Self Regulated or Self Directed Learning: The new divide

In the past, we have had socioeconomics, the digital divide – and various other methods to divide the world between those who are likely to be highly successful and those who are not likely to be quite so successful, both in learning and in life.

I think that we might be seeing the emergence of a new kind of self-imposed divide – those who are self directed, self regulated learners (I know they are not the same thing, but they tend to be related), and those who are instructor or teacher led in their learning. In my experience here at Bangor, I find that the students tend to be split, almost in half, as to whether they want student centred, self regulated learning or if they demand teacher led instruction. About half of them adopt their learning to be something different from what they are used to (instructor led), and the other half demand that the lecturer do their job – which is to tell them what to memorise (this is actually what one of the students demanded last year when they were exposed to a different kind of learning activity).

Of those who adopt a self-regulated approach, some do well, and others, not so well. However, in either case, they end up being more successful (academically) than students who refuse to be moved from an instructor led learning mindset.

Is this a new divide amongst people?

In the age of information abundance,  what we need to know is all around us for the learning. Increasing our self regulated and self directed learning skills means that we will be better prepared to work as an information worker, and lead as an information leader. Last week, I wrote about the half-life of information. Given that information is regularly being created and updated, do we want the leaders of our communities, businesses and institutions dependent on someone who has become an expert at being told what they need to memorise in order to do well on a regurgitation exercise in a month or two (I’m not referring to politicians here)?

I believe that students who break out of this mindset will be the successful leaders of tomorrow. I have to believe that the institutions, public or private, old or new, large or small, that develop the kind of learning environment that fosters self regulated and self directed learning will be the most successful learning institutions of tomorrow. Higher thinking skills like creativity, critical analysis, flexible thinking and metacognition, are largely absent from most undergraduate programmes – largely because of the need to cover more content. An institution that begins to pay more than lip service to these higher order thinking skills will be posed to become very influential in tomorrow’s world. They will be producing graduates that can take the lead in solving the problems that are facing us today, as well as figuring out how to solve the problems that will confront us tomorrow. The rest of HE will still be producing graduates to solve yesterday’s problems.

How have we made something as exhilarating as learning, as oppressive as education?

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3 thoughts on “Self Regulated or Self Directed Learning: The new divide

  1. I’m not sure this is a new divide. The best students have always wanted to go beyond their teachers, while most students have been satisfied to do what university encourages them to do: memorize enough to get the degree. What seems different to me is the growing recognition that the university does not have to be satisfied with encouraging students to memorize for the exam. And educators in university are developing some interesting and effective student assessments that reward the flexible thinkers as much as the memorable ones.

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    1. True. Evaluation based on memorization would lose merit more in the future. Without “core” set of knowledge to memorize, the possibility of learning direction can be limitless. And teachers cannot cover all these possibilities. So it will be left up to individual students how far they can go.

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