Challenging the Common Misconceptions around Self-Learning
IT IS IMPORTANT TO CORRECT THESE MISCONCEPTIONS OF SELF-LEARNING, SO THAT TODAY’S LEARNERS CAN MEET THEIR OWN NEEDS AND ASPIRATIONS WITH PERSONALISED LEARNING STYLES.
The increasingly globalised labour market demands modern learners to be actively involved in the learning process by developing their own ability to learn. It allows them to identify, plan and implement their activities according to their own learning objectives. According to Maryellen Weimer in Learner-Centred Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, such a learning approach brings five key changes in the teaching- learning process— shift of classroom power from teacher to student, active construction of knowledge as opposed to target-oriented learning, transformation of the role of the teacher from the director of the learning process to that of a facilitator, shift of the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the learner and promotion of learning through effective and continuous assessment.
While learning approaches are gradually accommodating self-learning methods, there are some prevalent controversies over the meaning of self-learning— whether it can be implemented in formal education; to what extent learning should be self-directed; whether learning happens in a holistic, organised manner or in isolation and chaos; and whether teachers have a role to play in the process. This has led to the rise of a number of myths about self-learning, which cause parents and curriculum coordinators to shy away from implementing such learning methods. It is important to correct these misconceptions so that today’s learners can meet their own needs and aspirations with personalised learning styles. Some common misconceptions regarding self-learning are:
SELF-LEARNING IS AN ALL-OR NOTHING CONCEPT
Self-direction is often considered to be an all-or-nothing concept, where learning is either completely directed by the student or not at all. In this case of extremes, learning is incompatible with the formal environment of education.
According to R. G. Brockett and R. Hiemstra in Self Direction in Adult Learning: Perspectives on Theory, Research and Practice, self-learning is better considered as a continuum of varying levels of self-directedness in different learners, which makes it suitable for both formal and informal settings.
SELF-LEARNING IS LEARNING IN ISOLATION AND IGNORES PEER INTERACTION
Self-learning is considered as an isolating experience— an every-learner- an-island scenario— when it is actually far from it.
There is no doubt that the learner tries to find out things, but not without help, be it from social media, mentors, experts on academic communities or fellow learners. In self-learning techniques, such as flipped classroom, there are peer discussions and peer reviews of assignments, which gives a learner different perspectives on learning. Students also form study groups outside classrooms, and even online, to enhance communication and collaboration.
Self-directed learning aims at making a learner self-reliant and capable of using resources that are available to him/her, be it online materials or skills such as communication and collaboration. Therefore, self-learning is one of the most interactive approaches to education.
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING CAN BE IMPLEMENTED ONLY FOR HIGHER GRADES
Learners in their late-teens or adults are usually considered to be mature and therefore, capable of directing their learning through personalised objectives, styles and activities.
Studies on adult self-learning have shown that most adults are prone to being comfortable in ‘other-directed’ learning projects and often needing explicit directions on assignments and study methods. Hence, self-study has nothing to do with maturity and age.
According to Philip C. Candy in his book, Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning, the myth that “children must be taught whereas adults can learn for themselves”, should be challenged, and self-learning approaches should be implemented in lower grades as well with, perhaps, a little more help from instructors and a better curriculum structure.
SELF-LEARNING IS CHAOTIC AND COMPROMISES ON THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION
Self-directed learning causes most people to envision a chaotic situation— children studying whatever they want, while teachers are focused to provide for the whims of every young learner.
Self-learning does not always let learners dictate what they want to learn, rather it facilitates the learning of the concepts in a way directed by themselves. Most children prefer story-based, enquiry-based and activity-based learning because it helps them relate the concepts they study to the world around them— as available in gamebased lessons, where there are multiple levels of learning in a structured manner, ensuring organised learning. These also improve strategic thinking, problem-solving and creative skills in relatable, integrated platforms, which make learning more interesting than in independent subject approach. It has been proven that these approaches enhance learning and not the other way round.
SELF-LEARNING IMPLIES ZERO INVOLVEMENT OF THE TEACHER
Perhaps the most common myth around self-learning is that learning happens without teacher’s help.
Self-learning does not mean that the student learns independent of the teacher. It merely implies that there is no ordered teaching with the teacher as the centre of classroom activities, but only a gentle guidance by them in the proper direction of learning, so that students can develop their own style of learning.
For example, teachers can provide reading material on a lesson beforehand and initiate a discussion based on students’ understanding of the given material. They can also guide students in the right direction of enquiry while teaching a concept and arrange appropriate activities so that students can form their own conclusions regarding a concept, thus, implementing the flipped classroom model and a blended learning approach. The younger the students, the more support they need from teachers to enhance their self-learning abilities.
IN SELF-LEARNING, ACHIEVEMENT IS MEASURED BY END-PRODUCTS
Some parents equate self-learning to traditional learning in its target achievement and believe that learning is measured in terms of assessment and evaluation after each activity.
Self-learning is not a target-driven process, rather it develops skills and experience in multiple fields, such as problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, interpersonal and psychosocial skills. These have a huge impact throughout students’ lives.
Tricia Whenham, academic enthusiast and communications specialist at Nureva Inc., Calgary, Canada, advocates self-learning approach for children, because she believes that “learning comes from the process, not the product”, that the ups and downs in the learning process can best evaluate how much students are actually learning.
STUDENTS WILL NOT BE ABLE TO IDENTIFY AND BRIDGE THE GAPS IN LEARNING
This is a common doubt regarding the ability of the students in self-learning activities. Since students are not expert academicians, they are not considered capable of analysing or evaluating their achievements.
Parents fear that this might lead to gaps in their education, which they might not be aware of.
This problem has solutions. Firstly, instructors are present to supervise learning sessions; they take notice of the gaps. Secondly, most self-learning modules have some form of self-assessment technique that allows children to understand their shortcomings. Lastly, children will learn to overcome gaps when they discover a need for it in the process of self-learning.
ONLY WELL-EQUIPPED AND MOTIVATED LEARNERS DO WELL VIA SELF-LEARNING
It is also considered that disadvantaged and under-motivated students do not do well in self-learning techniques.
This is a misjudgement when it comes to self-learning, because self-learning does not happen in a day. It is a process of enabling students to rely upon their own skills to learn. It takes some time for them to be confident enough to learn on their own terms. Undermotivated students eventually find their motivation when their interests are given a chance in the learning sphere. As for underprivileged students, they are usually the ones to apply self-learning by being resourceful to make up for the dearth of proper resources.
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING ACTIVITIES ARE A LUXURY AND A WASTE OF TIME
People trained in the traditional methods of learning tend to view self-learning as a comparatively frivolous way to learn. Most parents want their children to meet the traditional curriculum demands and self-learning techniques may seem more time-consuming to them. Moreover, activities related to the deeper understanding of topics are not always found to be cost-effective.
There are solutions to this as well. Online resources such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available to everybody free of cost. Non-profit educational organisations such as Khan Academy and Room to Read also provide free online resources for school students who do not have access to top-quality schools. Next Education offers an integrated curriculum that makes room for cost-effective, activity-based learning within a standard timeframe via ScienceLab manipulatives and audio-visual modules in LearnNext and device-independent TeachNext@ Home solutions. These help today’s students to learn actively by themselves irrespective of time, place and financial restrictions.
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING MAKES STUDENTS SELFISH
The word “self” in self-directed learning misdirects people into believing that it caters only to the student as an individual.
While self-learning does indeed develop individualistic skills, it does not mean that the learning is aimed to enhance the self only. Self-learning happens when the learner is in close contact with the environment, the society and the world they live in. All self-learning objectives are ultimately for the development of the society. It is about learning how to meet goals, find the proper resources to reach an aim and be personally responsible of one’s position in the society. It is not about being selfish, rather it is about helping people be aware of their role as an individual in the society.
It is necessary to eradicate these myths about self-learning, so that students can have access to an all-round development via education. Parents and educators need to be aware of these myths and how to counter such preconceived notions with correct solutions, so as to foster self-development and future skills in the citizens of tomorrow.