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Effect of Engagement in Self-Directed Learning on Academic Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2423 words Published: 18th May 2020

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‘A student’s ability and willingness to engage in Self- Directed Learning has a direct impact on their academic Development.

Critically discuss this statement in relation to Distance Learning, describing the elements necessary for students to focus on in order to achieve their academic goals.’



         In recent years, Self- Directed Learning has exploded onto the Educational Scene and has quickly become the course of choice offered to prospective students by Institutions and Colleges World Wide. Distance Learning refers to the use of information and improved technologies to enable the learner to access both online learning facilities and teaching resources (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015).  Self- Directed Learning has become the popular route for students and learners to take when broadening their education. Self- Directed Learning enables learners to take charge of their learning; they have to take primary responsibility and ownership of their own educational needs. Essentially, distance learning has one main goal; to enable and give learners the power to use their own learning to better their working conditions and lives. Over time, Distance Learning has evolved from a fully online course with little to no interaction between students and their peers and tutors, to using modern day technologies to allow students to learn part of or all of a course regardless of a permanent time or place. The following essay will discuss the elements necessary for students to focus on in order to achieve their academic goals with regards Self- Directed Learning.

Main body:

         One of the key elements necessary for students to focus on in order to engage successfully in Self- Directed Learning is motivation. Motivation is an important attribute for all distant learning students to have in order to achieve their academic goals, and to improve their personal growth. Essentially, it is the student’s ‘ability to motivate themselves to involve in the learning process’ (Song & Hill, 2007, p33). 

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        There are two types of motivation; positive motivation and negative motivation. On the one hand, positive motivation is what some students need to focus on in order to achieve their academic goals. They have a positive outlook on the situation. For example, when a student completes an assignment they see it as one less assignment to go before completing their course and become qualified. On the other hand, students may use negative motivation as their motivation to succeed, i.e., the students in question use their fear of failing as their motivation.

         Motivation is the driving force to make things happen, and for personal and academic goals to become a reality. Motivation is what keeps people focused during a task. It is easier to be motivated when one wants to do the task and has an interest in it. They will subsequently put more effort into the task, as they have a keen interest in it and they will not see it as a burden.  The onus is on the person in question to remain motivated as they are primarily responsible for their own learning.

         A lack of motivation can lead to procrastination. Some distance learning courses require students to log into online seminars, talks and presentations as part of the online learning process. It would be ill-advised to assume that once a student is logged into the online seminars that they are actively participating in the activity. Being present in an online seminar/ discussion does ‘not mean they are actually engaged in meaningful cognitive thinking’ as the students mind may be elsewhere, they may also be surfing the web (Biesenbach- Lucas, 2003 as cited in Song and Hill, 2007, p34). It is easier to procrastinate in a Self- Directed Learning environment as some online learning institutions may not have a strict schedule or timeframe on when assignments and readings have to be completed by. This can result in assignments and coursework being left to the last minute to be completed and submitted. An important issue to note is that students can still procrastinate in face-to-face lectures; however, as they are present in a class setting, the course content and relevant material is readily available and accessible to them. Therefore, it is imperative that students remain motivated in order to engage in Self-Directed Learning and achieve their academic goals.

         Resources and how they are used play a vital part in a student becoming academically successful. Resources can come in different forms: human and information resources (Song & Hill, 2007). A student’s ability to use correct and credible resources plays an important role in order to achieve their academic goals. Students must evaluate the resources unearthed during their research, and assess the credibility and the trustworthiness of them. Evaluating the resource will encourage students to think critically in relation to the source and will assist them in deciding whether it is reliable, credible and trustworthy. It is important that the student takes note of the date of the sources and use the most revised editions to date in order to ensure the information gathered is correct and factual. Using reliable and credible resources, such as scholarly sources, will help students achieve their academic goals as it will enable them to conduct correct and concise research.                    

         Planning and time management are important factors which contribute to students achieving their academic goals. Planning and time management are two key elements needed to be successful in Self- Directed Learning. It is vital that a student has the ability to plan and efficiently manage their time. They have to ensure they have enough time allocated per day to study. They must plan their day to ensure that they can include study with their working hours and family responsibilities. Distance Learning allows the student to determine their own pace of study. It gives the student the flexibility to choose what suits their needs and goals. Distance Learning requires students to be organized, to plan their day ahead and to allocate the appropriate time needed per day to their academic studies. It does not matter where in the world you live you can get a degree in your own place of study.

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         There are many advantages associated with distance learning. Advantages such as convenience, flexibility, the ability to work independently and the ability to set your own pace and time are elements that lead to successful Self- Directed Learning. With regards flexibility, distant learning enables students to choose the time and place that suits him/ her to complete their studies. It also allows students, on the most part, the ability to study in the comforts of their own home or their chosen place of study. At times, distance learning courses may require a student to complete days in a face- to- face classroom. However, on the most part distance learning is quite flexible in their teaching approach with the majority of the course being online.

         One of the main reasons students successfully partake in distance learning is convenience. On the most part, students who choose to complete a course via distance learning are those who want to pursue their studies but do not want to give up their job. Distance learning provides easy access for those with family responsibilities and those who work irregular hours.

         The beauty of distance learning is that is allows students to study at their own pace. Students can study as quick or as slow as they wish. No two people are the same, and that applies to students undertaking a distant learning course. Different people learn at different paces, times and speed. Some people grasp ideas and concepts quicker than others. In a face- face class environment, some students may be embarrassed to raise their doubts and concerns in relation to a topic being discussed in the classroom. With distant learning, the opposite applies. If a student struggles to grasp or understand a topic, they have the ability to take their time and research the topic with no pressure from their peers and teachers. They can, on the most part, touch base with their tutors online and address their difficulties with them. Some distance learning courses allow students to access and communicate with their peers through the use of the online learning facility. The use of online discussion boards ‘helps eliminate barriers that have the potential of hindering participation including the fear of talking to others’ (Arkorful& Abaidoo, 2015, p34).

         Distance learning enables students to study using their own initiative cupped with the support of their trainer to successfully complete their studies. This element of distance learning allows students to take charge of their own learning. Self- Directed Learning ‘encourages learners to depend on themselves for the reason that instructors are no longer the solitary source of knowledge’ (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015, P35).

        Distance learning is also cost saving and time saving. One main advantage of distance learning is that students can essentially earn while they earn. As most of the syllabus is conducted online, distance learning saves students money on travel expenses they would incur if they were in a classroom environment. It also saves accommodation costs. Self- Directed Learning is not only cost affective for students, it allows students to save time as they do not have to factor in travel time they would usually incur whilst attending face- to- face classes.

         With advantages come disadvantages. As previously mentioned, motivation is a key aspect in Self- Directed Learning. If there is lack of motivation, procrastination can set in.  According to Arkorful &Abaidoo, 2015, if a student procrastinates, this can put their academic learning on hold as they can fall behind on their studies to an extent that they cannot recover. This is why it is imperative to devise a weekly study schedule and stick to it regimentally. Lorraine Sherry agrees with Arkorful &Abaidoo, as she feels that Self- Directed Learning ‘may disenfranchise students who lack discipline or time management skills’ (Sherry,1995, Pg 343). Students may feel isolated when completing a Distance Learning Course. The ‘’independence’ of participants can too readily turn into isolation and disillusionment with SDL as a whole’ (Hammond & Collins, 2004 p25).  This isolation may contribute to the loss of motivation some students feel due to the lack of face- to- face contact with their tutors and their peers. Distance Learning can take away the social aspect of completing a course. Some students can feel that they need to interact with peers and tutors on a daily basis to get social satisfaction from their course. 


        In conclusion, adult education comes from either face-to- face classes or Self- Directed Learning. Self- Directed Learning is ‘an important aspect of adult education’ (Song & Hill, 2007 p37). It contributes to students becoming self- confident in their learning abilities. It allows students to think critically and access what is available for them online or through scholarly sources. It enables students to work on their own initiative, whilst also allowing students to reach out to their teachers if they are experiencing difficulties. Over the years, distance learning has transformed from a fully online course to a course which allows students access to study some or the entire course in a location which suits them with little to no time constraint.  In order for Self- Directed Learning to be successful, there are many elements necessary for students to focus on in order to achieve their academic goals. As previously discussed, elements such as motivation, resources, a student’s ability to plan and manage their time, and the advantages of distance learning play a vital role in ensuring that Self- Directed Learning has a direct impact on their academic development. Essentially, students must have the ability to complete a distance learning course and also be willing to undertake such a course in order to be academically successful in distance learning.


  • Arkorful V & Abaidoo N, 2015, ‘ The role of e-learning, advantages and disadvantages of its adoption in higher education’, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Volume 12, Issue Number 1, pages 29-36.
  • Sherry, L., 1995, ‘Issues in Distance Learning’, International Jl. Of Educational Telecommunications, Volume 1, Issue Number 4, pages 337-365.
  • Song,L., & Hill, J., 2007. ‘A Conceptual Model for Understanding Self- Directed Learning in Online Environments’ Journal of Interactive Online Learning, Volume 6, Number 1, pages 27-38.
  • Hammond, M., 1991.  Self- Directed Learning: Critical Practice. NJ, USA: Routledge.
  • The Advantages of Distance Learning. 2019. The Advantages of Distance Learning. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.usjournal.com/en/students/help/distanceleanring.html.
  • [Accessed 13 June 2019].


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