It’s not obvious, figuring out which skills and experiences will best enable our students to take advantage of the meagre opportunities that may come their way. But their chances of getting access to formal higher education are so remote that I’m convinced that it’s essential they should be able to make the most of any free opportunities for learning.

I found this article a helpful introduction to questions related to developing skills for self directed learning (SDL). Francom provides an overview of constructive principles for teachers looking to help students to improve their skills for independent learning.

Drawing on Hiemstra, it proposes four sets of activities that students will need to be able to undertake:

  •  set learning goals
  •  specify what will be learned
  •  determine the pace of learning
  •  evaluate learning outcomes (Hiemstra, 1994)

I’m pretty sure that this is an iterative cycle which needs to commence with an evaluation of prior learning (‘what have I learned’, ‘how useful is it’, ‘how did I learn it’). The challenge for the teacher is to provide a sense of context which will enable the student to understand where their knowledge fits within the subject matter area.

I think that the students I’m working with have passed through two of the stages that Francom propose.

  • Two years ago most of them were ‘dependent‘ learners, part of a traditional education system where rote learning is the norm, and there is always a right answer.
  • Many of them were emerging as ‘interested‘ learners, with a growing awareness of the gulf between the focus of their learning and the demands of the outside world,
  • Today, they are progressing to becoming ‘involved‘ learners, who need only minimal encouragement to offer an opinion on how their education can best meet their needs.
  • The next challenge is to help them build the skills they need to become ‘self-directed‘ learners.

As the article suggests, for this to be productive, it’s critical that we provide instruction on SDL skills alongside the subject matter that (in my case, ICT). My challenge here is to find materials which are accessible for ESL students, and which are appropriate for their cultural and psychological context; many ‘personal goal setting’ approaches are very skewed towards a Western, individualist mindset.

Fortunately, I’m confident that there will be no shortage of realistic tasks and problems for students to set their minds to as they embark on this journey.