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ASSESSMENT OF LEARNER SUPPORT SYSTEM (LSS) FOR SELF- DIRECTED LEARNING (SDL) AT OPEN UNIVERSITY OF TANZANIA
1.0 THE PROBLEM AND ITS CONTEXT
This Chapter presents the Problem and Its Context under the following Sections: Background to the Problem; Statement of the Problem; Objectives of the Study; and Significance of the Study. Other Sections include: Scope of the Study; Limitations of the Study; Definition of Key Terms and Concepts; and Conceptual Framework.
1.2 Background to the Problem.
Self-directed learning (SDL) is an inner motivation that pushes a student towards learning. Gibbons (2002) defines self-directed learning as a process in which learners take initiatives and responsibilities regarding aspects happening in their education. The concept of SDL was developed by Edward C. Linderman, an American educator in 1925. According to Linderman,(1926), learners, especially adult learners are motivated to learn if they feel that through learning, their needs and interests will be satisfied because learning in adulthood entails life-centered, and thus, adults are considered to be self-directed. Thus, learning occurs when learners are motivated to learn as long as they feel that their needs and interests will be satisfied through learning Maslow(1943).
Before Linderman’s theorizing about self-directed learning, the concept of SDL existed but was named and perceived by ancient philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle as self-education (Kulich, 1970). According to Socrates (470 BC-399 BC), wisdom begins in admitting one’s own ignorance, and is followed by self-education. According to this view, people become self-directed, not because they are prompted by someone else, but because of an inner urge to knowledge Ryan and Deci (2000). Mardziah (1969) adds that self-directed learners are confident, goal oriented, motivated, persistent and independent.
Knowles (1975) defines self-directed learning as a process where individuals take initiative(s) with or without the help of others to diagnose their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying resources for learning, selecting as well as implementing learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes.
Candy (1991) summarized two characteristics of self-directed learner. They are attributes and skills that drive one to curiosity, gets motivated, methodically disciplined, logical, analytical, reflective, self-aware, flexible, independent, interpersonally competent, persistent, and responsible. Other supporters of self-directed learning such as Haye (1993), Tough (1967), Merriam and Caffarella (1991), and others believe that self-directed learners take the primary responsibility for planning, carrying out the study and evaluating their learning experience.
In Open and Distance Learning (ODL), self-directed learning is highly required especially that learners are separated from their instructors Boston (1992). Learners who are self-directed take initiatives and responsibilities on what occurs in their learning. They select, manage and assess their learning activities as well as take their responsibility for their own learning in order to learn effectively at their own pace and develop their independent and life long learning skills to fulfill their learning objectives Dale and Barry (1998).
It falls that learners who are not self-directed will be the opposite of those who are. for example, those who are not self-directed are not curious, motivated, disciplined, analytical, reflective, aware and all those attributes that Candy explained. Without SDL, individual learners in distance learning environment will lack motivation and such that they will decide to drop out (Drucker, 1994). Thus, a self directed learner can be identified from a non-self directed learner by assessing and examining their involvement in learning. For instance, self-directed learners have positive personal drives towards planning and setting learning goals, but non self-directed learners depend solely on the teacher’s goals and objectives. Self directed learners are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, while non-self-directed learners mostly rely on extrinsic motivation Long (1991).
From the foregoing, SDL is theorized as emanating from the learner’s inside, and actually it is very social in that people become intrinsically motivated to do certain activities including learning from other people around them Rogers, (1983). A child may be motivated to learn a skill after seeing his or her parents or peers doing things skillfully (ibid). Likewise, one may become demotivated by being punished for doing something, and therefore, develops dislike of learning something that he or she suffered from the consequence Sutton and Barto (1998). This idea also comes from Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of “zone of proximal development,” which implies that learning is not a natural and individual process, but a social and cultural activity that an individual is assisted by peers or by other more knowledgeable individuals.
If this is true, it follows that self-directed learning can be very much developed socially, when a learner is motivated to learn, and this brings to what is known as Learner support system (LSS) James (2008). Learner support refers to all forms of assistance provided to the learner to help him or her learn better and in open and distance learning, LSS is provided to distance learners so as to ensure that learning tasks are performed successfully (Gunawardena, 1996).
Linda (2000) defines student support as prevention, intervention and transition follow-up service for learners, students and families. According to her (ibid.), learner support is concerned with removing barriers of learning through direct counseling, consultation and individual assessment. In many learning institutions, scholars have theorized learner support system as important in motivating learners to learn.
Garrison and Bayton (1987) define learner support as resources that learners can access in order to carry out the learning process. Resources from learning institutions normally fall under resources such as library facilities, various media as well as software programs, community learning and the like (Casson,2001).
Learner support in distance learning is practiced by identifying the learner’s needs and determines how those needs could be met Rae (1989). After an initial identification, the supporter is supposed to think of ways and strategies to provide support to meet those needs. In order to determine if the students’ support is effective, the provider of support should do a comparison with that of the most effective provision, which promotes independence in learning and enhances self-directed learning (ibid).
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Literature on self-directed learning is not linked to learner support services. Likewise, the literature on learner support has not been linked with self-directed learning. Scholars see learners as inner motivated that they have active desire on learning and they are driven by their feelings to fulfill their learning goals in life Gibbons(2002),Linderman (1926).Similarly, it has been theorized that distance learners are very active in planning and formulating their learning goals without the help of others Knowles (1975).More over learners become self motivated due to their attributes and skills that are very natural Haye (1993), Merriam and Caffarella (1991).All these scholars see learners as being inner motivated, perhaps making a decision to rely on intrinsic motivation.
These scholars have not looked into a possibility that perhaps, extrinsic motivation such as learner support may strengthen or dissipate one’s self-direction. Furthermore, while the above scholars have discussed self directed learning, much of this discussion has only described about self-directed learning and none has empirically studied how students come to be self-directed learners and how that disposition can be developed or strengthened. Scholars talk of SDL as if it comes from inside an individual and nothing from the outside can qualify or bar it. Furthermore, scholars have yet to determine how LSS can promote SDL. Thus, this study aimed to filling in this gap in literature