Thursday, May 6, 2010

Personal Learning, Drive, and Autonomy

This era doesn't call for better management.  It calls for a renaissance of self-direction (Pink, 2009)
I've been listening to Daniel Pink's audio book version of Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  I haven't found it all that surprising, but it has me thinking about the relationship between personal learning and self-determination theory (SDT)

Pink (2009) asserts that management isn't the solution, it's the problem.  He extends the word management beyond the common business definition to include our social structures and institutions.  (Yes, including education.)  He cites Ryan & Deci's (2000) work on self determination theory in support of autonomy for workers and learners.  (Note:  There are others who have thought about SDT in a K-12 context.  See  Reeve & Halusic (2009).  

Ryan & Deci (2002) identify three basic psychological needs:  competence, relatedness, and autonomy. The optimal social environments satisfy all three of these needs.  Human behavior is either controlled or autonomous.  Autonomy is different from independence.  It means acting with choice (Pink, 2009).

Realizing Pink's renaissance of self-direction for education will be challenging.  Centuries of institutionalized control are not easily undone.  Pink points out that humans are curious and self-directed "out of the box".  Passivity is the result of years of "management" and control.  My experience working with middle and high school students on personal learning environments supports this perspective.  It's even more challenging when we try to direct personal learning toward system-imposed content standards or the rigor required for deeper learning of these standards.

I know what you're thinking.  Directed personal learning is an oxymoron.  But, the reality of the current situation in our K-12 classrooms is that years of passive learning have undermined student autonomy.  Myths about student learning preferences further constrain our progress, especially when it comes to learning with technology.  It is common in teacher professional development sessions to hear that students want to learn with technology.  Actually, some, not all students enjoy using technology for social, entertainment, or learning purposes.  Few have had consistent, quality technology integration in school.  When asked to create artifacts based on rigorous inquiry or to use technology for rigorous study, the complaints range from "I don't like technology because it doesn't work" to "my teacher isn't teaching me" to the ever popular "just tell me what I need to do to get an A".  This does not describe every student.  Of course, there are those who embrace autonomy, especially when given curricular choice.  I offer these seemingly negative examples to encourage educators to think realistically about the consequences of a passive learning system and the hard work it will take to undo those years of indoctrination.  

I happen to believe strongly in learner empowerment and the value of technology as a means to achieve autonomy.  I'm also realistic about the steep climb it will take to get there.  I offer some suggestions for creating an atmosphere conducive to learner autonomy within a system that is not likely to change quickly.
  1. Taking back control and responsibility for learning can be facilitated by teachers who scaffold the processes that support learner autonomy.  These processes include digital responsibility, digital literacy, organization of content, collaborating/socializing with others, and synthesizing/creating (Drexler, 2010)
  2. Integrating those processes into early grades will ensure that personal learning environments of increased complexity can be constructed in the secondary grades and beyond with greater focus on the learning outcome rather than the processes or technology needed to support it.
  3. Building a teacher and learner disposition of experimentation around technology use that recognizes the speed at which new technologies emerge and the tinkering required to adapt technologies for learning.

 I'm intrigued by the possibility of a renaissance of self-direction.  I feel I've been able to build that reality in my personal learning and professional work, and I want even greater empowerment for the next generation.  More importantly, I believe those learners who are less autonomous will be at a distinct disadvantage. 
Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (2002).  Handbook of Self-Determination Research.  New York:  University of Rochester Press.

Pink, D. H. (2009).  Drive:  The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us (1st ed.). Riverhead Hardcover.

Reeve, J. & Halusic, M. (2009).  How K-12 teachers can put self-determination theory principles into practice.  Theory and Research in Education. 7(2). 145-154.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.


Student Handouts, Inc. said...

Learner autonomy is so important!

Great blog.

Clint Cora, Speaker/Author said...

Personal learning should also be continued well after formal education school years are over.