Self Directed & Life Long Learning

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The purpose of this essay is to explore and evaluate an aspect of teaching and learning and the following topic of; ‘self-directed/lifelong learning’ is the authors chosen subject. This essay will determine knowledge of this chosen aspect of teaching and learning, critically evaluate the concept of self directed and lifelong learning from the authors own perspective an a nurse educator. The essay will also identify and consider challenges that arise in the application of self-directed and lifelong learning, identify areas where this chosen topic will assist in bridging the theory practice gap, as well as identifying outcomes for patient/client care.

The central question of how adults learn has occupied the attention of scholars and practitioners since the founding of adult education as a professional field of practice in the 1920’s. Some eighty years later, we have no single answer, no one theory or model of adult learning that explains all that we know about adult learners, the various contexts where learning takes place, and the process of learning itself. What we do have is a mosaic of theories, models, sets of principles, and explanations that, combined, compose the knowledge base of adult learning. Two important pieces of that mosaic are andragogy and self directed learning (Merriam, 2001). Knowles (1980, p.47) proposed a programme planning model for designing, implementing, and evaluating educational experiences with adults. Knowles suggested that the adult classroom climate should be one of “adultness,” both physically and psychologically. In an “adult” classroom, adults “feel accepted, respected and supported”; further, there exists “a spirit of mutuality between students and teachers as joint enquirers”. And because adults manage other aspects of their lives then they are also capable of directing, or at least assisting in planning their own learning. Knowles himself came to concur that andragogy is less a theory of adult learning than “a model of assumptions about learning or a conceptual framework that serves as a basis for an emergent theory” (1989, p.112). This acknowledgement by Knowles resulted in andragogy being defined more by the learning situation than by the learner. About the same time as Knowles introduced andragogy to North American adult educators, self-directed learning appeared as another model that helped define adult learners as different from children. Based on the pioneering work of Houle, Tough, and Knowles, early research on self-directed learning was descriptive, verifying the widespread presence of self-directed learning among adults and documenting the process as it occurred (Merriam, 2001). (Houle, 1996, p.29) stated that what is significant is that andragogy has alerted educators to the fact that they “should involve learners in as many aspects of their education as possible and in the creation of a climate in which they can most fruitfully learn”. What Merriam and Caffarella (1999) term “instructional “ models of the process focus on what instructors can do in the formal classroom setting to foster self-direction and student control of learning. Historically, in relation to nursing education, the term learner-centred education did not appear frequently. This may have been attributed to the previous accepted nursing curriculum and prejudice against higher education, as evidenced by stereotyped clichés such as ‘nurses are born not made’. Advocates of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in nursing education (Clinton 1982, Crout, 1980) extended the argument to reason that nurse educators ‘de-emphasise’ the theoretical basis of nursing since they seek to train learners to become conformist, non-critical and obedient employees. (Sweeney, 1986). However nurse training did move into higher education, a move born of a desire to increase the ‘professionalism’ of nursing.

As the author is a nurse educator within the mental health service area of a district health board, and there is a specific...
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