some learners to become more self-directed. Also, learners should avoid this possible isolation and replace it with group work with their peers and learn from each other of a wide range of learning activities which choose to engage by themselves (Leren 2006).

As a result with its 'one size fits all' philosophy, there is no best solution for all the situations. However, the gradual implementation of this policy in the Cypriot context and the evaluation of it in order to confirm the positive action of SDL, it will convince the government for the promotion of this policy. There is nothing to fear by giving the opportunity to the students to comment on teaching, in contrast that will help the teachers to be improved (McIntyre et al. 2006). As Leren (2006) note, we agree that by giving more responsibilities to the student they will have the feeling of ownership and they could not complain any more about the government's system or the method that the teacher uses. Both parties (learner and students) should take responsibility for learning, by teacher be the key element for the establishment of this way of learning Vygotsky (1978). Our conclusions are that a system where both teachers and students feel comfortable should be the major concern of a school in order to give the opportunity to the young people to take action and responsibilities in their lives.