In the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership there was an interesting article, Students at Bat, as I read it I saw a correlation between the article and conversations about self-directed learning, both for students and adults. The article used an analogy of how playing neighborhood baseball taught many skills to children, for example: they chose teams, picked positions, decided where bases were located, what was considered a home run, and determined batting orders. Older children taught younger children how to bat, run the bases, and how to field the ball. Children resolved their disagreements through conversation, compromise and consensus.

Today most children don’t have the chance to play neighborhood baseball, their leagues are structured and run by adults who pick the teams, determine who plays what position, and create the batting order and the schedule of when games are played. Organized sports today are much like school, kids are told where to sit, who they will work with, when to eat, when to get up, when they can talk, what they will learn, and how they will be measured on their learning. As students move up in grade levels their choices become fewer and fewer, schedules are more structured, and course requirements make their time in school more restrictive. They have fewer opportunities to learn about sharing, resolving disputes through compromise and consensus. They are rarely asked to participate in conversations to decide about their learning goals, rules of conduct, or classroom procedures. In some instances these same structures apply to educational professional development as well.

Self Directed Learning- More Than Just Talk
Yet, we talk of self-directed learning and its importance in education today. Usually the conversations are centered on students being self directed learners and the difficulties they seem to have understanding this concept, but this is a new experience for many teachers as well. I believe most people are used to menu option of professional development sessions offered through their employer. Many chose to attend sessions that fit into the time constraints of their lives, whether they are the most relevant or not.

Through Powerful Learning Practice it has been my pleasure to watch throughout all of the cohorts; strong, self directed learners emerge. For many this was a new experience, a yearlong job embedded personal learning opportunity, in which all participants had choice, not only of where and when they would participate, but also choice in topics of interest they wanted to learn more about, have collegial conversations with others, ask questions to clarify understanding, dig deeper, and grow personally and professionally. It was not an easy journey for everyone, the reality everyone was responsible for their own learning was a shift, and a revealing one. I remember last fall one day Scott Godshalk, a teammate of mine said,

“I’m just not sure what I should be doing, I keep waiting for someone to tell me what to do”. Once the words were out of his mouth, he seemed to realize he was in charge of what he was doing, and ultimately of what he would learn throughout the year. The benefits he would gain would stem from the time and energy he invested in the experience and conversations he felt were relevant to his learning.

As all cohorts participate in their last Elluminate session, a time designated to sharing their projects before coming together face to face for final celebrations, there is overwhelming evidence teams of strong, self-directed learners have formed within the communities of cohorts. The projects for sustaining and scaling the learning which has taken place this year are varied in scope and delivery methods. Most importantly, all are rooted in change and evidence of the collaborative learning environments we have been immersed in.

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Robin Ellis

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