Encouraging Self-Directed Learning In Students Through Technology

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 2

2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the Standards.

b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

One of the main obstacles that teachers face in the classroom is lack of student enthusiasm to learn the content being presented. Research has shown that there are a few key elements needed to provoke intrinsic motivation in students. Learners need to feel that they have self-efficacy (belief of one’s competency), control beliefs (belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes), and task value (comprehension of the reason for doing a task) in order to sustain interest in their studies (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, Chapter 2, para. 2). While these learning qualities are well known by many educators it remains difficult to find creative ways to imbue students with them. For EDTC 6433 (Teaching with Technology) I researched how the second ISTE standard would influence my teaching by researching how technology could be used to promote elementary age students to take ownership of their education by setting their own learning goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. What I discovered is that technology can be a great tool for addressing the three aspects of intrinsic motivation that can influence student engagement and promote self-directed learning. The goal as a teacher is not just to help students comprehend concepts and gain new knowledge but also to encourage them to pursue their own independent inquiry.

Self-directed learning can improve students’ sense of self-efficacy by helping them understand the process of learning and their own part within it. Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, and Wade (2013) asserted, “Self-regulated learners are individuals who are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants in their own learning” (p. 1188). This kind of active involvement in the learning process that invokes students to set their own goals, research those objectives, and then reflect on their progress can greatly enhance their confidence in their own abilities. Researchers conducted a study to determine if the use of electronic portfolios could improve student achievement by helping them engage in self-directed learning. What the researchers found is that the students using electronic portfolio software outperformed their peers in the control group in not only their competence of subject matter knowledge but also in the their ability to set goals and actively engage in learning (Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, & Wade, 2013, pp. 1198-99). However, some of the gains seen could have also been achieved if the students used a physical portfolio to engage in self-directed learning but the process would not have been as seamless or interactive. While the researchers mainly established that self-directed learning is a key element for student success, they also demonstrated that electronic portfolios are superior to physical ones because of their interactive nature. The students in this study were able to easily share documents and artifacts with their peers and teachers in order to receive feedback on their projects in a much more efficient manner.

Receiving swift feedback from peers and teachers can also greatly influence students control beliefs by allowing them to actively participate in the outcomes of their learning projects. When students are able to quickly determine if their approach is effective they have more control over adjusting that plan to better achieve their goals. Any kind of technology that allows students to easily share their work and receive prompt feedback will help with their intrinsic motivation. For example, another student in EDTC 6433 shared the website www.edmodo.com which helps students and teachers create online learning communities that allow for this kind of active collaboration from students. While this website is not structured exactly the same as the electronic portfolio software the aforementioned researchers studied, it provides students with many of the same opportunities and may actually be more useful. Although the electronic portfolio software used in the study was easy to navigate and effective at directing students to set goals and assess their learning it also required teachers and students to download it to their computers which made it less accessible. Edmodo has the benefit of being a collaborative website that teachers and students can access from anywhere they have an internet connection. Students can pose questions and share research in an interactive platform that invites peer-to-peer engagement. It also provides teachers with an easy and efficient way to track student progress and offer meaningful advice which can encourage self-reflection in students. Both of these resources can benefit students by giving them more feedback to help in the personal assessment stage of self-directed learning.

While this kind of information sharing and interactive learning provides students with more control over their own learning, it also presents them with a sense of task value. Many students become disengaged from learning because they cannot see the outcome or purpose of it. When students create projects with the objective of sharing them with peers it can provide them with a reason to be more invested in their research and the development of their project. Websites like Edmodo are made just for this kind of student interaction. Teachers could also use any blog hosting website to achieve a similar goal and many have successfully. Recently there has been a hotly debated trend in education where teachers are forgoing the classic term paper and instead having students write several blog posts over the course of the term. Richtel (2012) poses the question “Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications?” (para. 6). While a general consensus for the replacement of traditional research papers with blog posts may never be reached, the benefit of this type of collective learning for younger students is hard to refute. It can be difficult to get young children to want to self-direct their learning but offering students a platform to display knowledge they have gained provides them with the incentive to actually want to learn new subject matter. When students are able to create information that they can share with their classmates and even other students around the world their desire to engage in learning can be greatly increased. One teacher recognized this fact and used Edmodo to have her students post their experience on a field trip to the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. Her students invited other classes from around the country to join their online group on Edmodo enabling them to engage with history in a more tangible manner (Carroll, 2012). The students who took the field trip were able to enrich the study of other learners while also deepening their own experience by providing them with a greater sense of task value.

Students who believe in their own competency, understand their own capacity to influence outcomes, and recognize the reason for doing a task will inevitably gain more from their education because they will be more engaged with it. Technology has the capacity to offer educators a myriad of different ways to supplement their teaching and assist them in demonstrating to students the benefit of self-directed learning. With the help of websites and software I plan on showing students the importance of setting their own goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. As a future teacher, I plan on integrating technology in a meaningful way whenever possible and electronic portfolios and online communities are an interesting way to help students achieve. Self-directed learning becomes much more stimulating when students can interact with each other and easily obtain feedback on their progress.

Abrami, P. C., Venkatesh, V., Meyer, E. J., & Wade, C. A. (2013). Using electronic portfolios to foster literacy and self-regulated learning skills in elementary students. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 1188-1209. doi:10.1037/a0032448
Carroll, N. (2012). “Shared” Field Trip Using Edmodo. Teaching is Elementary. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://teachingiselementary.blogspot.com/2012/11/shared-field-trip-using-edmodo.html
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Richtel, M. (2012). Blogs vs. Term Papers. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/education/edlife/muscling-in-on-the-term-paper-tradition.html?_r=0

3 thoughts on “Encouraging Self-Directed Learning In Students Through Technology

  1. Naomi – Your blog post this week does a great job of researching a broad issue (students’ lack of engagement with learning content) and a specific attempt to resolve it (electronic portfolios). What is the age range of student who you think derives the most benefit from electronic portfolios? What is the youngest grade of school in which you think that could be used with success?


    1. Thanks for your feedback. I think that self-directed learning can be achieved at any age range but the process of implementing it is different for different grade levels. With early elementary students there would need to be much more explicit instruction involved than with older students. If it is started at an early age and sustained throughout a child’s education the potential effect by the time that student is in middle school and high school could be profound. It has the potential to create self-sufficient learners who need little guidance to meet their own goals. Young students often adapt to new technologies quickly and with relative ease so websites or electronic portfolio software can be introduced with ease if done thoughtfully.


  2. Hi Naomi. Thank your for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I agree that it is important for teachers to encourage student engagement in self-directed learning. I think that teaching in this manner helps to build student confidence and motivation, and is effective in building critical thinking skills. Nice post!


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