Learning the Self-Directed Way: It's What Kids Do Best
Do you remember when your child was younger and completely immersed in a game or an imaginary world?
Have you watched them lose some of that wonder as they contend with homework, exams, and the structure that comes with school and adolescence?
The idea that your child can be a self-directed learner might fall outside the realm of 'normal' education, but that is precisely what they were doing when they got lost in play. Your child was immersed in their own learning process, which allowed them to meet their own needs.
An independent clinical psychologist, Naomi Fisher, believes that self-directed learning is precisely what our children need and says so in her book "Changing Our Minds". She shared her ideas during a recent Galileo inspired event.
She says she feels "a responsibility to let people know that there is another option and that people like myself back it because so often parents are told by professionals that they've got to do school."
Juliet English, a homeschooling mother and home education advocate, started a conference for parents "with the idea of equipping, encouraging, enabling, and empowering them to educate their own children."
You don't need to be a teacher to start self-directed learning.
Formal Education is Not Always an Ideal Learning Environment
School is not for everyone.
Knowledge is more than a set of learning goals where teachers evaluate learning outcomes. Learning should be alive and engaging rather than a series of appropriate learning strategies and tasks to successfully complete.
Learning should be personal and filled with life experiences that follow your child's own interests.
"When we bring a standardized system to bear on a non-standardized child, we create problems" - Naomi Fisher.
School is a rigid system comprised of rules and restrictions, but the learning process isn't rigid. Learning is fluid and non-linear, but more critically, it is based on each student's own learning journey.
Naomi says, "school gives us this illusion of standardized progression where all children are learning to read at five or six. But if we look at kids outside the school system, they learn to read at a massive range of ages."
If kids have the chance to honor their own learning needs, then the learning process would look very different than what happens within the confines of a classroom.
Are You Qualified To Teach Your Kids at Home?
Because self-directed learning is not about you, and it's not about teaching! You are there to facilitate and support your child's learning, not recreate the classroom.
"There's this massive gap in our collective imagination as to what childhood looks like without school, and we just can't imagine it. So we revert to what feels safe, and that is school" - Naomi Fisher.
Self-directed learning is about your child's own goals as they learn to identify learning goals for themselves.
Juliet says independent learning is scary. " When you start out, it certainly is because you have this idea in your mind that you need to do what schools are doing, and I certainly came from that same approach."
School is our default, but the learning process is unique for each learner, and school, unfortunately, does not encourage individuality.
Why You Should Consider Self-Directed Learning
Naomi says that school is often considered non-negotiable for parents, so they "push their children through it, often at huge personal cost to themselves and their children, because they believe there is no other way. That's really the flag I'm holding high to say there is another way. You can do this, and it's not worth sacrificing your child's mental health, your own mental health, your family's well-being because there is another great way to learn, and you just need to take that leap of faith."
The basis of the school design is conformity and obedience, but that doesn't take into account the incredible array of personalities that children have. Instead, we should be celebrating the uniqueness of our children rather than encouraging uniformity.
Self-directed learning allows each learner to develop a learning strategy based on their specific learning goals. But it also allows learners the freedom to explore their interests and find the thing that sparks joy.
When our kids can take control of their own learning, they develop self-directed learning skills. These learning experiences often encourage problem-based learning, allowing learners to develop problem-solving skills and learn responsibility and self-regulation.
Self-Directed Learning and Neurodiversity
Teachers in the education system have the responsibility of formulating learning goals for students. In addition, faculty members use learning activities and appropriate learning strategies to assess students by evaluating learning outcomes.
Doesn't that sound dry and impersonal?
Who decides whether or not the learning strategies are appropriate for each child? Faculty members and policymakers, unfortunately. Not even teachers have much freedom in the classroom.
Juliet agrees and says, "that's what is missing to a large extent from the education system is that teachers don't have that freedom to be able to do more for the individual child."
Instead, students are sent for assessments by teachers and are often considered disordered. But Naomi says we can't assess students in isolation. Instead, we should consider the interaction between the environment and the learner's needs.
"Before leaping to say these children are disordered, they've got something wrong with them; we should be saying, let's look at this child and the environment together, and let's think about whether we can change the environment so that the child can flourish."
Everyone Learns Differently
As a psychologist, Naomi is familiar with the restrictions within the classroom when it comes to individual learning needs.
Another psychologist, Mary Boyle, explained the 'Brain or Blame' idea and its relation to learning. In our society, there are two options if you don't fit in or aren't coping. Either your brain is at fault, the idea that psychologists use often, or you are to blame. Schools like to blame students first before considering it might be a problem with their brains.
But is it really either of these things?
"How about we step back from this brain or blame thing because neither of these options is good, really. Because I don't think there is anything wrong with most of these kids' brains, I just think they don't fit into a very rigid system that requires them to do certain things at certain times. So I don't think development works like that, and I don't think neurodevelopment works like that." - Naomi Fisher.
A neurodiverse, self-directed learner can learn self-regulation and use a process of learning that meets their own learning needs. They have the freedom to take responsibility for their learning and adapt the learning task to suit them. What a gift to allow students the opportunity to find joy in the learning process rather than feeling stifled and misunderstood.
The Power of Intrinsic Motivation
Juliet describes intrinsic motivation aptly when she says, "the child is the one who needs to do the learning. We can't put the learning into them. We can't put anything into them unless they want it."
So many parents are worried that their kids won't learn if they take them out of school. But are they learning in school?
When evaluating learning outcomes and new learning, schools have a standard formula—test, test, test.
Exams and tests are the standard way teachers test the knowledge of their learners but are they really the best way to assess learning? For example, how can an exam show the problem-solving ability of learners or capture their enthusiasm for a subject?
"When we start testing young people and children, what we do is we shift the emphasis from the learning to the outcome." - Naomi Fisher.
This shifts the focus of the learners' motivation from internal to external. When learning comes from external motivation, the learning and the motivation of learners decrease.
Why Is Internal Motivation Important?
Internal motivation is crucial for meaningful learning.
How often have you learned something as an adult because you enjoyed it and were genuinely interested in what you were learning?
Learning is so much more than the acquisition of knowledge. It is a process learners can use to develop skills and learn about themselves and their world.
Naomi says that external motivation means "young people choose the things they do because they want to do well in the exams rather than because they want to learn about something."
Learners miss out on the opportunity to develop and grow when they feel like they are not in control of their own learning.
How Becoming a Self-directed Learner Can Change Everything
Encouraging your child to become a self-directed learner could be the best thing you ever do. Self-directed learning not only allows your child to become independent and autonomous, but it helps them learn how to learn.
We don't stop learning when we leave school. We probably learn more as adults when we choose to follow our interests. Lifelong learning should be the goal, and allowing kids self-direction means they can fully engage with the learning process.
But handing over responsibility to your child can feel scary.
Diving into Deschooling
Deschooling is critical when you start self-directed learning.
Learning happens in various ways, and shifting from industrial education to a self-directed learning lifestyle requires a mindset shift. Changing how you think about learning is for parents and learners because self-direction is a journey, not a destination.
Juliet explains that alternative education can be a struggle for parents because we care what people think.
"So if I think back to when I started out wanting to be very structured, my motivation was that I didn't want people to criticize me, I didn't want my children to fall behind, I didn't want to fail. And when you think of it, that is negative motivation; it's not positive motivation. So you need to unpack all of those things. You can look at your own stereotypes, your own prejudices, your own background, your own education, and what other people are saying. You have to strip away any kind of negative motivation so that you can truly put your child at the center of it and consider what is going to be in their best interest for their 'big picture'" - Juliet English.
Self-Directed Learning is for Parents Too
As parents, we have to process our feelings about learning. We have to unwrap our beliefs about school and how self-directed learners can take control of their own learning.
Naomi says, "most of us come out of school having picked up an enormous amount about our place in the world, school, education, learning, and life. We've learned a lot about where we are in a kind of hierarchy, in the school hierarchy, of whether we're clever or not clever, whether we're sporty or not sporty."
These are ideas we carry forward into adulthood. But this hierarchy is not ideal because it is achievement-based. It doesn't consider a diverse range of skills or whether you are a good person or not. Instead, it focuses on learning goals and human and material resources rather than life experiences and empathy.
We have been told that school is the safe option, but even progressive education doesn't consider the variable nature of individual development. Instead, teachers need to teach in a way that works for the majority, but the one-size-fits-all approach to learning is outdated and needs to change.
So, How Does Self-Directed Learning Work?
The beauty of self-directed learning is that it can work any way you want. Learning in a self-directed means your child can take responsibility for their own learning and find strategies and experiences that help them meet their learning needs.
And yes, you might be worried about whether your child will be learning, but that is just the school mindset talking.
Naomi explained that play is the most important thing for younger children, and this often looks like there is a lack of intentional learning. But between the ages of 9 and 11, there is a developmental shift where kids become more intentional about their learning.
We don't actually know how kids develop outside of school because most of the research on learning is done within a school setting. But isn't that exciting? Isn't it freeing? Self-directed learning is a process with endless opportunities and ways of learning. It is a journey that will teach you about yourself, your child, and the world around you.
Platforms like Galileo facilitate learning in a self-directed way, allowing your child to gain knowledge and skills alongside other children and adults who are curious about the world. Self-directed learning offers your child control over their own learning while helping them learn how to learn.
When children engage with their learning goals in a self-directed way, they fully immerse themselves in a topic and have the opportunity to explore multiple interests. For example, Juliet says, "allow them to get dirty, take risks, experience things and make mistakes and fail."
Self-Directed Learning is the Future of Education
Your child's learning needs are essential, and allowing them to be self-directed while figuring out who they are and what they like is crucial. Self-directed learning offers families the chance to do things differently and experience the world in a more inclusive, empathetic, and involved way.
The global world is more connected than ever, and self-directed learners have access to a network of other people who can inspire and challenge them.
Self-directed learning might not seem like an option for your family, but there are so many resources available that you could use for guidance and support. It is about finding a way of learning, a way of life, that works best for your family.
So, why not join the learning network and find out more about learning freedom?