Why self-directed learning?

remedial educationEach calendar year over $200 million is needed in the state of Texas alone to address the needs of remedial coursework in higher education (Kever, 2010). Students simply cannot do the work required of them which demands a need of developmental education to teach the basics from elementary education, namely reading, writing and mathematics. The unfortunate component to the remedial courses is the credits do not apply toward college graduation or toward the student’s degree. Much of the need for this remedial education derives from a lack of study habits. Students appear for class as well as exams and expect to pass on the merits of attendance as if the knowledge were integrated into their minds through the process of osmosis.

Denis Udall, the officer of education for the Hewlett Foundation, shares “Sixty to seventy percent of community college students requires some remedial work” (Hewlett Foundation, 2010, para 12). He continues to share the working reasons for the increased need of these courses in higher education. Many students have forgotten or simply do not have the needed study skills. Many students have returned to school after a long hiatus since high school. This gap has produced holes in their knowledge. Some simply do not remember what they learned or come to college with poor grades. The largest reason for the need for remedial education falls back to the lack of an alignment in standards between high school and postsecondary standards (Hammons, 2004).

Jacob (2010) expounds on this problem with the help of the Gates Foundation, University of Texas and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. These organizations agree that the underlying problem is the lack of study skills. Students have been given the opportunities and the knowledge base in many cases but lack the ability to assimilate the information due to poor study skills. These foundations propose the need for active learning environments to enhance students’ study skills. This move from teaching information to teaching lifelong study habits has the possibility to decrease the need for remedial education while increasing student retention rates. All students need the opportunity to learn these skills as active learners.

Self-directed learning has the capability to fulfill these needs through providing direction for students to learn study skills with the guidance of an instructor/professor, a parent or an involved adult.

What is self-directed learning?

“In self-directed learning (SDL), the individual takes the initiative and the responsibility for what occurs. Individuals select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, which can be pursued at any time, in any place, through any means, at any age” (Gibbons, 2010).


Gibbons, M. (2010). Motivating students and teaching them to motivate themselves. Retrieved from www.selfdirectedlearning.com/article2.html

Hammons, C. (2004). The cost of remedial education.  Retrieved from http://www.alabamapolicy.org/pdf/re_study.pdf

Hewlett Foundation. (2011). Foundations -A Q & A with Denis Udall, Education program officer. Retrieved from http://www.hewlett.org/newsroom/foundations-qa-denis-udall-education-program-officer

Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Kever, J. (2010, May 24). Many in college lack basic skills. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7018694.html

Merriam, S. (2011). Andragogy and self-directed learning: pillars of adult learning theory. 

Smith, M.K. (1996). Self-direction. Retrieved from www.infed.org/biblio/b-selfdr.htm

Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy’, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm

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.