Adventures in Learning: Self Learning....Buttttt

So our reading in the course I'm taking led us into self-directed learning this week.  A topic I know all too well.  Many of my friends know that I'm a self-defined nerd.  My nerdiness knows no bounds.  Apparently, someone told me as a child that I would be a life-longer learner and I took that to heart.  I can remember from a very early age being curious and interested in learning more.  Whether it was learning everything there was to know about Marvel Comics, Star Wars, or stuff that was not so sci-fi oriented, I would constantly seek out knowledge.  I taught myself how to add and take out components on a computer and how to create webpages back in the late 1990s.  I would go to the library on weekends, just to find books to read and learn new things about.  I feel in love with audiobooks in part because I could learn that much more with what little time I had on Earth.  And as many know, I'm a perpetual student, acquiring degrees and taking courses because I'm just nerdy like that.

So as we looked self-learning this week, I felt quite at home.  And yet (to no one's surprise either), I still had some issues with it.  Let's talk about the good first!

Both Tenant and Pogson and Merriam et al recognize the social dynamics and condition that may or may not create self-directed learning.  They recognize that one's self-directed path is going to be influenced by the world in which they have been put (and/or moved into).

"In the life course of any individual, social phenomena like gender and age category are historical givens.  They are arbitrary in the sense that they are human creations but they are nevertheless experienced as objectively real in much the same way that physical objects are experienced as real or natural...we come to know the physical world, but we come to be the social world.  

It is by interacting with others, and reacting to or participating in social institutions--most importantly through symbolic processes--that we come to constitute ourselves as social beings....Like gender, age category is sustained as a seemingly natural element of personal identity and subjective experience by learning the discursive practices in which members of one's culture are positioned on a age-graded continumum" (Pogson, 110).

The key point--extended beyond age and gender in my head--is that as social beings, we're engulfed in positions along graded continua with regards to physical appearance, health, body-mind ability, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, class, etc.  In different ways these construct how being in the social world is and what we perceive as possible.

I can't find the exact quote now but I remember during the course of reading Merriam or Tennant that it describes self-directed learning needed to be a minimum of 6 or 7 hours. This seems a bit arbitrary to me.  f I seek out knowledge and understanding of something, isn't that self-directed learning too?  I'm directing my learning towards specific and purposeful ends.  If I'm teaching myself how to cook over the period of months; does the 5 hours I've spent working through recipes not constitute self-directed learning until I get to 6 or 7 hours?  I also have to wonder what is the different between self-directed learning and curiosity   If I seek out knowledge and understanding of something, isn't that self-directed learning too?  I'm directing my learning towards specific and purposeful ends.

That's more an issue of scale and definition--which we know I tend to have challenges with.  However, the larger concern that I have with self-directed learning is that I didn't see any concerns expressed about where one's self-learning can direct one to.  John Dewey's point about experiential learning that "However, this 'does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative" (p. 13) In fact, some experiences 'mis-educate,' in that they actually 'distort growth...narrow the field of further experiences...[and place people] in a groove or rut.' (p. 13)."  Self-directed learning is indeed an experience and one that can be problematically constructed to sent people into particular grooves or ruts.

Self-Directed Learning and Autodidacticism

If you type in "self-directed learning" into Google (as of 11/12/2012), one of the first returns is Wikipedia's entry on autodidacticism.  I find this disconcerting.  The term denotes self learner, and yet, culturally, it connotes someone we are not entirely sure of in terms of their knowledge in many realms.  There are a few reasons for this.

1. While we celebrate the do-it-yourself culture (and I certainly do), we're still not entirely sure about how people come to know without more formal standards.  For instance, we want food certification for people who handle our food and degrees for people performing our surgeries.

2.  We want those formal institutes's certifications because we recognize that self-directed learning can be an act of misdirecting and there's little or no oversight to that self-direction.

3.  And where that is most concerning is knowing that as humans, we often fall pray to self-confirming biases.  If you have a specific political preference, you are likely to find and promote information that elevates your point of view rather than that which challenges or speaks of its limitation.  We regularly act in ways that preference that which we know, not necessarily that which is entirely correct.  The political realm is best to see this as many fall into this habit of preferring their own news-outlets to certify their version of the truth as opposed to those "other people who don't know nothing!".

Self-directed learning falls into this rut in some ways of privileging information and ways of doing things that may already be preferences within the learner.  Sometimes, this is totally fine as the subject matter may not have any socio-political-cultural-economic-environmental elements to it, but that is increasingly less and less the case.

As a self-professed self-directed learner, I know I am just as guilty of this and continually try to escape it.  Either by purposely and consciously exposing myself to alternative views to the information/knowledge I am acquiring or by returning to formal institutes to see what else I may be missing in the big picture.  That I feel is the key piece is that if learning isn't entirely internal--if there are elements that are social--then it's important to bring one's findings to others or in some way make sure there is social elements to your self-directed learning.

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