Dive Brief:

  • A YouthTruth survey of 20,000 students in grades 5 through 12 shows 41% of respondents said they were able to motivate themselves to continue their schoolwork during school closures. About 25% of 12th graders and approximately 57% of 5th graders said they could motivate themselves.  
  • According to The Hechinger Report reporting, students trained as self-directed learners were better equipped to handle remote learning, 
  • For example, students at The Forest School: An Acton Academy — a school dedicated to self-directed learning in Atlanta — were able to continue school remotely without missing a beat because they possessed independent learning skills. Tyler Thigpen, co-founder of the school, said the model can also help bridge the equity gap for low-income students and those of color.

Dive Insight:

Self-directed learning is not new. The concept allows students to learn at their own pace, ask questions and think critically. Rather than having educators tell them what to learn and do, self-directed learners learn independently, even when forced to learn from home without the direct supervision of a teacher. 

In spite of the challenges posed by distance learning during the spring, some teachers were able to capitalize on project-based learning to help students direct some of their learning. PBLWorks, a nonprofit that provides professional development for project-based teaching, reports high participation for its webinars.

In the fall, many teachers will be expected to adopt a blended approach to projects, which will give students more practice with apps used to research, collaborate and create products, Caroline Godwin, a curriculum coach at the school, told Education Dive. 

Some education professionals say the pandemic-induced distance learning is the ideal time to introduce self-directed learning that includes deeper exploration into subjects. The extra time can be used by students to create a science experiment, develop a country complete with topography, climate, population and economy information, or do a detailed report on an unusual type of pet.

Still, experts say some students will need more support than others. While some students will sail along with little guidance, other students will need regular check-ins as they develop self-directed learning skills.

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