Self-directed learning in online environments
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Online learning as a field of study has attracted much attention from educators in higher education. Studies to date have mostly focused on the opportunities and challenges associated with online learning. What is under-examined, but equally important, is an understanding of individual characteristics and how they impact what occurs in an online learning context. One particular learner characteristic that is touted as important in online learning is learner’s self-direction. The current study extends the current existing perspectives on self-directed learning as a learning process and a personal attribute by adding a context component. This extended perspective takes into consideration the impact of learning context on the amount of autonomy that is allowed and on the way learners manage their learning. The research, guided by this perspective, was conducted to investigate adult learners’ self-directed learning experience in an online learning context. In particular, the focus of the research was to understand learner’s self-regulation and learner autonomy, two primary components of self-directed learning, in a graduate online course that was delivered completely online via WebCT®. The findings from the examination of learners’ self-regulation in the online course indicated the importance of prior knowledge, motivation, resource use, and strategy use in successful online learning. The results of the study also indicated the importance of providing technological assistance to first timers, designing and developing resource-based online learning, creating a collegial online learning community, and developing effective online scaffolds. The results from the investigation on learner autonomy in online learning suggested that online learning does seem to require more autonomy from the learners in planning, monitoring, and evaluating their learning. The fact that participants in the study relied on self as well as peers in their learning experience implies the importance of designing and developing collaborative online learning environments. Similar to a traditional classroom setting, participants reported that they viewed the instructor as an authoritative figure who often has the final say on course-related topics as well as on the quality of their work.
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