A study of self-directed learning at an Ontario college of applied arts and technology
Grabove, Valerie L.
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Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) are currently in the process of restructuring to ensure quality, accountability, and accessibility of college education. References to learner involvement and self-directed learning are prevalent. "Alternative delivery" and "paradigm shift" are current buzzwords within the Ontario CAAT system as an environment is created supportive of change. Instability of funding has also dictated a need for change. Therefore, a focus has become quality of learning with less demand on public resources. This qualitative case study was conducted at an Ontario CAAT to gather descriptive, perceptual data from post-secondary community college educators who were identified as supportive of self-directed learning and from post-secondary, traditional-aged college students who were perceived by their educators to be selfdirected learners. This college was selected because of initiatives to modify its academic paradigm to encourage what was reputed in the Ontario CAAT system to be self-directed learning. The purpose of this study was to investigate how postsecondary, traditional-aged college students and their educators perceive self-directed learning as part of the teaching-learning experience within a community college setting. Educator participants of the study were selected based on the results of a teaching and learning survey intended to identify educators supportive of self-directed learning. A total of 317 surveys were distributed to every full-time educator at the sample college; 192 completed surveys were returned for a return rate of 61 %. Of these, 8% indicated instructional beliefs and values supportive of self-directed learning. A purposive sample of six educators was selected using a maximulp variation sampling strategy. A network selection sampling strategy was used to select a purposive sample of seven post-secondary students who were identified by the sample educators as selfdirected learners. The results of the study show that students and educators have similar perspectives and operating definitions of self-directed learning and all participants believe they either practice or facilitate self-directed learning. However, their perspectives and practices are not consistent with the literature which emphasizes learner autonomy or control in course structure and content. A central characteristic of the participants represented in this study is the service-oriented professions with which each is associated. Experientiallearning opportunities were highly valued for the options provided in increasing learner independence and competencies in reflective practice. Although there were discrepancies between espoused theory and theory in practice in terms of course structure, the process of self-directed learning was being practiced and supported outside the classroom structure in clinical settings, labs and related experiences.