The Effectiveness of Self-Directed Learning

By: Jenna Savage

Whether you are an online student or a traditional student, it is likely that you are familiar with the concept of self-directed learning. These days, educators are using student-directed activities as instructional methods with increasing frequency, as studies have shown that when students lead projects, assignments, and research, they are more likely to learn and retain information. One theory behind the success rate of student-directed activities is that it increases motivation and will. However, the benefits – and even the shortcomings – go beyond motivation, according to a recent article released by the Association for Psychological Science (APA).

According to the article, New York University researchers Todd Gureckis and Douglas Markant recently published a study in the APA journal, Perspectives on Psychological Science. The study, entitled Self-Directed Learning: A Cognitive and Computational Perspective, examines self-directed learning to determine how it affects student cognition, as well as the computational factors that play a part in student-led learning activities.

Gureckis and Markant found that self-directed activities allows students to take control of their education, which in turn allows them to optimize it – to make it more relevant and significant. It has an effect on encoding information, which in turn improves retention. However, sometimes bias can interrupt learning and have a negative effect on just how much a student takes away from a lesson, activity, or research project.

To get to the bottom of these factors, Gureckis and Markant employed models of computation, which are often used with machine learning, to study the human process of evaluation. They argue that computation and machine learning can offer insight into the way that self-directed learning can be beneficial, and the way it can interrupt the learning process. Their hope is that such research can provide students with information about how they can improve their own personal learning processes and the way they can make self-directed learning more effective for themselves.

In turn, more research into the cognitive aspect of student-led activities can help educators determine what kinds of self-directed activities will work for individual students. It will give educators the knowledge that they need to choose activities that will benefit the individual learner.

Students who are interested in optimizing their self-directed learning efforts should pay attention and account for any potential biases they may have. They are also recommended to examine new information and explore experiences that they don’t already have, which will allow them to learn more than they would be able to from a passive lesson or activity. In addition, the more practice that a student has with self-directed learning, the easier it will be for the student to accomplish.