Uniting Online Learning and Self-Directed Learning – A New Relationship

By Lauren Wanger

Photo Courtesy of Flickr: Eastern Arizona College

The concept of self-directed learning has long fascinated researchers in the field of education for quite some time. Becoming a self-directed learner is found to be most important as we develop into adults. It is often cited as being one of the most important functions of education. However, research has shown that there needs to be a readiness for self-directed learning that comes with maturity.
Prior research suggests that in order to be successful in an online learning environment, one must have a technical readiness and a self-directed readiness (Guglielmino & Guglielmino, as cited in Piskurich, 2003). However, with the rapid growth of virtual schooling and states now requiring virtual credits to graduate high school, it is more important that students are successful in an online learning environment.
As an instructor with Florida Virtual School, I noticed that many of my students demonstrated the traits of self-directed learners. Working with Florida Virtual School, Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Guglielmino, an expert in self-directed learning and creator of the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS), I set out to test how students’ self-directed learning readiness was affected by the number of virtual classes taken.
The SDLRS was administered to over 1,000 Florida Virtual School students. Students ranged from having no experience taking an online class (this was their first class), to having completed four or more virtual classes.
Students who had never taken a virtual class before had just an average self-directed readiness score according to the scale. However, after successfully completing one class, student scores jumped to from 129 to 150, which is an above average score (top 16 percent of the population). Students who had completed four or more online classes scored in the top two percent of the population for self-directed readiness scores.
There are several ways virtual programs and teachers can foster self-directedness in their online students. First, by having students take a virtual class and offering more support initially, students will become more self-directed after successful completion of their first class.

Students who had completed four or more online classes scored in the top two percent of the population for self-directed readiness scores.

Virtual programs can be scaffolded, offering more support at an elementary level and gradually reducing support in the middle and upper grades. Early exposure to online learning environments may dramatically increase self-directedness in adolescents.
Secondly, programs can use the SDLRS or similar scales to assess their students’ self-directed readiness. Knowing students’ individual scores will guide the virtual teacher as to how much support may be needed. Students may need more or less support depending on their self-directed readiness.
Thirdly, teachers and virtual programs can explicitly teach self-directed learning skills and behaviors associated with self-directed learning. During the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium, I had the chance to present ways to increase self-directed readiness scores and facilitate self-directed learning in virtual learners.
The results of this research are significant for several reasons. Self-directedness is a skill that can be developed and that is needed in order for students to be successful as they enter adulthood. Prior research reveals the relationship between self-directed learning and online learning. However, new research uncovers the reverse relationship. That is, self-directed learning increases with the number of virtual classes taken, and can be fostered in adolescents through online learning.
References: Piskurich, E. (2003). The ama handbook of e-learning, effective design, implementation, and technology solutions. Amacom Books.

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