27 Actions That Promote Self-Directed Learning

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bengrey227 Actions That Promote Self-Directed Learning

by Terry Heick

So I’m trying to better understand how people learn–not now they’re taught in terms of teaching strategies, but more so learning strategies–only not really strategies. Learning actions, or cognitive actions.

Self-directed and social learning will undoubtedly be at the core of any sort of future learning–both near and far future. But to improve learning in both self-directed and teacher-centered learning environments, it can be illuminating to look past the activities, projects, and courses to try to see what sort of brain-level actions learners are performing. Like push-ups, wind sprints, and weight training are physical actions that help train an athlete’s body, what kind of cognitive actions train a learner’s mind?

Bloom’s taxonomy–especially the annotated “Bloom’s Wheel”–helpfully offers power verbs that drive the planning of learning activities, but I wanted to be even more specific. The goal here is to create a self-directed learning model that supports 21st century learners in finding, analyzing, improving, repackaging and sharing data in pursuit of self-knowledge.

So how can this brainstorming help you as an educator? Use them as thinking prompts or discussion cues. Consider them as starting points for project-based learning. Have students use them as “empty shells” to fill with self-selected learning topics to create learning paths of their own.

The big idea is that these kinds of “brain actions” are not only the kinds of tasks you can use to create assignments, but more importantly are the kinds of acts that promote inquiry-based understanding. So rather than start with a topic–fractions, metaphors, or racism–you can simply insist on the cognitive action itself. Learners can choose topics of their own, or you can offer a range of topics.

An example? Learners are given this list, and ask to provide a topic they’re curious about. They choose an “action” that makes sense of their self-selected topic, then asked to come up with an assignment, project, or simply activity that is authentic. If they have trouble, offer them three choices that align with your curriculum or given academic standards. A Social Studies teacher might offer push-pull factors, industrialism, and factors in social change. For social change, 2, 4, and 11 all make perfect sense.

Individually, in small groups, or in a dialogue with you, students begin to create their own assignments, and you transition from task-master to learning facilitator. In and of themselves, they’re not “ready-made” assignments, but they’re not supposed to be. They’re meant not to build content capacity, but learning capacity. Ideally they’d be part of a larger self-directed learning model–something I’m working on as well.

27 Cognitive Actions That Promote Self-Directed Learning

  1. Challenge something
  2. Make an observation
  3. Draw a conclusion
  4. Question something
  5. Revise a question based on observation & data
  6. Critique something
  7. Explain the significance
  8. Revise something
  9. Transfer a lesson or philosophical stance from one situation to another
  10. Improve a design
  11. Identify a cause and effect
  12. Compare and contrast two or more things
  13. Test the validity of a model
  14. Separate causes from symptoms
  15. Identify the primary and secondary causes of a problem
  16. Adapt something for a new need or circumstance
  17. Make a prediction and observe what occurs
  18. Narrate a sequence
  19. Study and visually demonstrate nuance
  20. Identify and explain a pattern
  21. Study the relationship between text and subtext
  22. Elegantly emphasize nuance
  23. Critically evaluate a socially-accepted idea
  24. Extract a lesson from nature
  25. Take & defend a position
  26. Record notes during and after observation of something
  27. Form a theory & revise it based on observation and/or data

Image attribution flickr user bengrey; 27 Actions That Promote Self-Directed Learning