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Engineering Students’ Conceptions Of Self Directed Learning

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Student Engagement and Motivation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.527.1 - 13.527.19



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Paper Authors

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Jonathan Stolk Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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John Geddes Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Mark Somerville Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Robert Martello Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering Students’ Conceptions of Self-Directed Learning


Researchers have developed numerous theories and developmental models to describe self- directed learning, lifelong learning, and self-regulated learning. The literature includes a large body of research that illustrates the cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral attributes of self-directed learners; the influences of social and physical environment on self-directed learning development; and the roles of self-perceptions, causal orientations, learning conceptions, and demographics in determining certain self-directed learning responses. But how do undergraduate engineering students characterize and critique self-directed learning? This paper evaluates the responses of engineering students to questions regarding the definition of self-direction and the primary positive or negative factors contributing to their self-directed learning experiences. We find that undergraduate students at all levels are able to identify positive and challenging aspects of self-directed environments, and the emergent themes from the qualitative student responses map well onto theoretical frameworks for self-direction and self-regulation. Results are discussed in terms of pedagogical issues to consider when designing curricular experiences aimed at development of self-directed learning competency.


Importance of self-directed learning

Calls for educational reform emphasize the need for new student-centered learning approaches that aid development of broader skills and attitudes to complement traditional knowledge acquisition.1,2,3,4 A capacity for lifelong learning is often identified as a critical outcome for educational systems, and many assert that a self-directed learning (SDL) approach best facilitates the deep conceptual understanding and learning process engagement that enable individuals to flourish in ever-changing contexts. ABET and other organizations have recently asked educators to promote the development of students’ lifelong learning skills through their curricula,5,6 but calls for self-directed learning approaches are not new. In 1969, Carl Rogers articulated the need for flexible, independent learners:

“Teaching and the imparting of knowledge make sense in an unchanging environment. This is why it has been an unquestioned function for centuries. But if there is one truth about modern man, it is that he lives in an environment which is continually changing…We are, in my view, faced with an entirely new situation in education where the goal of education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of change and learning. The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to learn; the man who has learned how to adapt and change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the 7 process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security.”

Education literature includes extensive discussion of the qualities and competencies of effective self-directed learners, and of student attitudes toward self-directed learning.8,9,10 For example, Candy describes self-directed learners as individuals who are curious, motivated, disciplined, reflective, analytical, persistent, responsible, flexible, interpersonally competent, creative, and independent. Candy also notes that self-directed learners possess skills in information seeking

Stolk, J., & Geddes, J., & Somerville, M., & Martello, R. (2008, June), Engineering Students’ Conceptions Of Self Directed Learning Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3943

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