Making College a much more Personal and Engaging Experience for All Students
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of initiatives from tech and education leaders working to get students involved in their own education. Back in my class, teachers I’d taught years ago will ask if I know the etiquette to give a spontaneous answer to a big question. Yes, perhaps that topic is off limits and nobody would think to ask, but students are realizing that no matter how controversial an educational topic might be in the classroom, they can make a decision independently about how to participate in their learning. In a country that continues to have few ethnic minorities in the STEM fields, this is becoming an increasingly popular learning model for minority students.
I recently had the opportunity to teach a course on the history of self-directed learning on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University and was impressed at how much of the course was devoted to a focus on self-directed learning. The course was called “The Self-Driven Mind: A Case for Self-Directed Learning and Effective Multicultural Classroom Instruction.” With UC Davis offering courses focusing on the online teacher and self-directed learning as well, this would seem to be the right time to look at self-directed learning as a method of both creating quality courses and more diverse, nontraditional learning environments for students.
Students pursue their own learning by taking classes on their own terms and without any instructional assistance from their instructor. Self-directed learning focuses on the research and applications of hands-on projects and hands-on experiences, the interdependence of learning in both the experimental and the real world, and a personal interest in both academic and career initiatives. As a student, your time is your own and your learning experiences are entirely up to you.
In order to pursue their own interests, some students decide to try a new class during their lunch break or work on an assignment. Students in a program known as MC2 have the option of becoming a private instructor in a subject area and the option to offer a class online. They can expect to have the same hands-on efforts from their own classes as other private instructors. By observing their own peers and using it as feedback to continue learning and to improve as teachers, the students in this class can expect to improve their course grade and their reputation as a private instructor as well.
If students decide they want to supplement their own teaching efforts and offer their own classes, they can choose a program that offers paid teaching credits. These educational scholarships are designed to help develop a professional teaching style as well as provide a background in professional education. The entrepreneurs can utilize these scholarships to fund their own projects or they can leverage these scholarships to help fund a supplemental school year or graduation. Once students complete their course work, they’ll know what skills and knowledge they possess in addition to valuable experiences.
Self-directed learning has a long history and it has plenty of room to grow as an effective new learning paradigm. I had a teacher once who wanted to provide special course content only to his students if they agreed to only take two courses at the beginning of their studies. Of course, those students who wanted to take more courses soon found out why the course was only available to them. Students who chose not to take more courses learned much more about this teacher and their ability to make decisions independent of course material, lectures, lectures, and more lecturing. By studying the behaviors and skills of students who chose to take extra courses, we can learn how best to bring needed resources to a community where there aren’t enough trained, ready teachers to meet the needs of all students. Self-directed learning and the options it provides provide a new way of preparing students for workforce leadership and degree completion.