In recent years, educators have come to focus more and more on the importance of lab-based experimentation, hands-on participation, student-led inquiry, and the use of "manipulables" in the classroom. The underlying rationale seems to be that students are better able to learn when they can control the flow of their experience, or when their learning is "self-directed."
While the benefits of self-directed learning are widely acknowledged, the reasons why a sense of control leads to better acquisition of material are poorly understood.
Some researchers have highlighted the motivational component of self-directed learning, arguing that this kind of learning is effective because it makes students more willing and more motivated to learn. But few researchers have examined how self-directed learning might influence cognitive processes, such as those involved in attention and memory.
In an article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers Todd Gureckis and Douglas Markant of New York University address this gap in understanding by examining the issue of self-directed learning from a cognitive and a computational perspective.
According to Gureckis and Markant, research from cognition offers several explanations that help to account for the advantages of self-directed learning. For example, self-directed learning helps us optimize our educational experience, allowing us to focus effort on useful information that we don't already possess and exposing us to information that we don't have access to through passive observation. The active nature of self-directed learning also helps us in encoding information and retaining it over time.
But we're not always optimal self-directed learners. The many cognitive biases and heuristics that we rely on to help us make decisions can also influence what information we pay attention to and, ultimately, learn.
Gureckis and Markant note that computational models commonly used in machine learning research can provide a framework for studying how people evaluate different sources of information and decide about the information they seek out and attend to. Work in machine learning can also help identify the benefits -- and weaknesses -- of independent exploration and the situations in which such exploration will confer the greatest benefit for learners.
Drawing together research from cognitive and computational perspectives will provide researchers with a better understanding of the processes that underlie self-directed learning and can help bridge the gap between basic cognitive research and applied educational research. Gureckis and Markant hope that this integration will help researchers to develop assistive training methods that can be used to tailor learning experiences that account for the specific demands of the situation and characteristics of the individual learner.
Materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- T. M. Gureckis, D. B. Markant. Self-Directed Learning: A Cognitive and Computational Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2012; 7 (5): 464 DOI: 10.1177/1745691612454304
Cite This Page:
Association for Psychological Science. "What makes self-directed learning effective?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121004134843.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, October 4). What makes self-directed learning effective?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121004134843.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "What makes self-directed learning effective?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121004134843.htm (accessed March 14, 2018).
Each day across the United States and Canada, thousands of Kumon Students diligently complete their Kumon Worksheets. The Kumon Worksheets are designed to facilitate self-learning by introducing new content through example problems and guided exercises. Kumon Instructors provide specific guidance on how to use the worksheets to self-learn. Students develop the skills and mindset for self-learning through the process of solving problems in the worksheets and gaining the experience of advancing beyond their school grade level.
We highlighted three benefits of self-learning to help you understand its importance and value to the Kumon Program:
1. Understanding How to Learn
“The benefit of learning on your own is that you can explore different ways of thinking, and you can go through difficult concepts on your own without help.” – Cherry, Kumon Student from St. Louis, MO
One of the fundamental aims of the Kumon Program is to help students learn how to solve problems by encouraging them to actively take part in the learning process. When developing the Kumon Program, Toru Kumon understood that students have the potential to solve problems independently regardless of their age and abilities. With that in mind, he developed a carefully designed worksheet-based program that aims to teach students how to learn, rather than what to learn. By teaching students how to learn, the Kumon Program equips each student with the necessary tools and critical thinking skills they need to approach and solve problems they have never faced before. Each Kumon Worksheet is designed to help students understand how to learn using examples modelled after worksheet problems. Students then use those examples to learn how to solve the problems on Kumon Worksheets. In this sense, students are encouraged to think critically and explore different ways of thinking in order to solve problems.
2. Learning without External Aids
“Kumon trains me to learn the material on my own so that I don’t have to depend on someone. It has helped me build self-confidence, and I have learned responsibility and self-discipline.” – Ishaan, Kumon Student from San Jose, CA
Self-learning allows each student to tackle problems based on their own capabilities. In that sense, students own their knowledge as opposed to relying on external devices such as calculators or tutors. For example, a student who understands multiplication extremely well is able to solve multiplication and division problems much faster than a student who relies on a calculator. The latter student wastes valuable time entering problems into a calculator whereas the former student immediately recalls that 6 X 4 = 24 and 12 X 12 = 144.
As Faye Komagata, a Kumon Instructor from Honolulu, HI explains, “Tutoring may be fine for some things, but no tutor can go to school with a child, no tutor can go into the exam room with the child. Kumon enables students to be independent.”
In addition, tutors can only teach a child how they solve a problem, which could result in confusion if the student tries to answer the problem differently on an exam. The Kumon Program, however, is different because it is designed to allow students to figure out how to solve problems independently.
3. Preparing for the Future
“Self-learning ability is a necessity in high school. Students are expected to figure out a lot on their own. If students already have self-study skills from Kumon, they can apply them in high school. Kumon makes high school easier by empowering students to become fearless when encountering challenges.” Phyllis Peyton, Kumon Instructor from San Francisco, CA
Self-learning helps students develop the confidence they need to tackle challenging problems and obstacles in the future. As Phyllis Peyton mentioned, the self-learning skills that Kumon Students gain can be applied to their academic careers outside of the Kumon Program.