5 Values for Self-Directed Learners

As I learn more and more how to guide self-directed learners, I find it very important to have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind for each of them at graduation. Begin with the end in mind, and all that jazz. Of course, a personalized educational path will mean very individualized goals for graduation. In general, there are five values that I want each student to have by the time they leave my advisory group.

5 Values for Self-Directed Learners

  1. To know your own strengths and weaknesses as a learner. Intimately. Be who you are, but be prepared to bolster yourself in some areas and allow yourself to shine in others. Understand how to manage your procrastination, etc. Know your personality type and what that means for yourself and your coworkers.
  2. To be confident in your ability to learn anything, anywhere, autonomously. Know what works best for you- and do that. Pick a MOOC or an internship or a book or a university class or research a topic to the end of the internet. Take notes in pictures or graphs or words. Record a lecture and listen to it while running. Be an expert researcher in every way possible.
  3. To understand that passionate interest does not absolve you from hard work. I love the recent quote by Ashton Kutcher-  “Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” Just because you love something does not mean it will be easy. You will have to work hard, even while loving what you do. You may even work hard at something you hate, just to get the chance to do what you love. Take personal responsibility. Have a work ethic. Ask your grandparents what that means.
  4. To work within the system while changing the system. Know how to package your independent and personalized learning adventures in a way that works for universities and employers. Be a translator. Keep plugging away at change, but do it through your own personal excellence. You do not always get to pick how things are done, even in a self-directed environment.
  5. To network, collaborate, and value people with humility. Others invest in you because they want to see you succeed- you are not entitled to anything. Value your mentors. Thank your parents. Work well with others. Forgive. Reach out. Know when to move on. And make sure you give back when and where you can. You may think you are an expert, but there are generally others out there that are much further along the journey than you… and know more than you. Be passionate about your area of expertise, but listen. Learn from others even when you think they have nothing to teach you.

Of course, I’m still learning.  And growing. And I’m confident that this list will change…. I leave you with Ashton’s Kutcher’s speech. If you haven’t see it already, it’s worth the 4 1/2 minutes of your life.  

What are the five values you want your students to have prior to leaving your classroom? 


[3.4 Coursera FLT2]

On Professional Responsibility

306205_9376I am done procrastinating, and will now attack my peer review essay in the presence of all the interwebs. The topic? “How might you contribute to your own professional development and that of your colleagues?” paired with “What are the influences and people that played a part in your decision to become a teacher?”

You know, this subject of personal learning networks is one that is near and dear to my heart. I love learning. I love learning in community. I love sharing ideas. Collaborating. Networking. Sharing. These things are life giving and energizing to me.

Which is why I just don’t understand the negativity and animosity many educators exhibit towards any kind of non-district sponsored, required, or credited professional development opportunity. I really don’t understand it. Several years ago, I sat in a high level meeting where the discussion centered around the new teacher evaluation system, and quickly degenerated into how to support teachers through professional development. Now, we are not talking about cutting edge training here…. we are talking about basic things like how to use a grading system or email. I foolishly spoke up and asked “Why would we even provide that kind of training? Aren’t teachers professionals who should be responsible for staying current with tools of the trade? Shouldn’t this be their responsibility?” Ah, naive Julie. I continued on and mentioned that in industry no one is trained in using email or tools- as professionals they are expected to either know how to use them or to seek out extra help to get current. The reply I received from one individual was , “Julie, if everyone thought like you did, I would be out of a job.”

I think this is my underlying frustration with the original question. I do know how to contribute to my own professional development. I take time out of my busy life to learn, grow, and network. I attend virtual conferences. I attend live conferences, often on my own dime. I read books. I read blogs. I discuss ideas on Twitter. I take online courses. I organize local tweetups. Beyond that, I invite colleagues to join me. I have two who are joining me in the Blended Learning MOOC that starts in a few weeks (you are invited too!). I’m hosting a book night in November to discuss The Self-Directed Learning Handbook.

I don’t expect everyone to do those things. We all learn in different ways, and professional development is a personal thing. You have the opportunity to craft your own education.  Pick what works for you, but not picking isn’t a choice- especially if you are in the classroom teaching one of my kids. As a parent, I expect you to be current. If you are not, you should expect me to remove my child from your class…. since I know there is no way your administrator can fire you for such a “minor” thing.  And as your enrollment numbers drop, your building should start looking inward instead of blaming outward circumstances.

The bottom line is that I am a professional and should be held responsible for staying current in my field. So are you.

The biggest contribution I can make is to own my professional development and to expect my colleagues to own theirs. Of course, I can share heaps and heaps of ideas. But if the underlying assumption of personal responsibility for learning is not there, all the opportunities in the world cannot change the outcome. Sound familiar?

Well, that was a lovely little rant. Ahem. Don’t think I’ll be able to use that for my essay response. However, I have worked through why the question was bothering me so much and can now approach it like a professional. A procrastinating professional, but a professional nonetheless.

(Rather than write an essay, I elected to create a Powerpoint presentation. My preference is writing, but since my ESL peers are the audience for this piece I elected to make it more visual and less wordy.)

Do It Well

If you are going to do something, do it well.

If you are going to offer an online learning program in your school district, do it well. Be thoughtful, innovative, and unhurried. Don’t just repackage someone else’s content, throw a few teachers into the mix, and call it good. Offer a unique online option tailored to your district’s demographic.

If you are going to build an online MOOC course, do it well. Make sure the content matches the lectures and that the quizzes are aligned to the content you are sharing. Don’t just write questions for English language students- think about how those questions will be perceived by a global audience . Write unambiguous questions with clear answers for those who have studied the content.


It’s been a long weekend of catching up on this Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2 Coursera since I signed up late, and I’m obviously more than a little bit frustrated. Although there have been many spelling and grammar errors present in the class, this week was full of poorly constructed content. This kind of C-grade curriculum is going to take us the wrong direction in terms of accreditation. The first question on this quiz was so poorly written that I used all three attempts, and still got it wrong. (Read: the ‘correct’ answer was the one I thought least likely to be right….. and this is after going back and watching the video lecture twice, reading the transcript, and actually Googling a few terms to try to make sense of how that one could possibly be right.) I’d prefer to just email the professor with these concerns, but there is not currently a place for that within the Coursera system. Understandably so- with an unlimited number of potential students I’m sure it would be impossible to answer incoming email. There is an area for reporting errors within the discussion boards, but the general student consensus is that there are so many that we shouldn’t bother reporting them. Not a positive thing for a course grouping geared towards future educators!

I’m not sure who is behind the editing process with The Commonwealth Educational Trust, but they need some help with revisions. Given the course global audience, one would think that extra care would be taken to ensure clarity.  I don’t want to be a grammar nazi, but I do want these MOOCs to be taken seriously by employers. (See link below.) In order for that to happen, open source providers need to provide high quality, reliable classes. If the class is presented in English, it needs to be grammatically correct and virtually error-free.

Now, can I still learn from this course? Yes. I am in charge of my own learning. I think Professor Francis has interesting content to share, but I have concerns about the unclear English. If this is difficult for me to understand, how will an ESL student in Pakistan translate successfully?

If you’re going to do something, do it well.



[On a side note, it seems that MOOC students need a rating site like Rate My Professor…. or better yet someone needs to come up with a ranking system for MOOCs. If there already is one, please shout out in the comments so I can check it out.]