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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reframing research into 'self-direction' in adult education : A constructivist perspective Candy, Philip Carne


Research into self-direction has been hampered by the absence of a consistent theoretical framework, and the indiscriminate application of the term 'self-direction' to different phenomena. The purposes of this study were: (a) to critically analyse the use of the term 'self-direction' in adult education and to ascertain whether there are differences among the phenomena subsumed under that label; (b) to critically survey the literature, and synthesise research findings; (c) to compare the significance of 'self-direction' in adult education with other sectors of education; (d) to identify and evaluate assumptions underlying past and present research traditions in 'self-direction'; and (e) to reconceptualise 'self-direction' from a constructivist perspective and to formulate themes for future research. It was shown that 'self-direction' has been used to refer to three different phenomena: (i) as a personal quality or attribute (personal autonomy); (ii) as the independent pursuit of learning outside formal instructional settings (autodidaxy); and (iii) as a way of organising instruction (learner-control). Two distinct approaches were used in undertaking the study. The first involved a critical analysis and review of literature in each of the three domains, the second was based on a form of conceptual analysis. Major paradigms in educational research were surveyed. It was asserted that assumptions underlying the interpretive paradigm were congruent with the phenomenon of self-direction and that, despite its limitations, there are advantages to adopting a constructivist perspective. Major findings were: (1) lack of internal consistency in the literature precludes the development of a coherent 'theory of self-direction' from within the literature; (2) autodidaxy can be usefully distinguished from learner-control; (3) autonomy in learning does not necessarily lead to personal autonomy, nor does personal autonomy always manifest itself in the learning situation; (4) autonomy has both personal and situational dimensions; (5) understanding the perspective of learners is vital to understanding strategies used and outcomes attained; (6) personal autonomy in learning comprises both cross-situational and situation-specific dimensions; (7) research into learning outcomes should stress qualitative rather than quantitative dimensions of knowledge acquisition; and (8) constructivism sanctions action-research and other naturalistic inquiry modes. The study incluuded an agenda for research into autodidaxy and learner-control from a constructivist perspective.

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