Charlotte Siln

  • Responsibility and independence in learning - what are the role of the educators and the framework of the educational programme?

    Charlotte Siln, PhD in Education, Assistant Professor, The unit for educational development and research, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linkpings universitet

    Research paper

    Themes: Skills development and lifelong learning, Learning environments, Supporting learners

    This paper refers to my research, presented in a thesis concerning the learner's own responsibility and independence in learning (Siln, 2000). My intention with this paper is to focus on my results concerning self-directed learning, SDL, especially concerning the role of the educators and the framework of the educational programmes.

    The concept SDL is regarded as a core concept in relation to student centred learning. In my studies I found that the roots of SDL came from the domain of Adult Education (Houle, 1961; Tough, 1971; Knowles, 1970). The discourse of SDL has focused on the learner's management of the learning situation and characteristics of a self-directed learner. The notion of self has been stressed and not much attention has been paid to the internal processes of learning (i.e. Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991; Caffarella, O'Donnell, 1988; Long, 1989; Candy, 1991; Garrison, 1997). Relations between SDL as a method of and goal for education have almost been taken for granted. Another stream concerning self-direction has emerged within cognitive psychology. In that research domain similar issues are investigated as self-regulated learning (ie Boekerts, 1997). In order to broaden the views of student-centred learning, I have used a discovery approach, ethnography, in my empirical study. The field studied is one term in the nursing program (based on the student centred philosophy of PBL) at the Faculty of Health Sciences in Linkping, Sweden. My aim was to understand the culture and meaning of student centred learning from the learners' perspective. The empirical data were analysed and interpreted based on assumptions from ethnography, grounded theory and hermeneutics. The analyses resulted in three narratives, the students' stories about their learning. With the aim to understand the empirical results from a more general level further analyses were implemented using theoretical references from different perspectives. I regard the method as an application of a theoretical "reflective distance" compared to the interpretations resulting in the narratives (cf. Ricoeur, 1986). The perspectives used were a didactic analysis (i.e Dahlgren, 1990; Candy, 1991; Uljens, 1997, Jank & Meyer, 1997), intention in learning (cf. Marton & Booth, 1997) and the meaning of autonomy (i.e Dewey, 1911; Boud, 1988; Chen, 1983)

    A significant aspect of the students' narratives about their learning is that they consider and try to handle questions concerning their own learning. They act as agents in the learning situation, considering their own needs and interest in learning of a special content in relation to the framework of the educational programme. I found that a significant source and a driving force that makes the students consider these questions is a dialectic relationship between chaos and cosmos (Siln, 2001). The characteristics of the questions in which the students involve themselves are the teachers' traditional didactic questions: what is to be learned, how should it be learned, why should the students learn certain things, and what are the objectives of the learning process? I believe this is a fundament for the students' responsibility and independence in learning. The students are learners but they also involve the role of a teacher into their learning process. This does not mean that they do not need teachers.

    In my analysis I found that the students' conduct as regards their own responsibility and independence, vis--vis dependence, is related to a dialectic relationship between the prerequisites provided by the educational framework and the students' interpretation and ability to use them. Three "pictures" emerge from the analysis. The first picture is characterised by the students' own initiative, a will to influence and self-confidence as regards responsibility in the learning situation. The second picture shows students who themselves limit their possibilities of making choices (i.e. concerning resources they use). The third picture is characterised by students almost giving up their independence. They try to "survive" by finding out the cues about what is required and accept to be in the hands of the teachers and the framework of the educational programme. These pictures are not connected to individuals or groups of students. All students might have characteristics from these pictures at different times. I believe that further insight into the educator's role in student-centred learning is related to the management and awareness of the two dialectic relationships described above. On the one hand the students' experiences of being between chaos and cosmos and on the other hand the students' abilities and interpretations vis--vis opportunities to control or influence the framework of the educational programme. Based on my research I intend to expand on the following questions in my paper.

    • When do the educators and the framework of educational programmes
      1. support responsibility and independence?
      2. create strategies for survival?
    • What is required to enhance the students' ability to make use of their opportunities for responsibility and independence?


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