Learner Autonomy Foundations

Learner Autonomy FoundationsThe foundations of self-directed learning has been associated with learner autonomy which is the independence of a learner. Ponton & Carr (2000) define learner autonomy as “the characteristic of the person who independently exhibits agency (i.e., intentional actions) in learning activities where independence is the characteristic of the person who controls his or her own actions, control being “a state of mind, as well as of one’s environment.” Other educators add to this definition stating that it needs to be separated from the educational process. Autonomy is not merely a current educational fad that includes the social process by which students learn. It is power. Through autonomy, students are empowered to become active participants in their educational process toward the end of being lifelong learners. These learners possess the necessary skills to participate in the global community as the contribute to the wellbeing of it’s members.

Malcolm Knowles and Allen Tough pioneered the theory of self-directed learning and composed the principles which led to lifelong learning for adults. They based much of their information and research off of the foundational works of Thorndike, Bregman, Tilton, and Woodyard who launched the field of adult education. In the 1950s, Knowles noted a difference in the way in which adults learn in comparison to the way in which children learn (Smith & Cardaciotto, 2011).

A learner with high self-direction as one with the ability to manage time and skills. They participate efficiently in the use of resources and the gathering of materials and information. But, A self-directed learner does not necessary equate to a learner with loner tendencies. Additionally, some self-directed learners may be situationally self-directed that resort to more dependent learning style in other situations (Song & Hill, 2007).

Self-directed learners share certain attributes which glare brazenly at researchers (Long, 2010). Individuals who demonstrated self-directed learning tendencies were independent people who could visualize what they wanted to know (Song & Hill, 2007). They devoted themselves to study and to seriously hunting down minute details for comprehension. Once they acquired the knowledge they desired, they applied the information in their lives. They freely contributed to conversations, social situations, politics and other arenas without wavering on their newfound knowledge. Their propelling curiosity shaped their intrinsic motivation (Fischer & Scharff, 2010) instead of relying on outside influences to determine their learning. Additionally, they seeped a high degree of self-esteem and viewed themselves in a positive manner despite humbly acknowledging areas in which they lacked experience or facts (Fisher, King, & Tague, 2001).

Faure contributed to the self-directed learners’ personality composite by adding that these individuals had been taught by example. They had acquired work ethics from an early age (Redding, 2010) which was shaped in childhood and adolescence through schools, universities, families and communities. The self-directed learner aspired to acquire knowledge through any means and tools despite the incentives.

Smith and Cardaciotto (2011) enumerates the five assumptions regarding the adult learner in andragogy. First, an adult learner must possess a self-awareness which will allow him to direct his learning. Second, experience (Fischer & Scharff, 2010) of a mature learner is essential to a reservoir to draw on for learning. Third, a person must possess a readiness to learn. Fourth, learning moves from subject centered learning to problem centered learning. Fifth, an individual must be motivated to learn.

Many adults fail at the ability to learn and feel incapable of succeeding in a learning capability because they have encountered too many obstacles for which they have no ability to overcome. Additionally these obstacles are compounded by the lack of traditional guidance services to assist them when re- turning to a formal educational settings. Many adult students also exhibit a greater fear of failure and need to be other directed. “They do not want to fail in the presence of their friends and family. These barriers to success often interfere with the adult student striving to become self-directed” (Guglielmino, 2006, p 2).


Fischer, G. & Scharff, E. (2010). Learning technologies in support of self-directed learning. Retrieved from www-jime.open.ac.uk/98/4/fischer-98-4-paper.html

Fisher, M., King, J. & Tague, G. (2001). Development of a self-directed learning readiness scale for nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 21, 516 -533.

Guglielmino, L. (2006). Promoting self-directed learning for the Florida GED PLUS student. Retrieved from www.floridatechnet.org/gedplus/2006Institute/SuccessfulDistanceLearning/PromotingSelfDirectedLearning2.pdf

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed learning: a guide for learners and teachers. Parsippany, New Jersey: Globe Fearon Press.

Long, H. (2010). Skills of self-directed learners. Retrieved from faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Huey.B.Long-1/Articles/sd/selfdirected.html

Ponton, M. & Carr, P. (2000). Understanding and promoting autonomy in self-directed learning. Current Research in Social Psychology, 5(19), 34-46

Redding, T. (2010). High self-directed learning: a national imperative in the information age. Retrieved from www.oltraining.com/gld3/HSDL_NI.HTML

Smith, C. V. & Cardaciotto, L. (2011). Is active learning like broccoli? Student perceptions of active learning in large lecture classes.  Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(1), 53-61.

Song, L. & Hill, J. (2007).  Conceptual model for understanding self-directed learning in online environments. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6(1), 27-42.

By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.