SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: LEARNING IN THE 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION
JOYCE KOH HWEE LING
For all our students, the educator’s raison d'être
This book is definitely the synergistic work of the authors and the teachers who
have passionately shared their struggles and successful efforts in facilitating self-
directed learning. Without their contributions, this second monograph on self-directed
learning never would have come about. Each of their names could easily be listed on
the cover alongside the authors’ and we express our deep appreciation to them.
We would like to extend our gratitude to the Principal, Vice-Principals, Head of
Departments, Subject Heads and the collaborating colleagues of the teachers listed
below (in alphabetical order):
Anderson Secondary School: Mr Kwok Sheng Da, Ms. Lee Yan Mui Dolly, Mr.
Loke Khin, Mr. Loo Jia Bin, Mr Ranganathan Jagan, Mr. Sim Lee Yong, Mr. Tan
Chestnut Drive Secondary School: Mr Aaron Tang Wei Lun
Elias Park Primary School: Mdm Mastura M. Hashim and
Mdm Vasanthi Rengaraju
Fuhua Primary School: Mr Ho Kok Soon and Mrs Robbie Lee-Pary
Geylang Methodist Primary School: Mr Yin Jian
Hong Kah Primary School: Mrs Pauline Soh and Mrs Wong Soo Ching
Innova Junior College: Ms Mindy Wong Min Yin
Rulang Primary School: Mr Kwan Tuck Soon
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES OF SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING
CHAPTER THREE: WORKED EXAMPLES
CHAPTER FOUR: ROLES OF TECHNOLOGY IN FACILITATING
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION
LIST OF FIGURES
Gibbons’ (2002) SDL Spectrum and Student’s Readiness
Suggested Self-Directed Learning Framework
Switching off the Internal Dialogue
Key Activities in the WebQuest on Mensuration
Extension of Learning in Mathematics
Use of VoiceThread to Develop Students’ Ownership of Learning
“You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him
find it within himself.” – Galileo
Recent scholarship in educational research has argued for a range of 21st
century skills which purport to prepare our young people for participation in a
technological and globalised world (Ananiadou & Claro, 2009; Binkley et al., 2012; Dede,
2009; The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011; Warschauer, 2011). The
distinguishing argument put forward by the scholars resonates with Dewey’s (1915)
exhortation that “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of
tomorrow” (p.167). The digital age draws educators’ attention to the changing
characteristics of learners, their learning environments, the resources they use and their
new culture of learning. Given the constantly changing demands of globalisation,
stringent questions about the notion of literacy, the constitution of 21st century skills and
the social outcomes of schooling have been raised. Despite the dissenting views on
these issues, the importance of developing self-direction as a 21st century skill has
entered common parlance. The argument for self-directed learning (SDL) in K12
education can be dated back to the time when Seymour Papert (1993), one of the
earliest proponents of educational technology, contends that children will do best by
searching for themselves the specific knowledge they need.
The Singapore Ministry of Education has developed the third Masterplan for
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Education that posits self-
directed learning as one of the key 21st century skills that should be nurtured in our
students (Teo & Ting, 2010). Singapore teachers have theories and models to help
them teach effectively in didactic learning environments. However, less is known about
self-directed learning and how this can be fostered and sustained in our schools,
despite its importance for Singapore’s 21st century education.
In the earlier monograph on self-directed learning, Tan, Divaharan, Tan, and
Cheah (2011) who have provided useful starting points for defining the term, suggested
ways of operationalising it with ICT in school practices and examining ways of
assessing it that are viable in our local context. It begins with the shared concern of
improving students’ self-directed learning. It defines self-directed learning as a 21st
century skill that encompasses the following salient features:
a) Ownership of learning: Personal responsibility in identifying learning gaps and
setting learning goals;
b) Self-management and self-monitoring: The process of managing tasks, time
and resources as well as the ongoing efforts of making improvements or
taking actions to meet the learning goals;
c) Extension of learning: Making links across disciplines, connections between
formal and informal learning as well as interests in and out of school.
Drawing on Gibbons’ (2002) work on adolescents’ self-directed learning, the
authors suggest that self-directed learning is better understood as a spectrum that
begins from the lowest level of incidental self-directed learning to the highest level of
self-directed learning (Figure 1). Although these phases may not necessarily occur in a
linear and hierarchical order, it is indicative of the progressive development of students’
readiness in self-direction.
To be relevant to teachers, the earlier monograph offers principles, with worked
examples, for supporting self-directed learning from the lowest to the highest level.
Using accessible language, Tan, Divaharan, Tan, and Cheah (2011) pose guiding
questions to engage teachers in considering issues related to the following aspects of
supporting self-directed learning, such as the attainment of learning outcomes and the
degree of self-direction, technology integration, selection of instructional strategies and
Figure 1. Gibbons’ (2002) SDL Spectrum and Student’s Readiness
(The authors thank the Singapore Ministry of Education for granting permission to reproduce Figure 1, entitled SDL Spectrum and
Student’s Readiness, on page 20, Self-Directed Learning with ICT: Theory, Practice and Assessment, written by Tan, Divaharan,
Tan, and Cheah.)
Congruent with the goal of developing the learner in self-directed learning,
assessment for learning inevitably takes precedence. The earlier monograph focuses
on developing students’ capacity in self-assessment with respect to the behavioural
indicators of self-directed learning and performance outcomes. In addition, it also draws
attention to teachers’ assessment of students’ behavioural indicators of self-directed
learning and their scaffolding for self-direction. For these formative assessments, Tan,
Divaharan, Tan, and Cheah (2011) recommend the use of rubrics and portfolio which
place emphasis on the developmental nature of learning and the inseparable nature of
teaching and assessment in classroom instruction.
1.2 Overview of the Monograph
This monograph builds on the earlier work by Tan, Divaharan, Tan, and Cheah
(2011). It draws on the same definition of self-directed learning. Like the earlier
monograph, it is intended to be a resource for teachers and educators who are
grappling with the question of how best to facilitate students’ self-directed learning.
Framed by the permeable boundary between school and out-of-school learning
experiences, this monograph attempts to extend the earlier monograph by focusing on
the conditions that encourage the appropriate dispositions for students’ self-directed
learning; they promote ownership of learning, self-management and self-monitoring, and
extension of learning which constitute the salient features of self-directed learning. The
conditions that teachers need to design, salient features of self-directed learning and the
context of learning are presented as a framework which we hope will illuminate how self-
directed learning can take place in Singapore. Using worked examples, we suggest
ways of making self-directed learning viable in our local educational context.
This monograph is organised into five chapters. Chapter 1 highlights what has
been established in the earlier monograph and articulates the intentions of this current
one. In Chapter 2, critical perspectives of self-directed learning are explained to debunk
some myths of the construct. It also suggests a framework that focuses on how teachers
can design the conditions critical for facilitating self-directed learning in various contexts.
Chapter 3 provides worked examples and reflections that are taken from teachers’ rich
experiences and authors’ research. We propose in Chapter 4 that the use of technology
should pervade out-of-school studying or learning time. Although the roles of technology
are dependent on the actual uses, we suggest a list of possible roles it can play in
engaging students in self-directed learning. In the same chapter, we draw on any
advances in educational practice that will interest those who are keen on improving the
engagement of students in self-directed learning, using technology. Finally, we conclude
with the importance of self-directed learning as one of the identified 21st century skills
by the Singapore Ministry of Education.
CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES OF SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING
“I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like to be taught.” – Winston Churchill
Two Intertwining Foci of Self-Directed Learning
In line with research on self-directed learning, the two primary focus areas of self-
directed learning in our school discourse centre on self-directed learning as a process
and a personal attribute. It can be seen that the processes undertaken by students as
they engage in self-direction serves to help them develop the attributes required of
learners with personal autonomy.
Self-Directed Learning as a Process
Viewed from the perspective of self-directed learning as a process, Sefton-Green
(2004) defines it as autodidactism, i.e. self-teaching and self-motivated learning. Song
and Hill (2007) explain that when the term is understood as such, it is not referring to
stepwise actions to fulfilling a goal, but rather, the emphasis is on the processes
undertaken by learners to control the learning endeavour. Earlier self-directed learning
frameworks from Candy (1991), Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) and Garrison (1997) also
explain that the process-oriented notions of self-directed learning focus on ownership of
learning and self-monitoring. Brockett & Hiemstra (1991), Candy (1991), Garrison (1997)
and Gibbons (2002) further clarify that when self-directed learning is understood as a
process, it possesses the following unifying characteristics:
(a) It is best understood as a continuum that exists to varying degrees in every
(b) The responsibility of making decisions associated with the learning
endeavour lie in the learners.
(c) It involves thinking and behaviours that the learners themselves select to
direct and manage any activity.
(d) Learner control does not necessarily mean independent learning
where learning takes places in isolation from others; it can involve one’s
peers such as in collaboration with others.
(e) It necessitates the learner to self-monitor the learning process to be
cognizant of whether one is heading towards or away from the identified
Self-Directed Learning as an Attribute
When self-directed learning is posited as a 21st century skill, it is understood as
an attribute, i.e. a quality or characteristic one has. A review of literature on the
frameworks of self-directed learning shows that when self-directed learning is
understood as such, the term is used to refer to personal autonomy (Candy, 1991), a
goal, i.e. “a learner’s desire or preference for assuming responsibility for learning”
(Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 24) or self-management (Garrison, 1997) where the
focus in on the learner’s use of resources, learning strategies and motivation to learn. In
Singapore, the Ministry of Education (2011) has described the self-directed learner as
one who can:
(a) articulate their learning gaps;
(b) set learning goals and identify learning tasks to achieve the goals;
(c) explore alternatives and make sound decisions;
(d) formulate questions and generate own inquiries;
(e) plan and manage workload and time effectively and efficiently;
(f) reflect on their learning and use feedback to improve their schoolwork.
These are the desired outcomes the Ministry aims to nurture among our students in
Singapore’s 21st century education. It is an attribute desired for all, not just attainable
for the students in the Gifted Education Programme or those in junior colleges.
It can be seen that the differences between these two foci of self-directed
learning are not always apparent in practice. A practical difficulty faced by teachers
when trying to implement self-directed learning is the dearth of models that can be used
by teachers to organise instruction like inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning,
scenario-based learning or case-based learning.
In this monograph, we pay attention to the intertwining foci of self-directed
learning, both as a process and attribute. We believe that they are inseparable in
practice. By developing operational definitions of these foci of self-directed learning in
this resource for teachers and other educators, we present a design process that can be
used by teachers to create interventions for the improvement of self-directed learning in
the expanded learning environments of today. We provide insights into ways where
self-directed learning can take place in Singapore by drawing on illustrative examples
from some of our primary and secondary schools as well as one of the junior colleges.
These examples are drawn from teachers who are teaching students with special needs
and those studying in the Express and Normal streams with a range of abilities.
Self-Directed Learning is Contextually-Bound
In this monograph, we follow Song and Hill’s (2007) definition that context can be
understood broadly as the “environment where learning takes place” (p. 28). Viewed
from this perspective, context can refer to the site of learning (e.g. school or outside of
school), mode of learning (e.g. face-to-face setting or online) as well as factors that can
impact a learner’s extent of self-directed learning, such as the instructional support
provided by the teacher, the characteristics of students and their learning environments
(Candy, P. C., 2004; Pilling-Cormick & Garrison, 2007; Song and Hill, 2007; Thomas,
Strage & Curley, 1988).
Self-directed learning takes different forms in different contexts. In school, it can
still take place within teacher-didactic teaching although it may not exist as a high
degree of self-direction. For instance, Thomas, Strage and Curley (1988) explain that
even when doing a drill-and-practice activity, the self-directed child is monitoring his
learning when he begins to notice that he is not able to understand what is taught and
expected of him or is struggling with a particular skill. The self-directed child would have
requested for the teacher to repeat his teaching or clarify his doubts with the teacher.
When engaged in a drill-and-practice activity as a form of individual seat work, it is also
not surprising to observe a self-directed child using self-speech to focus his attention on
the task at hand.
Literature from literacy research, especially those that focus on digital media and
learning, have provided rich ethnographic accounts of young people’s online
participatory culture which has led to self-directed learning outside of school (Delwiche
& Henderson, 2013; Ito et al., 2008; Sefton-Green, 2004). Online fan fiction writing is a
case in point. Black (2009), known for her work on adolescents’ fan fiction writing,
describes fan fiction as:
… a unique form of writing in which fans base their stories on the characters and
plotlines of existing media and popular culture. When creating fan fiction, fans
extend storylines, create new narrative threads, develop romantic relationships
between characters, and focus on the lives of undeveloped characters from
various media. (p. 398)
Black (2008) contend that writing in a fan fiction community fosters print literacy
and other 21st century skills which school appreciate but have not inculcated in the
school’s formal instruction. For instance, adolescents who participate in online fan
fiction writing self-direct themselves in authentic reading and writing while at the same
time, acquiring school-based writing skills such as writing in a wide range of genres and
developing competence in using technology in the real-world contexts.
Some studies have argued that self-directed learners benefit more from online
learning than those who are not (Lee, Hong, & Ling, 2002; Shapley, 2000). In the online
mode, learners are given the responsibility to manage and monitor their learning (Candy,
2004; Shapley, 2000). For instance, when participating in online learning, self-directed
learners must be mindful of their progress, whether they have understood what is
covered and met the learning objectives and if not, they need to know how to seek
assistance and resources to improve their learning. Even when peers provide online
assistance such as through the use of peers’ commenting, learners need the skill and
knowledge necessary for evaluating their peers’ knowledge (Candy, 2004; Petrides,
The instructional support designed by teachers are critical in online instruction. In
their study of K-12 teachers who were engaged in online instruction, Archambault and
Crippen (2009) suggest that their competencies in appropriating the right balance
between technology, content, and pedagogy are critical for the success of the learning
strategies they design. This suggests that teachers play an important part in defining the
contexts surrounding students’ experiences of self-directed learning. It is not the mode
of learning per se (e.g. online learning) that determines students’ experience of self-
directed learning but how teachers design that experience. For example, when setting
up an online learning task, has the teacher provided an appropriate balance of open-
endedness and structure to facilitate students’ selection of the learning goals? Has the
teacher provided sufficient guidelines to facilitate students’ planning of the learning
process without being overly prescriptive? Has the teacher provided sufficient support to
facilitate students’ self-monitoring and reflection of learning? Self-directed learning does
not imply a wholly unstructured learning experience that is left entirely to the students to
manage. Rather, it is a carefully designed learning process that aims at an appropriate
balance of structured learning experiences with sufficient open-endedness for students’
self-management. Hence, it is naïve to accept the view that all incidences of e-learning
or doing online homework is an example of self-directed learning experience.
Self-Regulation: An Essential Element in Self-Directed Learning
In Chapter 1, we stress that the Singapore Ministry of Education’s definition of
self-directed learning focus on ownership of learning, self-management and self-
monitoring as well as the extension of learning. According to Long (2000), the quality
of self-directed learning is highly associated with the processes of self-regulation. In
other words, self-regulation is a critical and necessary element in self-directed learning.
Hence, in order to develop a self-directed child, important processes of self-regulation
such as self-monitoring, self-instruction, goal setting, self-planning, self-selection of
strategies and self-evaluation are emphasised (Long, 2000). Hence, in the issues of
responsibilities, learner control and metacognition in learning take precedence when
developing our students’ self-direction (Pilling-Cormick & Garrison, 2007).
Zimmerman (1990) defines self-regulated students as those who use self-
regulated strategies to monitor and improve their attainment of academic outcomes.
Self-regulation occurs through three phases, i.e. the forethought phase, performance
phase, and self-reflection phase (Zimmerman & Campillo, 2003). In the forethought
phase, students analyse their academic tasks to set goals for themselves and to plan
the strategies of how they may reach their goals. Once this has been planned, students
move to the performance phase where they execute these strategies which may include
paying attention to the task and engaging in self-instruction to improve performance.
Another important aspect of the performance phase is students’ engagement in self-
observation where they may keep records of data related to their task performance data
as well as engage in metacognitive monitoring where they analyse their personal
strengths and weaknesses with respect to task performance. In the third phase,
students engage in self-reflection which includes self-evaluation of performance to
identify the causes of these performance outcomes. Their satisfaction or dissatisfaction
with the results impact how they move back onto the forethought phase to plan the next
cycle of task performance. Zimmerman and Kitsantas (2005) have found highly self-
regulated students to be more focused on developing their competencies for task
performance rather than on the task performance per se. They tend to have intrinsic
rather than extrinsic motives for task performance and are more willing to adapt their
future strategies to circumvent poor task performance, rather than be defensive and to
avoid task performance in future.
Pilling-Cormick and Garrison (2007) assert that a key difference between self-
regulated learning and self-directed learning is that the former focuses on the internal
processes that students can take to manage the attainment of academic goals whereas
the latter considers contextual influences on students’ self-management and monitoring
activities. Notably, Zimmerman and Campillo’s (2003) phases of self-regulated learning
explicate in detail many of the cognitive and metacognitive processes that students use
to support their self-regulation. Nevertheless, we argue that the role that can be played
by the teacher in supporting student self-regulation as well as the design of learning
tasks have not been addressed in models of self-regulation.
In recent years, self-directed learning models are beginning to recognise the
need to consider both internal cognitive processes as well as the external influences
from the learning environment (Garrison, 2007; Pilling-Cormick, 1999). In Pilling-
Cormick’s (1999) Self-Directed Learning Process model, she highlights the need to
consider contextual factors such as student characteristics and the characteristics of the
learning environment which can influence the amount of control that students can have
to engage in self-direction. To certain extents, contextual factors determine the kinds of
learning that can take place through self-direction as well as the internal cognitive and
metacognitive processes that can be evoked (Pilling-Cormick & Garrison, 2007).
Therefore, it can be seen that for self-directed learning experiences to be effective,
teachers need to carefully structure the task environment to provide sufficient scope for
students’ self-direction. Yet, teachers also need to consider the kinds of scaffolds to put
in place to support this process. Research of self-regulated learning can inform teachers
about the kinds of cognitive and metacognitive processes involved as students engage
in self-directed learning. This can serve to facilitate teachers’ design of appropriate
scaffolds to support students’ self-direction.
Suggested Self-Directed Learning (SDL) Framework
Our suggested framework is based on the critical perspectives of self-directed
learning advocated in the previous parts of this chapter. It considers self-directed
learning in a wider ecology of learning. We explore how self-directed learning can take
place in and out of school when learning experiences can be structured or unstructured,
resulting in varying degrees of learner autonomy. Although the boundary of the sites of
self-directed learning appears to be binary, we stress that it is permeable in practice.
Similarly, the binary of unstructured and structured learning experiences is not
discretely divided. We acknowledge that in practice, these experiences exist in a
continuum. We also need to stress that the the salient features of self-directed learning
can exist in the four broad contexts of learning posited in our framework (see Figure 2):
(a) School settings with structured learning experiences where learning
processes and activities are mainly provided by teachers;
(b) Out-of-school settings with structured learning experiences where learning
processes and activities are mainly provided by teachers;
(c) Out-of-school settings with unstructured learning experiences where the
learning processes and activities are primarily determined by students;
(d) School settings with unstructured learning experiences where the learning
processes and activities are primarily determined by students.
Figure 2. Suggested Self-Directed Learning Framework
School Settings with Structured Learning Experiences
This is the context where learning processes and activities are mainly provided
by teachers. Within this context, the attention is drawn to the school settings with school
literacies which are argued as “ideological practices characteristic of the specific ways
of participating in literacy events in the routine school life” (Tan, 2010, p.17). When
learning experiences are structured, they are pre-determined by the national syllabi with
all the important learning outcomes clearly delineated. These learning experiences are
framed by what Beinstein (1999) calls the official knowledge, otherwise known as “the
educational knowledge which the state constructs and distributes in educational
institutions” (p. 246). For example, in this context, self-directed learning can take place
incidentally during a lecture when the students are taking their own notes while listening
to a lecturer teaching a particular topic.
Out-of-School Settings with Structured Learning Experiences
The second context where self-directed learning can take place is in the out-of-
school settings where learning experiences are structured. This is the context where
learning processes and activities are mainly provided by teachers. These settings
include the public and home domains such as the museum and at home where learning
experiences are organised by teachers with the aim of achieving formal educational
outcomes. While teachers largely provide the guidance for these learning activities, they
structure some level of open-endedness into the activities where students are required
to plan and manage some aspects of the learning process For example, in this context,
self-directed learning can take place when students are managing their field work, such
as studying the types of rocks in Pulau Ubin, as part of their school project work.
Out-of-School Settings with Unstructured Learning Experiences
This is the context where the learning processes and activities are primarily
determined by students and self-directed learning can occur in two forms. First, contrary
to the school settings, self-directed learning can take place outside of school with out-of-
school literacies which refer to “the ideological practices characteristic of the specific
ways of participating in literacy events outside institutionalised settings and they tend to
focus on vernacular literacies that are not recognised in formal education” (Tan, 2010,
p.17). For example, self-directed learning can take place when young people acquire
technical competence as they teach themselves how to use a range of new media to
create Do-It-Yourself productions. The earlier example on online fan fiction writing is
also an example of how self-directed learning can take place in this context.
Second, in this context, self-directed learning can take place in the public
institutions such as the Singapore Science Centre where the students learn formally
sanctioned knowledge, such as astronomy, in informal approaches (Bradburne, as cited
in Sefton-Green, 2004). In such contexts, the learning goals may not be necessarily set
up in response to particular schoolwork, curriculum, or according to processes dictated
by teachers. It is based entirely on the students’ volition. In other words, self-directed
learning takes place in out-of-school settings such as in the public or home domains
where the knowledge sought is socially valued and may be produced with the school
curriculum in mind.
School Settings with Unstructured Learning Experiences
In this context, self-directed learning can take place in school when the students
take part in activities that provide high student autonomy with little or no guidance from
the teachers. For example, self-directed learning can take place when students work out
their own plans to win a school-organised competition, such as “Best Young Innovator
Award”, during the post-exam period. The plans are made by the students and the
resources are prepared by the students, with or without support from home.
Facilitating Conditions for Designing SDL Experiences
As discussed in the earlier sections of this chapter, when facilitating self-directed
learning in Singapore, we repudiate the assumption that such way of learning can only
take place in schools and is restricted to formal learning only. In some instances, self-
directed learning may start in school and continue outside of school, with varying
degrees of structure, and vice versa. We argue that self-directed learning can take
place in various contexts. What is key is the teacher’s design for self-directed learning
to take place in these contexts.
In our framework, we suggest the guideposts necessary for teachers to facilitate
self-directed learning. We perceive these guideposts as a form of design processes
which suggest that teachers can undertake three essential phases when designing a
self-directed learning learning experience: Phase 1 requires teachers to plan activities
that can develop students’ ownership of learning, Phase 2 involve teaches scaffolding
students to engage in self-monitoring and management whereas in Phase 3, teachers
develop scaffolds to help students reflect and extend their learning. These phases
correspond to the salient features of self-directed learning but are elaborated with
specific actions that teachers can implement when designing a self-directed learning
Phase 1 - Develop students’ ownership of learning. When conceptualising a self-
directed learning experience, teachers need to start by asking, “What kinds of learning
activities can I design so that students are allowed to develop a sense of ownership for
their own learning?” As explained in the earlier parts of this chapter, it is important to
note that self-directed learning is not necessarily equivalent to independent learning.
Within a self-directed learning experience, students need to derive a sense of autonomy,
which essentially means a sense of self-governance over the activities they are
engaged in throughout the learning experience. It is important for students to develop a
sense of autonomy about their learning experiences because many empirical studies
have found this to have positive effects on developing students’ intrinsic motivation for
learning (Hardre & Reeve, 2003; Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2005; Valas & Sovik,
Therefore, in Phase 1, we suggest three conditions that can be incorporated into
teachers’ design of the learning task in order to develop students’ sense of autonomy or
self-governance of their actions. These are intended to provide students with autonomy
in task design, involve students in identifying learning gaps, as well as to support them
as they engage in investigative inquiry, goal setting and planning. Providing students
with autonomy in task design can be done by providing students with what Stefanou,
Preencevich, DiCintio, and Turner (2004) term as organisational autonomy and
procedural autonomy. The former refers to allowing students choice to manage their
learning environment, such as where to learn, and with whom to learn with. The latter
refers to allowing students choice to manage the form of their work, for example, how to
present their project or the materials and resources to use. Stefanou et al. (2004) also
emphasise the need to provide students with cognitive autonomy, that is, the ownership
of the learning process where they can ask questions and solve problems
independently. In terms of self-directed learning, this takes the form of facilitating
students towards asking questions about their own learning gaps so that learning goals
can be established and students can conceptualise their task designs towards their
While the first two conditions are designed to engage students in self-directed
learning so that they in turn help to foster their intrinsic motivation, the third condition
emphasises the need for teachers’ scaffolds as the students engage in the self-directed
learning experience. This may involve teachers setting the ground rules to facilitate
learning in a way that provides adequate guidance, yet not be overly prescriptive about
the task processes that students are to undertake. This may also involve teachers in
planning activities to facilitate personal goal-setting and project planning. Depending on
student level and student profile, teachers may need to develop rubrics, activity
instructions, and templates to facilitate students’ planning. Supporting student autonomy
does not mean the lack of teacher control (Koh & Frick, 2010). Rather, it involves
teachers in careful planning to delicately balance autonomy and control in such a way
that they build up the intrinsic motivation of students to engage in the self-directed
Phase 1 Example: The Case of the Flipped Classroom
In recent years, many teachers have been interested in the flipped classroom. It
is an instructional approach whereby the teacher flips the order of his/her instruction,
i.e. teacher’s instruction is accessed at home through the use of videos or podcast
ahead of class (Fulton, 2013; Tucker, 2012; Ullman, 2013). Through this approach,
class time is spent on engaging students in collaborative learning, differentiated
instruction, more in-depth discussions, group projects, individual interventions and so
forth. More importantly, proponents of the flipped classroom note that this instructional
approach is capable of covering what needs to be learnt when time is a constraint.
Locally, there are also teachers who are keen to explore how the flipped
classroom is useful in promoting self-directed learning. In this example, we pay
attention to a group of teachers who were at the beginning stage of implementing the
flipped classroom to teach Mathematics to their Primary 5 students. Their main aim
was to develop a sense of ownership of learning by these students. The flipped
classroom was an appropriate choice to provide students with the autonomy in
learning, such as identifying learning gaps, engaging students in investigative inquiry,
goal setting and planning when the students were watching the teacher-created
videos at home. However, the teachers realised that the following skills were needed
when the flipped classroom was used to develop students’ ownership of learning:
● Teach students how to control their pace of learning, such as pause the video
to take notes or replay the video for review
● Create ‘Think Time’ by spending time to think deeply about the questions
posed by the teacher in the video
● Equip students with self-study skills, such as penning down questions that they
have, including those that reflect their learning gaps
● Teach students how to ask a repertoire of questions
● Active learning such as by setting the purpose of watching the video, writing
down what they would like to learn about a topic from the video and what they
have learnt after watching the video
● Teach help-seeking strategies
Without these skills, the purpose of adopting the flipped classroom would be defeated
and develoing students’ ownership of learning using this approach would be futile too.
It would be another familiar incidence where the teacher was directing the learning
experience and the students remained passive in doing their homework.
Phase 2 - Develop Students Self-Management and Self-Monitoring. Once
teachers have planned the kinds of activities to elicit students’ learning goals and plans
about their learning processes in Phase 1, teachers need to move on to Phase 2
whereby they make provisions for the kinds of support necessary when students are
executing the learning plans. In Phase 2, we suggest two kinds of conditions that
teachers need to set up. The first are conditions for monitoring students’ learning so that
teachers can provide just-in-time assistance. Teachers can help students progress in
their learning enterprise by setting up checkpoints where students’ learning and
development are being monitored. This can be done, for example, by breaking up the
final product for a project into progressive deliverables that are due at different points
throughout the project period. At each milestone, teachers monitor students’ learning
progress and provide feedback for them to make improvements. Each milestone can
also be used as a means for teachers to evaluate students’ misconceptions and
learning difficulties, and provide just-in-time assistance. This can take the form of
teachers re-teaching or recommending resources for students. In this way, students are
able to revisit concepts that they have problems understanding, ask questions to better
understand their conceptions of the project or the content they are working with, or
brainstorm ideas with their peers to further develop their projects.
When monitoring students’ learning and providing just-in-time assistance, it is
important for teachers to correct errors of understanding with respect to understanding
of content; yet provide sufficient autonomy for students to explore their project
conceptions and project plans. This is because students’ perception of teacher control
can influence their sense of autonomy with respect to their learning experience, and
subsequently, their intrinsic motivation for continuing with the learning task. Examples of
teacher behaviours perceived as “controlling” become teachers’ imposition of goals on
students, frequent directives, interference with students’ preferred pace of learning, as
well as not allowing students’ independent opinions (Ryan & Deci, 2002; Assor, Kaplan,
Kanat-Maymon, & Roth, 2005). On the other hand, autonomy-supportive teachers are
those perceived by students to be listening more to their opinions, give them fewer
directives, soliciting their feedback about learning tasks, responding to their questions,
and encouraging them to think independently (Assor et al., 2002; Manouchehri, 2004 ;
Reeve, Bolt, & Cai, 1999). Teachers therefore need to handle progress monitoring and
assistance with such kinds of autonomy-supportive behaviours.
Besides teachers engaging in monitoring, teachers should also provide scaffolds
to help students engage in self-monitoring throughout the process of self-directed
learning. Garrison and Archer (2000) assert that “self-monitoring is a metacognitive and
motivational process and responsibility, which includes understanding the task,
accessing a repertoire of learning strategies, and having a general ‘awareness of, and
an ability to think about, our thinking (plan and modify thinking according to the learning
task/goal)’” (p. 97). Teachers cannot assume that students can be naturally adept at
self-monitoring. This is a process that requires much practice and it can be challenging
especially for younger students. Teachers can facilitate the process by setting up and
teaching rubrics of performance to students, as well as leading them to make
improvements using the rubrics. Such kinds of processes can be reinforced during the
periodic monitoring of students’ performance by teachers. As students become more
adept at self-monitoring and improvement, teachers can gradually allow students to take
over these processes independently.
Phase 2 Example: Self-Management Activities for Students with Special Needs
In this example, we focus on how two allied educators (Learning and
Behavioural Support) concentrated on teaching Primary 2 to 4 students self-
management skills with the aim of improving their self-direction. These students had
special needs such as dyslexia or autism and they went to these teachers to learn
social skills, organisation skills, remediation to improve one’s confidence, self-
awareness as well as learning skills related to English and Mathematics. Interviews on
their teaching resources show that the teachers were paying a lot of attention on
developing students’ self-management skills which were congruent with Thomas,
Strage and Curley’s (1988) types of self-management activities, namely:
(a) Time management activities that provide the opportunity to learn e.g.
● establishing sufficient time to complete activities
● keeping track of time
● scheduling time
● meeting time commitments
● distributing time over tasks
(b) Effort management activities that serve to promote and maintain the disposition to
● establishing a productive study environment
● setting learning and achievement goals
● initiating effort
● securing the necessary materials
● maintaining attention and avoiding distractions
● providing incentives to learn
(c ) Volitional monitoring activities that serve to monitor and evaluate the productivity
of one’s study habits
● keeping track of the adequacy of time and effort management activities
● monitoring attention
● assessing strengths and weaknesses in study habits
To cite an example of how the teachers taught the students to stay attentive
during their lessons, they taught these students a technique called “Switching off
internal dialogue”. Internal dialogues are things the students were thinking about and
when they had internal dialogues, they were not listening to another speaker or
paying attention to what they should be doing. The teachers overtly taught these
students ways of switching off their internal dialogue and explained to them the
benefits of doing so. Figure 3 shows some ways of switching off the internal dialogue
on one of the teaching resources prepared by the teachers.
Figure 3. Switching Off the Internal Dialogue
Phase 3 - Provide Opportunities for Students to Extend Their Learning. The first
two phases focus on how teachers can facilitate students to set directions and manage
their learning. The third phase focuses on what teachers can do to enhance the
authenticity of students’ learning by helping students make connections between what
they have learnt and their personal lives. Howland, Jonassen, and Marra (2012), when
explicating their dimensions of meaningful learning with ICT, emphasise the importance
of anchoring learning in authentic contexts and problems. This ensures that students
are able to make real-world connections of their knowledge. Students’ experience of
authentic learning can be further enhanced through activities that help them to construct
personal meaning of their knowledge, especially to find personal applications of the
knowledge learnt (Koh, 2013; Ellis, Barrett, Higa, & Bliuc, 2011). When planning the
SDL experience, teachers need to create opportunities for students to find connections
between knowledge gained from the classroom, books, and resources to their personal
lives. This is the focus of the activities designed to help students extend their learning.
We suggest three ways that teachers can go about doing so. First, it is crucial for
teachers to engage their students in the reflection of learning. In classrooms, teachers
typically focus on students’ content knowledge. For example, teachers may use the K-
W-L format where students reflect on what they know, what they want to know and what
they have learnt. To strengthen the authenticity of learning, teachers can incorporate
questions requiring students to think about what they have experienced about concepts
related to the content to be learnt and the questions they still have about applying these
concepts. At the end of the self-directed learning experience, teachers can ask students
to provide examples of how they may apply these concepts in their lives. Therefore,
reflection of learning goes beyond factual knowledge but focuses on the transfer of the
knowledge to real-life applications. Opportunities to consider how learning experiences
can be transferred to real-life usage is one of the principles of effective instruction
suggested by Merrill (2002).
The engagement of students in reflection invariably involves the use of their prior
knowledge. The self-directed learning experience should not be learnt in vacuum.
Teachers should provide opportunities for students to think about what they currently
know and how the new content to be learnt may enhance its depth and scope.
Cognitive dissonance provides the basis for students to extend their learning as it
requires them to explore and integrating ideas as well as resolve dilemmas among
conflicting ideas. These are mental processes characterising deep learning that requires
(a) relate new ideas and concepts to previous knowledge and experience;
(b) integrate their knowledge into interrelated conceptual systems;
(c) evaluate new ideas, and relate them to conclusions;
(d) understand the process of dialogue through which knowledge is created, and
they examine the logic of an argument critically;
(e) reflect on their own understanding and their own process of learning. (Sawyer,
Therefore, a second aspect that teachers need to take note of when facilitating
extension of learning is to engage students’ prior knowledge and create opportunities
for suitable cognitive dissonance and resolution of differences between what they know
and what they have learnt. In this respect, extension of learning involves the deepening
and widening of one’s current knowledge. This can also take the form of making
connections of a content area across different subjects.
A third way that teachers can extend students’ learning is to facilitate students to
make connections between what they learn in and out of school. Note that in our
framework, we recognize that students may learn about a concept through exploration
out of personal interest. This may not have been part of school work assigned by
teachers. Teachers can break the divide between learning within and outside school by
encouraging students to make connections between the two. This can be done, for
example, by encouraging students to share their personal portfolios or research as well
as suggest ways they can extend this work through their self-directed learning
Phase 3 Example: Self-Directed Learning in Product Design
This example focuses on how a group of Design & Technology teachers
promoted design thinking processes which placed a lot of emphasis on developing
students’ extension of learning in their self-direction. As argued earlier, effective
instruction takes place when there are opportunities for students to transfer their
school learning experiences to real-life contexts (Merrill, 2002). In this example, the
teachers situated the Secondary 2 (Express and Normal Streams) students’ project
work in the context of serving the needs of the elderly in the community.
For a semester, the students were engaged in a non-linear process of design
work whereby they engaged in understanding and addressing complex real-world
issues and higher order thinking skills that emphasised application, integration and co-
construction of knowledge. as they self-directed their learning in this project work.
When they were identifying the goal of the project, the teachers and students co-
identified the elderly as the targeted beneficiary for their design work. All of the
students had interactions with the elderly in their daily lives and by situating their
design work in the needs of the elderly, they would be able to reflect and draw on their
prior experience and knowledge. Extension of learning took place when they applied
their design knowledge and skills in the complex real-world issues.
To guide the students in their self-direction, the teachers engaged the students in
the following iterative processes:
(a) Design situation: Students set the learning goal and gaps by identifying the
situation (opportunities for their design work), end users (beneficiary of their design
work) and design problems (the needs to be addressed in their design work).
(b) Design brief: Students had to develop a brief which served like a learning contract
whereby they provided a short statement that identified the need or problem to be
solved. In the design brief, the students would indicate the product to be made, its
purpose, its end users and the context of use.
(c) Research: Students generated survey and interview questions to find out the
needs of the elderly. Just-in-time interview skills were also taught during this phase of
the project. During this phase, students also created videos to inform their teachers of
their progress. The teachers gave feedback on their learning directions, processes
and work, such as the quality of the interview questions and their social skills when
approaching the elderly.
(d) Development: Once the learning direction and goal were set, students used a
mnemonic known as SCAMPER (substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another
use, eliminate, reverse) to ask questions about existing products in order to improve
them or develop new ones. Through SCAMPER, the students were able to
understand the products available, find out the design features and functions required
for their product and suggest improvements to be made. During this phase, students
would generate ideas by considering design factors and develop an image board of
the current product linked to the design situation and design brief. The image board
consisted of pictures about the end users and pictures of a lifestyle of the end users.
(e) Reflection and evaluation in further development: Students reflected on their own
work and think of how realistic and viable their idea would be. The teachers made use
of gallery walk and questioning exercise to help the students review their own works.
For instance, the teachers made use of another mnemonic known as PMI (plus,
minus, interesting) to involve the students in listing all positive (plus) and negative
(minus) aspects as well as interesting points of their design.
(f) Planning: Once the students’ ideas were finalised, they tested out their ideas by
creating a cardboard model. They had to prepare a material list to determine the types
of materials to be used. During this phase of the project, they could consult the
teachers on the decisions to be made, such as methods to join the parts and
(g) Implementation: The students were equipped with the necessary technical
knowledge and skills to create their artefacts to be used in the real-world contexts.
The guideposts or design processes necessary for facilitating the three salient
features of self-directed learning suggest the conditions that teachers need to be
cognizant of when planning a self-directed learning experience. Teachers can use this
process as a starting point for designing structured experiences within and outside
school contexts. These experiences should provide students with opportunities to
practice the key processes of self-directed learning, as well as encourage them to
transfer these skills to design their own unstructured learning experiences both within
and outside school. In the next chapter, we present more worked examples from
Singapore schools to further explain how these conditions can be put into practice.
“You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure
in being engaged in.” – Howard Gardner
In this chapter, we present worked examples of how self-directed learning has
taken place locally. These worked examples are provided by our local teachers who
have tried out designing opportunities for self-directed learning. Using their experiences
as worked examples, they serve as reference points from which to try variations that
best suit the specific context of teaching and learning in each school.
Self-Directed Learning in School Settings with Structured Learning Experiences
In this context, it is a common practice to observe teachers teaching their
students independent thinking in their endeavours to develop students’ self direction.
This is the second stage of self-directed learning, based on Gibbons’ (2002) spectrum
of self-direction. According to Gibbons (2002), in this stage, self-directed learning
involves the teacher directing the students in their learning activities and leading them in
the thinking process. From the teacher’s guidance, the students learn to answer the
questions presented to them by themselves. Not only are the learning outcomes
stipulated by the syllabi attained, the processes necessary to search for the answers
are mastered to develop independent learning. We cite an example from a Chinese
class in a primary school whereby the teacher is interested in teaching his Primary 5
students how to learn Chinese independently. We focus on metacognition as the key
skill the teacher is developing when attempting to improve self-direction among the
students. This is not to say that the teacher has not taught the content and language
skills demanded by the Chinese syllabus, but rather, we cite this example to highlight
the design processes necessary to facilitate students’ independent thinking. In this
example, the teacher created a website, using Google Sites
(http://www.google.com/sites/overview.html), to structure his design processes, which
we describe below.
Targeted level of SDL: Teaching students to think independently
Topic: Reading Comprehension in Chinese
Level: Primary 5
Phase 1: Develop students’ ownership of learning
● Provide learner autonomy in task design
During the Chinese period, the Chinese teacher took his class of students to the
computer laboratory. He instructed the class to visit the online canvas that he created
using Lino (http://en.linoit.com/) or better known as Linoit among our local teachers. The
children were asked to post what they would like to learn by the end of the unit.
Students’ responses included learning new vocabulary, pronounciation and usage of
new words learnt, reading and writing new vocabulary, learning how to write a good
essay and so forth. Before the unit was formally taught, the teacher briefly described
what would be taught so that the students could manage their expectations. The
teacher also prepared the students mentally that they would be given the responsibility
to take charge of their learning, starting from the identification of their learning gaps.
● Involve students in identifying learning gaps
Instead of teaching from the Chinese textbook, the teacher instructed the
students to first complete a worksheet to assess if they could write some of the new
vocabulary introduced in the unit, use them to construct a sentence and in a cloze
passage. He also asked them to read one of the passages in the unit and then answer
some comprehension questions to assess their level of understanding of the text. From
the teacher’s marking of the worksheet, each student had an idea of what they had yet
to master. This was his strategy for helping his students identify their learning gaps.
● Facilitate students’ investigative inquiry, goal setting and planning
As a follow-up to the discussion of answers to the worksheet, the teacher asked
each student to use online journals or blogs (http://www.blogger.com/home) to create a
daily study plan that included:
(a) The learning goal: What is my learning goal? What do I want to learn?
(b) Personal learning style or study method: How do I best learn the topic?
(c) Resources needed: What resources can I use?
Whether it was the daily study plan or other homework, the teacher made a conscious
effort to explain what should be learnt from the task and the intent of the assigned task.
He did this to provide the goal for doing the assigned task to his students so that it
would be purposeful work, rather than busy work.
Phase 2: Develop students’ self-management and self-monitoring
● Provide scaffolds for students’ self- monitoring
During the allocated class time, instead of a recitation, the teacher gave the
students time to read the texts from the textbook. He allowed them to study the texts in
groups. After reading the textbook, the teacher asked the students how they would like
to be assessed. The teacher allowed the students to represent their understanding of
the texts they read in any way, using any technological tools they were familiar with. For
instance, some students used a Web 2.0 tool for creating comics and cartoons known
as ToonDoo (http://www.toondoo.com/) to create the main ideas of the passage they
read. By doing so, the students were indirectly assessing their understanding of the text
on their own. While they were creating artefacts to represent their understanding, they
could review or check with their peers what they did not understand. They could also
use their self-selected resources such as an electronic dictionary to find out the
meaning of a key vocabulary introduced in the chapter. As part of their daily blogs, the
students were also asked to reflect upon how they could assess their learning goals and
whether they had achieved them.
● Monitor students’ learning and provide just-in-time assistance
The teacher also monitored the students’ understanding by assessing their
artefacts of learning, such as their comics. He specifically looked out for his student's
ability to demonstrate their comprehension of texts and application of reading and
writing strategies previously taught. He would make use of different students’ artefacts
to clarify students’ misconceptions such as wrong usage of a vocabulary. Based on the
students’ works, he would emphasise what was important and had been left out in the
students’ reading and discussions of the texts they read. His teaching was
contextualised and at the same time covering what was stipulated by the syllabus.
Phase 3: Provide opportunities for students to extend their learning
● Engage students’ prior knowledge and allow students to make connections of
what they learn in and out of school
In the unit, the teacher concentrated on metacognitive skills so that his students
would know how to expand their vocabulary. More importantly, his aim was to teach
them how to learn the Chinese language so that they knew how to make meaning with
the Chinese texts they encountered both in school and out of school. He also involved
his students in situational writing so that they could apply what they had learnt in the
unit on a situation that the students were likely to encounter in the real-world contexts.
● Engage students in reflection of learning
The teacher instructed his students to blog daily to develop reflective thinking
and metacognition to support the learning of the language. As described earlier, he
guided them in their reflection by directing them to reflect upon:
(a) Their progress: What have I learnt? What am I learning now?
(b) Their processes: How do I know I have learnt a skill or topic? How do I best learn a
topic or skill? What gets into my way? What could have helped me
(c) Their achievement: How do I feel about my achievement?
Highlight: Strategies for Developing Metacognition in SDL
● Teach students to improve their learning through goal setting, planning and
monitoring and provide opportunities for student practice
● Help students to be aware of they know about the topic, the goal of the lesson,
the resources available to them
● Model the thinking processes in teacher-led discussions
● Engage students’ prior knowledge when learning a new topic
● Create an advanced organiser to let students know what will be taught and
enable students to make an alignment between their personal and academic
● Make clear the purpose of an assigned task to the students
● Provide students with resources, including technology, to help students learn
when teaching a topic
● Equip them with help-seeking and study strategies
● Monitor students’ progress, process and product of learning and help students
reflect upon them
The Teacher’s Reflection
For students who were less ready to self-direct themselves, I should have
provided more guidance and support. To start with, it’d be more reasonable to start
from a lower level of self-direction. Those student who were less ready to self-direct
themselves were not able to articulate their learning goals. I could have suggested
some to them and allowed them to choose which learning goals were more
achievable for them. I would have continued guiding my students with thinking
questions to model the desired thinking processes and provide them with a range of
learning tools for differentiated instruction. I would also have continued with close
observation and monitoring so that I could provide just-in-time assistance.
I believe if my students are able to own their learning, they will be more engaged
in their learning which is necessary for achieving good results in school examinations.
In Singapore, almost all self-directed learning activities must include concrete subject-
based learning objectives, which is one of the main purposes of learning. The skill of a
teacher lies in developing self-direction, skills such as metacognition and those
related to using technology and at the same time, covering the content areas
stipulated by the national syllabi.
Self-Directed Learning in Out-of-School Settings with Structured Learning
This is a context where the learning processes and activities were provided by
the teacher even though they took place outside of school. In this example, we present
a teacher’s use of WebQuest (http://webquest.org/), an inquiry-oriented unit that
involves students in searching the Web for the relevant information they need. His intent
was to involve his students in learning the topic of Mensuration before it was officially
taught. In this example, we focus on how the teacher designed opportunities for his
students to manage some aspects of the learning processes. Although the same
WebQuest was used for the students from the Express and Normal streams, the
teacher featured in this worked example was teaching the students from the Normal
stream. The activities designed were online and they were intended to be done outside
of school. In this example, we find Thomas, Strage and Curley’s (1988) classes of self-
directed learning activities relevant in illuminating the students’ cognitive, time and effort
management. Below is the case description of how the teacher designed opportunities
for the students to self-manage their learning as part of his efforts to develop self-
directed learning among them.
Targeted level of SDL: Self-managed learning
Highlight: Self-management - cognitive, time and effort management
Level: Secondary 2 (Normal Stream)
Phase 1: Develop students’ ownership of learning
● Provide learner autonomy in task design
The teacher created a WebQuest (see Figure 4) to teach the topic of
Mensuration to the Secondary 2 students. The students were given one month to
complete the activities in the WebQuest before the topic was taught in school. In this
WebQuest, the students were given a scenario where the government had set up a
committee to evaluate the different geometrical designs of shopping malls with the aim
of maximising the land space in Singapore. In the scenario, the head of the advisory
committee recommended that all the shopping malls should adopt the geometrical
design of a cube. In groups of four, the students were instructed to:
(a) Investigate the properties of different geometrical designs.
(b) Decide if the recommendation made by the head of the advisory committee was
better than theirs
(c) Choose the best geometrical design which should be adopted by the Singapore
● Involve students in identifying learning gaps and facilitate students’ investigative
inquiry, goal setting and planning
The WebQuest was created to facilitate guided inquiry. The teacher designed
three broad phases of activities (see Figure 4). The first activity involved the students in
choosing or setting their learning goal. Each member of the group must decide on the
geometrical design for their investigative inquiry, based on the list provided by the
teacher. In the second activity, it was necessary for each student to carry out their
independent research and study. Although the teacher did not instruct the students to
articulate their learning gaps overtly, the students were indirectly identifying their
learning gaps when they were asked to draw on their prior knowledge to answer the
questions related to the geometrical design they had selected for their investigative
inquiry. When the students were stuck with answering the questions, they were given
the necessary resources from the Mathematics e-learning system, Ace-Learning, that
the school subscribed to. The last activity involved the students to work with one
another to determine the relationships between the total surface area and total base
area of a geometrical shape and its volume. Based on their understanding of these
relationships, each group must make an informed and justified reason for the best
geometrical design, given the scenario presented to them in the WebQuest.
Figure 4. Key Activities in the WebQuest on Mensuration
Phase 2: Develop students’ self-management and self-monitoring
● Monitor students’ learning and provide just-in-time assistance and scaffolds for
The teacher instructed each group to report to him their progress but he allowed
them to decide how often and how best this could be done. As a result of his
consultative style, some groups chose to send him instant messages or emails with
screenshots of their project progress and group discussions on phones and desktops.
To help his students proceed with their WebQuest, he would email or text them to
answer their questions. Although the WebQuest was intended for online learning at
home, there were students who requested for just-in-time help from the teacher when
they met him in school. Those students who were less ready to self-direct themselves
were dependent on the teacher’s just-in-time feedback to locate resources, comprehend
the questions in the WebQuest and identify the relevant concepts and formulae to solve
the problems posed in the WebQuest. For those who were more ready to self-direct
themselves, the teachers’ choice of questions already served as scaffolds for them to
better understand the key concepts in mensuration. For instance, in order to determine
the best geometrical design that maximise land space in Singapore, the students must
know how to measure each shape, how to calculate the amount of land space occupied
by each design, the amount of material required to construct it and its total capacity. In
other words, the teacher was guiding them to seek and select relevant information that
could help them solve the main problem posted to them in the WebQuest.
Phase 3: Provide opportunities for students to extend their learning
● Engage students’ prior knowledge, engage them in reflection of learning, and
allow them to make connections of what they learn in and out of school
Through the use of WebQuest, the teacher was able to engage the students’
prior knowledge on geometrical shapes to learn a new topic, without having to teach
them in a teacher-didactic method. The WebQuest was designed so that the Secondary
2 students were able to reflect upon the application of Mathematical concepts in the
real-world context. Specifically, in this case, they were able to apply the mensuration of
geometical shapes to determine how land-space efficiency and cost-effectiveness affect
the shape and size of shopping malls in Singapore. In this way, they were able to
extend their learning by making connections between what they learnt in school and
experienced outside of school (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Extension of Learning in Mathematics
Highlight: Strategies for Developing Cognitive, Time and Effort Management
● Guide students in seeking out relevant information and differentiating important
from unimportant information
● Teach students to consult resources and references when
previewing/reviewing a set of material so that they can enhance their
understanding of the resources given to them
● Design activities that allow the students to synthesize and construct
relationships across concepts or topics learnt
● Design activities that allow students to relate the concepts or topics to be learnt
to their prior knowledge
● Design activities to enable the students to develop an awareness of what they
had yet to master
● Provide sufficient time for students to complete the assigned task
● Allow students to spread out tasks over time
● Establish monitoring means for students to account how they have kept track of
time for task completion at different phases
● Establish a productive and supportive learning environment, such as online
● Guide students in setting learning goals, initiating efforts and sustaining
The Teacher’s Reflection
Generally, the difference between the rigour of tasks between the high-ability
(HA), middle-ability (MA) and low-ability(LA) students would lie upon the degree of
scaffolding and assistance rendered. For instance, the HA students were able to
complete a given task without further guidance from the teacher. They could do
without the list of resources and generate solutions solely from external resources
they sought on their own. For the MA students, they were given access a list of
guided resources to help them in their research process so that they could be
supported when evaluating the significance of their solutions. For the LA student, they
had to be monitored and guided more closely, such as showing them examples on
how to complete a task.
Self-directed learning exposes learners to various avenues of information
research. This exposure equips them with the capacity to take the first step in
problem-solving, as opposed to waiting for the right answers from their teachers. The
constant engagement of students in SDL gradually leads to the development of an
inquisitive mind that helps them in unpacking a problem to varying degrees. This will
benefit the students greatly in terms of handling high-stake exams that include a wide
range of questions from simple knowledge-based materials to application-based
Self-Directed Learning in Out-of-school Settings with Unstructured Learning
In this context, the learning processes and activities are determined by students.
It is a context where the teacher either has little or no autonomy or chooses not to
prescribe processes for students’ learning. In this example, a Junior College Literature
teacher aimed to develop students’ skills in critical reading and writing through the use
of eportfolio. Eportfolios allow “students to collect and organize portfolio artifacts in
many media types (audio, video, graphics, and text) and to use hypertext links to
organize the material, connecting evidence to appropriate outcomes, goals or standards”
(Barrett, 2006, p.1). The use of the eportfolio was intended to support the students’ self-
study by providing them with detailed feedback on their work and discussions with their
peers (Wong & Ho, 2013). The teacher also intended to conduct formative assessment
using the eportfolio to guide her students towards developing more robust A-level style
In this example, we pay attention to students’ self-monitoring whereby they were
given the opportunity to practise observing and documenting their own reading and
writing processes. Although the teacher set very broad guidelines on the expectations
from students, the learning processes remain largely unstructured. In this example,
unstructured learning experiences do not mean that there was no clear directions for
learning. They were unstructured because the students had autonomy to select their
own resources to extend their understanding of the texts they had to study for
examination purpose. These resources might include the teacher’s notes and teaching
resources as well but they were largely curated and appropriated based on the inquiry
they had instituted while studying the texts by themselves and with their peers outside
Targeted level of SDL: Self-directed learning (fullest extent)
Topic: Individual and society - Topic paper for H2 Literature
Level: JC 1 (mixed abilities)
Phase 1: Develop students’ ownership of learning
● Provide learner autonomy in task design, involve them in identifying learning
gaps and facilitate their investigative inquiry, goal setting and planning
For two semesters, the students were studying Death and the King’s Horseman
by Wole Soyinka, and All by Sons by Arthur Miller. Involving students in selecting and
identifying a target behaviour is the first step in developing self-monitoring among the
students (Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm, 2000). For these students, it was communicated to
them that they were expected to use literary devices and practical criticism to
deconstruct poetry and prose extracts. They were also expected to be able to interpret
essay questions and write argumentative responses with well-developed ideas using
self-questioning triggers. These learning outcomes were the targeted behaviours
expected of them as JC 1 Literature students.
The second step to develop self-monitoring was to engage students in
documenting and providing instances of the targeted behaviours or endeavours to
achieve them, including evidence of any learning problem and its frequency (Vaughn,
Bos, & Schumm, 2000). Towards these targeted behaviours, the teacher requested
each student to create a personal eportfolio to organise their learning resources and
work in progress as well as to solicit feedback on their works over time. In their
eportfolios, the students were required to demonstrate their developing competence in
applying the reading and writing strategies they were taught to analyse the texts they
read and synthesize the knowledge they learnt in Literature.
The teacher provided a certain extent of learner autonomy in task design when
she allowed them to choose their articles for extended reading. They also identified their
learning goals to close their learning gaps when they were required to ask questions
about the texts they studied and search for resources to help them answer their own
self-generated questions. Participating in group discussions was also a way of involving
peers as resources to help them meet their learning goals. All these learning activities
had to be planned and managed by the students themselves but the required
deliverables must be submitted to the teacher as a form of accountability and they
consisted of the following tasks:
(a) Curate at least one article every week;
(b) Pose questions about the texts read and search for answers to these questions
(c) Participate in group discussions with at least one group topic in each term;
(d) Choose an essay from the list given by the teacher and write one essay of about
1000 to 1200 words. (The students were asked to write 2 essays for each text they
The students were also given the autonomy to decide on their choice of
technological tools to help them best represent their ideas and complete their
deliverables. Examples included the use of online note-taking tools like Evernote
(https://evernote.com/) and online storage space like Google Drive
(http://www.google.com/drive/about.html) to share their writing ideas and solicit
feedback from their teacher and peers. The eportfolio was self-managed and had to be
submitted to the teacher in the second week of Term 3.
Phase 2: Develop students’ self-management and self-monitoring
● Monitor students’ learning, provide just-in-time assistance and scaffolds for
When the students were curating their learning resources, the teacher provided
them with just-in-time assistance to build up their metacognitive, reading and writing
skills .She reminded them to take note of new words and find their meanings, highlight
important ideas or paraphrase them in their own notes, write down any questions after
reading their self-selected resources and briefly write down their personal opinions on
why they agree or disagreed on certain ideas.
The teacher also provided feedback on her students’ drafts when they were
writing their essays. Her feedback included suggestions on how some self-formulated
questions could be broadened. When the arguments and evidence did not cohere in her
students’ writing, she would highlight their faulty reasoning to them. She also asked
questions to prompt them to think further when the arguments they made were
simplistic. Other feedback included prompting the students to approach a topic from
different perspectives. She also gave feedback on the organisation of the essays to
ensure that students were able to write cohesively and coherently.
Similarly, when they were engaging in their online group discussions, the teacher
provided them with just-in-time rules of engagement, such as:
(a) Provide relevant responses to the question or statement for discussion;
(b) Be respectful and open to views that are different from yours;
(c) Seek to provide reasons for why you agree or disagree with your peers;
(d) Be clear and organize your ideas clearly.
(e) Use the S.P.I.C.E.S. approach (self-questioning triggers that encourage the
students to pay attention to significance, problem, inference, cause, effect and style
found in a text) to develop their responses.
Phase 3: Provide opportunity for students to extend their learning
● Engage students’ prior knowledge, engage them in reflection of learning and
allow them to make connections of what they learn in and out of school
The use of the eportfolio was intended to engage the students in critical reading
and writing. Instead of waiting for the teacher to pose questions to the students to
answer like a comprehension exercise, the students themselves must be responsible for
their reflections by drawing upon their prior knowledge of the texts they read, making
sense of the texts and establish the text-to-world meanings, i.e. they had to look for
resources that helped them relate big ideas of the texts to themes they could relate to
when thinking about the individuals and the society. By engaging in group discussions,
they had the opportunities to further their thoughts, deepen their reflections and broaden
their perspectives from the exchange of ideas. Purposeful reflections would not have
been possible without the teacher’s just-in-time assistance and feedback. When needed,
instructional support was provided when she modelled for the students the kinds of
questions they should be asking. Although the teacher encouraged her students to
generate their own questions about the texts they studied, she was mindful to guide
them on scoping their questions to better align with the rigour of the A-level questions.
HIghlight: Strategies for Facilitating Students’ Self-monitoring in SDL
● Establish a purpose that is meaningful to the student so that their buy in will be
● Harness students’ competence and constantly draw on their artefacts of
learning to describe what needs to be done
● Make clear of the targeted behaviour or learning outcome and describe them in
accessible language, using examples and non-examples
● Present rubrics or other guidelines to help students monitor their self-
documentation of their progress and performance
● Provide and model high levels of thinking skills and reflections as just-in-time
assistance and support to the students
The Teacher’s Reflection
Based on a students' feedback that the portfolio assessment should focus on
quality instead of quantity, and the fact that students would be more goal-oriented in
JC2, it might be better for each student to set a realistic goal of the essay score they
would like to attain (in Semester 1 and Term 3), and work towards this score. In other
words, if the first submission was below the target score, students should redraft soon
after they had received feedback, or defer the correction draft and work on the revised
version before a major exam.
Stakes are high in an examination and students therefore need to articulate
their ideas clearly, eschew preformulated responses (common issue raised in
Cambridge Examiners' Report), be able to stay calm and have the confidence to
address new perspectives implied in questions, and have full control of the structural
and argumentative requirements of an essay. The SDL activities I designed have
helped to address all these.
Some measures of freedom in directing their own learning certainly help some
students to feel empowered and develop a greater sense of ownership. When they
are encouraged to curate their own resources, they can better understand and relate
to what they have found, perhaps simply because they are less complex and they are
charged with deciding what's useful for themselves, according to their readiness.
Self-Directed Learning in School Settings with Unstructured Learning
In this context, the learning processes and activities are determined by students
and teachers choose to have minimal control over the process. In this example, we
focus on how self-directed learning is facilitated as a whole school approach. The
school’s aim is to develop students self-directed learning by enhancing their confidence
to undertake learning independently and to identify their own learning gaps. Online
learning games were chosen because they provided students with a fun and interactive
way to learn independently with immediate feedback on their performance. The school
chose to focus on Mathematics as this was an area where students lacked confidence
in. The portal was implemented both within and outside the school as the school
needed to cater for students who did not have computer access.
Targeted level of SDL: Self-directed learning (fullest extent)
Highlight: Systems to Scaffold Ownership of learning
Topic: Self-practice of Mathematical concepts through an online progressive learning
Level: Whole school, Primary 1 to 6
Phase 1 - Develop students’ ownership of learning
● Provide learner autonomy in task design
● To enhance students’ confidence and proficiency in Maths, the school
subscribes to an online learning portal that has a series of Maths games designed for
different topics and levels of difficulty. For group motivation to increase their House
points, the scores attained by the students in each game contribute towards the points
of the House which the students belong to under the House System. These House
points are shared with the students at scheduled intervals and they are displayed
prominently near the canteen. Students have the autonomy to log-in to the portal at any
time and choose to play games in any topic or at any level. For students without access
to computers at home, they can use the computers at the free access areas and in the
computer laboratories on Wednesdays and Fridays if they would like to access the
portal after school.
● Involve students in identifying learning gaps
Students receive instant feedback for the questions attempted correctly. Besides
that, they are each affirmed individually for their successes through the stars awarded to
them. These accrue ranks such as “Junior Master”, “Senior Master” and “Grand Master”.
In addition, the scores given help the students identify their learning gaps for them to
self-determine how they want to plan the concepts they would like to relearn as well as
those they would like to try. Students are also able to self-check against any
misconceptions they may have through the worked solutions provided.
● Facilitate students’ investigative inquiry, goal setting and planning
By reviewing their scores after each game against those of their classmates’,
students set personal targets of the kinds of practice they want to engage in so as to
challenge their classmates to be the top scorer for the class, level or school. For the
weaker classes, teachers also use the portal resources to conduct organized review
sessions and prescribe the levels and games within the students’ comfort level to build
Phase 2 - Develop students’ self management and monitoring
● Monitor students’ learning and provide just-in-time assistance
Students’ use of the portal resources provides information for their teachers in review
sessions with their students. With the students’ scores after they had completed a level,
teachers may decide to reteach the concepts or use this time to answer any questions
that students might have.
● Provide scaffolds for students’ self-monitoring
Students’ self-monitoring is done through the feedback and scores provided by the
portal system. However, this can be further enhanced by teachers reviewing the system
feedback with students to help them engage in more detailed monitoring of their
Phase 3 - Provide opportunities for students to extend their learning
● Engage students in reflection of learning
This aspect is not evident in the planning of this experience, largely because it is
largely an SDL experience that is left to the students’ initiative. More opportunities could
be present for engaging students’ reflection when teachers use the portal in review
sessions. Students could be asked to reflect about the Math concepts and skills and the
game they have played, and to suggest situations of how they might apply these
concepts in their lives. For example, in a game on fractions, students could be asked to
suggest or describe from their experiences of how they have observed the concept of
addition of fractions being used.
● Engage students’ prior knowledge
Gameplay naturally engaged the students’ prior knowledge of the concepts they
learnt in Mathematics as these had to be applied when students chose the games they
wanted to play as well as the levels of gameplay to engage in.
● Allow students to make connections of what they learn in and out of school
Students’ engagement in gameplay was used as a means to build their
confidence level for solving Mathematics problems before they practised solving them
on teacher-generated worksheets. This approach was especially important for the
weaker students who typically found the worksheets difficult. The use of this portal
provided students with what they perceived to be a relatively non-threatening way of
doing Mathematics, as compared to failing in their attempts with worksheets. Their
success in gameplay during out-of-school experiences served as a way to connect
students to the in-school Mathematics experiences which they tended to perceive
negatively. The ability to contribute to the point score of their House further encouraged
them as it affirmed them of the positive outcomes of their efforts at Mathematics
To promote collaborative learning and peer coaching, students are given the
opportunity to work in groups. Higher-ability students create and share videos using an
app to explain their solutions and to teach the concepts. Weaker students can play
these videos with worked solutions if they require help to solve the word problems when
learning on their own.
Highlight: Systems to Scaffold Ownership of Learning
● Set-up a programme that provides students with autonomy to choose where
and how they want to go about the task
● Select appropriate ICT tools that can generate feedback to students about their
performance throughout the task
● Ensure easy access to the ICT tools both within and out of school
● Provide opportunities for easy success on the task even for the weaker
● Link students’ personal success with the task to the attainment of a group goal
● Provide students with opportunities to transfer their success with the task to
success with an academic task
The Teacher’s Reflection
“Students are excited when they achieve a star for each question they have attempted
correctly and that motivates them to learn and practise more questions. Through this
non-threatening platform, students gain more confidence in problem-solving. For more
targeted practice, it will be good for teachers to narrow down the skills that students
need to spend more time to work on.”
– Mrs Wong Soo Ching (HOD, Mathematics)
ROLES OF TECHNOLOGY IN FACILITATING SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING
“Do not confine your children to your own learning,
for they were born in another time” – A Chinese Proverb
In the previous chapters, we have articulated examples of self-directed learning
in different contexts, some structured and others unstructured. In this chapter, we
further examine the affordances of technology in supporting pertinent conditions of self-
directed learning and articulate various examples of the kinds of technological tools that
can be used. Specifically, we pay more attention to the use of digital media which are
electronic media that operate on numerical representations or digital codes (Manovich,
2001). We also attend to the use of digital media that is characterised by the range of
authoring technologies which enable teachers and their students to become both
consumers and producers of their own multimedia and multimodal texts (Carrington &
Robinson, 2009; Davies & Merchant, 2009). In this chapter, we have recommended
some digital media tools for teacher and student use. It is important to note that the list
of these tools and their perceived affordances are not exhaustive and definitive and the
URLs of these digital media tools are correct only at the point of writing.
Technology Supporting Phase 1 - Develop Students’ Ownership of Learning
In this phase, the focus is to support students in their identification of learning
gaps so as to facilitate their goal-setting and task design. One way that teachers can do
so is through the use of flipped classrooms where videos can be posted with guiding
questions that guide students to reflect upon and surface their learning gaps. Teachers
can use tools such as Jing and VoiceThread to record videos of their presentations.
Teachers can use the subsequent discussion in class to help students set goals and
strategies to address these students’ learning gaps.
For the learning of facts, procedures and process skills, the use of online learning
portals, such as Khan Academy and Learnology, can be one way of developing
students’ ownership of learning because such kinds of portals typically provide different
levels of practice problems, hints to problem solutions, adaptive scaffolds as well as
performance feedback. As these kinds of feedback are automated, it allows students to
have immediate performance feedback. Students can take charge of the analysis and
understanding of their personal learning gaps without having to depend on their teacher.
It also supports students to engage in task analysis which supports the setting of their
learning goals as well as their planning of strategies to approach their learning tasks.
Besides the use of readily available portals, teachers can also design their own quizzes
using engines such as Hot Potatoes, , ProProfs, Quibblo, and Google Forms, which is
one of the online tools available in Google Drive. However, not all of these quiz engines
allow teachers to input feedback to quiz questions. In such cases, teachers need to find
alternative ways of providing feedback to students and to scaffold their analysis of
While quiz engines may be useful for helping students identify learning gaps in
subjects such as Mathematics and Science, the identification of learning gaps in
subjects such as Languages and Humanities need to be supported with different kinds
of tools such as Google Docs, which is available in Google Drive. In this tool, peers or
teachers can provide comments and feedback. Students can also track the history of
their writing. These are features that can be used to help students identify the changes
across iterations as well as to understand their personal learning gaps and to set goals
When students are involved in tasks such as project work, or product design,
their goal setting and task design are intertwined with how they envision their work
process. Digital tools, such as Microsoft Project and Gantter, provide simple interface
for students to plan and schedule the activities to complete their task. Simple Gantt
charts can also be created on Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheets, which is
another tool in Google Drive. These tools provide the means for students to update their
project progress, as well as to monitor and refine their project plans. These digital tools
support students’ goal setting as they allow them to externalise and articulate their
processes for the completion of learning tasks.
Technology to Support Phase 1 - Develop Students’ Ownership of Learning
Flip Classroom tools
● Jing: http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html
● VoiceThread: http://VoiceThread.com/
Online Learning portals
● Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org
● Learnlogy: http://www.learnlogy.com/index.php
Tools for producing online quizzes
● Hot Potatoes: http://hotpot.uvic.ca/
● Google Forms: http://www.google.com/drive/apps.html
● ProProfs: http://www.proprofs.com/
● Quibblo: http://www.quibblo.com/
● Microsoft Project: http://office.microsoft.com/en-sg/project/
● Gantter: http://gantter.com/
● Google Spreadsheets: http://www.google.com/drive/apps.html
Technology Supporting Phase 2 - Develop Students’ Self-Management and
Howland et al. (2012) emphasised that digital media play the function of cognitive
tools that can help students articulate and externalise their internal cognitive processes.
The authors assert that digital media better supports deep learning when students are
given opportunities to learn with the tools, rather than from the tools. Therefore, when
considering digital tools for supporting self-management and monitoring, we have
focused on tools with affordances to support students in the externalisation of their
internal cognitive processes. Tools that facilitate note taking such as Evernote, Sciblink,
Stormboard, and Padlet help students to construct and archive their ideas digitally.
Online mindmapping tools such as bubbl.us, Mindmeister, Mind42, and Popplet allow
students to structure their ideas whereas social bookmarking sites such as del.ico.us
and Symbaloo allow students to collect and manage online resources. The use of these
ICT tools allow easy archival and retrieval of ideas and resources. It supports self-
management and monitoring by making it easy for students to revisit their past work as
well as the comments and discussion with peers and teachers that have been
constructed socially. This is an important process to support students’ review and
reflection as they strategize how they can improve upon their learning gaps.
Where teachers aim to play an active role in supporting students’ self-
management and monitoring, the use of web-based tools becomes more critical. For
example, where Gantt charts are created in shareable formats such as Gantter or
Google Spreadsheets, teachers can also use these tools as a means to monitor student
progress. More importantly, these web-based tools also facilitate social interaction
through chat functions. They facilitate communication and discussion amongst teachers,
students, and their peers, which can also be used as means to support students’ self-
management and monitoring of progress.
Teachers’ scaffolding of self-management and monitoring can also take place by
providing just-in-time instruction or learning resources to students. Social learning
networks such as Edmodo, or Schoology can be used to support these processes as
these systems allow teachers to create individual and shared spaces. Teachers can use
individual spaces for students to post their work as well as for teachers to comment on
their work, or make use of synchronous chat for discussions. In the online space,
teachers can also provide specific resources that are pertinent to closing the learning
gaps of particular students. These are examples of how teachers can use digital media
to support just-in-time instruction.
ICT Tools to support Phase 2 - Develop Students’ Self-Management and
● Microsoft Project: http://office.microsoft.com/en-sg/project/
● Gantter: http://gantter.com/
● Google Spreadsheet: http://www.google.com/drive/apps.html
Learning Management Systems
● Edmodo: https://www.edmodo.com/
● Schoology: https://www.schoology.com/home.php
Technology for Supporting Phase 3 - Providing Students with Opportunities to
Extend Their Learning
In this phase, technology that support students in reflecting on their learning
experiences can be used. Examples of such tools are blogging engines such as Blogger,
Wordpress, and LiveJournal. These engines provide ready templates for students to
create their online space as well as to make posts. Another feature of blogs is that it
archives entries chronologically and facilitates the assignment of tags to blogs.
Using these engines, students can review their reflection of learning across time,
as well as organise their postings by different tags in order to analyze different
categories of postings. Blogs facilitate the social construction of knowledge within a
community as it allows teachers and peers to post comments for each blog post.
Another feature of blogs is that it allows students to articulate their knowledge in
multiple media formats such as pictures, words, as well as audio. In recent years, audio
blogs (e.g. PodBean) allow users to use voice recordings rather than text as a medium
of expression. Teachers can have students engage in reflection by analysing their blog
posts and comments; to identify what they have learnt and how it can be connected to
their personal experiences.
Of late, microblogging has emerged as an alternative to the earlier forms of
blogging. Engines, such as Twitter and Tumblr, allow users to compose short messages
known as tweets that are limited to 140 characters. While blogs have been used mostly
as a form of online journal, tweets have the potential for quick and short reflections of
learning while students are on the go. Students can also engage in collective reflection
by forming communities of people whose interests are similar to theirs.
While blogging and microblogging encourage students to share their thoughts or
reflections, tools such as ScoopIt allow them to curate their resources for deeper
thinking. Students use curation tools to mobilise resources for further use and get
connected with other people who share their interests. The resources “scooped” are
shared and can be compared and evaluated for reliability and credibility. It is an
intelligent way for the students to extend their learning through collective intelligence
(Jenkins, 2007) when they expand their learning resources, connect themselves to a
community of people who share the same learning interests and socially construct their
knowledge in the self-selected interests.
The creation of e-portfolios is also another way where students can use the
archived products of their learning process to engage in reflection. In learning contexts,
e-portfolios can be used as a means for students to store and organize the evidences of
their learning in digital forms. E-portfolios can be used for showcasing students’ learning
in a specific topics, subject areas, or across an entire programme. To create an e-
portfolio, students need to collect appropriate evidences and organize them in such a
way that it presents a clear flow of their learning. A strong e-portfolio is one where the
themes of learning are clearly articulated, supported with the appropriate kinds of digital
artifacts. The production of a credible e-portfolio requires students to reflect and
synthesize their broad areas of learning as well as engage in careful selection of the
kinds of artifacts that can strongly support their claims of knowledge. It goes beyond the
mere collection and summary of one’s learning experiences. Digital platforms tools such
as ePortfolio.org provide students with a digital space to archive as well as construct
ICT Tools to Support Phase 3 - Providing Students with Opportunities to Extend
Blogging/Microblogging & Audio Blogging
● Blogger - http://www.blogger.com
● Wordpress - http://wordpress.com
● LiveJournal - http://www.livejournal.com
● PodBean - http://www.podbean.com
● Twitter - https://www.twitter.com
● Tumblr - http://www.tumblr.com
● ScoopIt - http://www/scoop.it
ePortfolio.org - http://www.eportfolio.org
Worked Example: The Use of VoiceThread and Edmodo to develop Oracy Skills
In this example, we illustrate how a Chinese teacher made use of VoiceThread
and Edmodo for about a year to develop Primary 3 students’ self-direction when
developing their oracy skills. Through the use of VoiceThread and Edmodo, every
student was able to work on oracy techniques like articulation, pronunciation,
expression and accuracy. As mentioned earlier, the affordances of technology are not
prescriptive and definitive in nature. Earlier, we have recommended the use of
VoiceThread for Phase 1 (Developing Students’ Ownership of Learning) and Edmodo
for Phase 2 (Developing Students’ Self-Management and Self-Monitoring), in this
worked example, we illustrate how both these digital media tools can be used for all
phases to facilitate all three salient features of self-directed learning.
Developing Students’ Ownership of Learning
At the beginning, the teacher taught his students how to use VoiceThread and
access it during their Chinese lessons in school. The teacher set the desired standard
of oracy skills by recording his own example of how his students should read a passage,
engage in a picture discussion and converse with the oral examiner on VoiceThread.
His students were instructed to re-listen to his VoiceThread tutorials during the March
school vacation. As the students were only nine years of age and new to the use of
VoiceThread, the teacher started developing their ownership of learning by first
involving them to practise their oracy skills on their own during the March school
vacation. Once the students had put up their own VoiceThread recordings, the teacher
would give them his feedback and a score on their oral practice. Figure 6 shows a
screen shot of the teacher’s initial use of VoiceThread to develop students’ ownership of
Developing Students’ Self-Management and Monitoring
Although it was school policy not to disclose the child’s oral marks to them, the
teacher indicated his students’ oral performance by giving them badges on Edmodo.
For instance, students who received a gold badge knew they had scored at least 25
marks out of 30 for their oral and those who had a silver badge scored between 22 and
24 marks and finally, those who received a bronze badge scored 21 marks and below.
Figure 6. Use of VoiceThread to Develop Students’ Ownership of Learning
The teacher also set up groups on Edmodo, based on the badges the children
received, so that peer critique and differentiated comments for improvements by the
teacher could be facilitated. When prompt feedback was given by the teacher and
peers, this did not mean that the students would be notified. As a result, the teacher
also re-posted his comments on Edmodo which provided email alerts to these students.
When the students re-visited VoiceThread, they would read the comments received by
their peers and the teacher and respond to them. Edmodo served as a platform to re-
post comments that were already published on VoiceThread. The teacher also used it to
facilitate further discussions on the students’ oral performance on Edmodo.
Providing Students with Opportunities to Extend Their Learning
Towards the middle of the year, the students were very familiar with oral practice
on VoiceThread and Edmodo. The teacher began to involve the students in uploading
their own texts on VoiceThread. For those who were less ready for self-directed
learning, the teacher instructed them to re-read any reading passage from their Primary
3B Chinese textbooks and find suitable images that they could relate to the passages
they had read from the textbooks. The students uploaded these images and described
the images they uploaded. For those who were more ready for self-direction, they were
given the autonomy to choose any text from storybooks or other reading resources for
the reading practice. They then searched for images to illustrate the text and uploaded
them on VoiceThread for both the reading practice and picture discussion. Students
who were more self-directed even created their own texts for purposes related to the
oral practice. For instance, one of the students created a VoiceThread presentation on
tips for reading a Chinese passage in the oral examination on her own accord. By the
second semester, the students had shifted from responding to the oral practices on
VoiceThread to creating their own texts for oral practices on the platform.
By the end of the year, using VoiceThread and Edmodo had become a part and
parcel of the students’ Chinese learning. Their responses to their teacher’s and peers’
comments, the increasing number of oral practices and self-generated presentations on
VoiceThread were strong indications of their self-direction when developing their
Chinese oracy skills. It was also heartening to observe students’ self-initiated posting of
their reflections on Edmodo about what they learnt, especially when some posts
showed students’ reflections and self-monitoring of what they could do at the start and
end of the year. When the students began to interact with one another on Edmodo on
their own using the Chinese language, they had already extended their learning by
using the written mode to communicate with one another online when Edmodo was first
set up to facilitate peer critique for the development of oracy skills.
The Teacher’s Reflection
All students were more motivated to read aloud with VoiceThread, compared to
the typical classroom reading aloud sessions. Students became more self-directed to
improve their oracy skills when they were able to evaluate their own reading and learn
from their peers. Using Edmodo had empowered shy students to ‘speak up’ and form
personal learning networks with their peers in a virtual space.
I constantly assessed students' learning using VoiceThread for oracy practice. I
was able to hear each and every child's reading aloud on the platform and constantly
provided feedback especially to the weaker students. Using VoiceThread and
Edmodo, I provided timely feedback in the form of voice or text comments. This
informal assessment mode greatly improved the interaction between my students and
As the importance of oral examinations was getting more significant in PSLE,
digital media tools like VoiceThread provided more learning opportunities for students
to develop their oracy skills and extend their learning. Based on my observation, my
students were able to transfer their online learning on VoiceThread and Edmodo to
good performance in the school oral examinations. Nevertheless, I could have created
Edmodo groups with a good mix of varying oral abilities to better facilitate peer
learning. I could have spent more time to model how peer critique could take place.
“None of the world’s problems will have a solution until the world’s individuals become
thoroughly self-educated.” – Buckminster Fuller
In this book, we have posited self-directed learning as a key 21st century skill.
Regardless of the new thrust in Singapore’s Masterplan for ICT in Education, this is a
necessary skill to teach and develop in our students in order for Singapore to stay
competitive and adaptive to the constantly changing global economy. The key benefits
of self-directed learning lie in the types of learners it develops and the dispositions that it
emphasises, such as motivated and goal-oriented learners, learners with high self-
efficacy and internal locus of control, learners who are metacognitive and self-regulated
(Gibbons, 2002; Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1999).
Instructional approaches in schools, therefore, should be broadened to better
facilitate self-directed learning. In this book, we have included examples such as
blended learning, flipped classroom, game-based learning, online learning with the use
of digital media. Teachers are also encouraged to extend the sites of self-directed
learning when designing for such experience to take place within the sphere of their
influence. The boundary of school and out-of-school literacy learning is permeable in
this digital age. In this book, we argue that self-directed learning can take place in and
out of school as long as the three salient features of self-directed learning are present.
Although the extent of self-directed learning may not be the same in all contexts, we
have provided teachers with guideposts to support their design processes when
planning for a self-directed learning experience to take place among their students.
Finally, we do not believe in one-size-fits-all approach. Although we have
provided worked examples to guide teachers in their instructional design, these worked
examples are intended to inspire more viable instruction and design processes that are
contextualised and relevant to each school, each class and each student. We hope that
this purpose will be met as teachers self-direct themselves in this area of their work.
Ananiadou, K. & Claro, M. (2009), 21st century skills and competences for new
millennium learners in OECD countries. OECD Education Working Papers, No.
41, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/218525261154
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