Monday, 19 May 2014

Learning design for student-directed learning: opportunities and challenges
(#ocTEL Week 2 webinar)

This morning I viewed the recording of the above-named webinar via YouTube. Not bad I guess - getting started on Week 2 activities at the start of Week 3...
The speaker, Panos Vlachopoulos, is from Macquarie University, Sydney (where the 2013 ascilite conference was held), in my home country, Australia. While Panos (easier to spell than surname...) is listed as an Academic Developer at Maquarie, I was immediately attentive when he referred to himself instead as a Learning Designer - my preferred descriptor for myself :-)

'Student-directed' - Perspectives on this Terminology

After Panos gave the (predominantly UK) audience the context of recently announced and nasty federal government budget cuts to Education in Australia, he spent a few minutes acknowledging differences in terminology. The table below shows my representation of the various terms Panos referred to, if you think of columns A and B being mix-n-match options, and the last row offering another term/phrase without a mix-n-match option.



The mix of terms were given to help direct us to what Panos refers to when he uses the phrase 'student-directed'. But before that, he takes us to other perspectives via recommended published texts. These included:
  • Rogers & Freiberg (1969) Freedom to Learn
    Perspective on 'student-directed': teacher as a fellow learner
  • Cowan (2006) On Becoming an Innovative University Teacher: Reflection in Action
    Perspective on 'student-directed': open to discovery and negotiation; think what is better at a particular point; allow students to have at least some level of negotiation on the learning objectives
  • Brookfield (2004) The Power of Critical Thinking for Adult Learning and Teaching
    Perspective on 'student-directed': required as a responsibility of a modern society; universities should create student-directed learners with learners having choice in how they will study and be assessed
  • Laurillard (2013) Teaching as a Design Science
    Perspective on 'student-directed': within formal education as part of a system, learning designers have to think and plan for opportunities to create student-directed learners
    Note: this text most close to Panos' own perspective.

Panos differentiates further when he noted a question on 'student-generated' learning, and aligning this with 'student-directed'. He said that:

  • student-centred learning is where someone else, e.g. the teacher, designs learning with the student in mind, while 
  • student-directed/generated learning is where the teacher trusts the student to design or generate learning for self, and perhaps for the rest of the group.

Before finally giving us his preferred definition of student-directed learning, Panos notes the difficulty of obtaining advanced knowledge of our learner type/needs/preferences, never so more as we expand further into global markets.

Panos’ working/research definition of student-directed learning

If a community of learners is to be formed, we need self-directed learners, who will develop intrinsic motivation to learn from and with each other (Wenger, 2009).

If learning is to be truly self-directed, then there should be a period of learning activity during which the activity, the decisions which matter, the interceptions placed on sourced material and experiences, should be the sole responsibility of the learners, free at that time from pro-active inputs by people who set out to teach, however they define that word, and with whatever benevolent intent.

Panos' Study - and my Presentation of his Findings

The study was of a modest size, with 29 fully online post-grad students over one semester, including (heavily summarised):

  • activities: traditional reading of articles and supporting discussions using both guided thought discussion and discovery thought discussion (both employing synchronous and asynchronous methods)
  • technology: VLE (moodle); web-conferencing (Blackboard Collaborate); student choice of blog (either the Moodle provided blog or any other available blog); discussion diagram creator (draw or 'snap' pictures in Moodle discussion areas)
  • learning design framework: The ring-fencing framework for student-centred learning (abridged from Vlachopoulos & Cowan, 2010b, p. 30) (and the full Distance Education article)
  • data collection methods: dialogue analysis (harnessing, coding, analysing discussions across the various methods); post-activity questionnaire

Below I am representing the findings, which Panos visually represented in a radar diagram, reinterpreted for my own meaning making in a tabular version. I have not used all the detail Panos presented in the webinar; just the strengths and weakness that I interpreted from Panos' presentation.

Type of discussion activity
Strength/s *
Weakness/es *
Synchronous guided task
Community building

Task value (external)

Asynchronous guided task
Task value (internal)
Set learning-oriented goals

Task value (external)

Synchronous discovery task
Task value (external)
Set performance-oriented goals
Community building

Task value (internal)
Set learning-oriented goals

Asynchronous discovery task
Task value (internal)
Task value (external)
Set learning-oriented goals

Set performance-oriented goals
Community building

* As interpreted from Panos’ findings of 7 factors on radar chart, as based on student feedback (Task value (internal – re worthwhile experience to learning what you thought you would learn); Task value (external) – not specifically defined; Set learning-oriented goals; Set performance-oriented goals; Self-evaluation; Community building; Feedback)

Note: In mid-20th century psychology (e.g. Rotter, 1966), external control was a term for when a reinforcement was perceived as having some relationship to own actions but not contingent on them, while internal control was contingent upon own actions. Does this bear any relationship here?

During discussion ensuing from the findings, Panos was able to extol learning design decisions, and importance of designing in a suitable order and framing of activities, such as (and extended by me):

  • Synchronous guided task - for - Community building:
    Best used at start of course to build community, but not too early; need to allow learners to grapple a bit with the content first to infuse the community building (give a context to relate to)
  • Asynchronous guided task - for - completing tasks set in guide:
    Best to restrict this in first days, as it is overwhelming for students to see all the social networking posts when there's a lot of traffic and creates pressure to post for those who need to seriously analyse material and make their own meaning before posting
  • Parameters of student-directed learning:
    Know your (institutional) learning environment; cannot innovate too wide or too often; can come across as too sporadic; need to carefully select.


There are a couple of good parting messages. These can be found in the webinar recording:

  • Key message from the study (around 38-minute mark) - 1 paragraph
  • What is it all about (around 41-minute mark) - 4 points

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