5 Myths about Self-directed learning: Debunked!

Self-Directed learning and education are NOT a few things we need to cover. 

If you want to learn more about what Self-Directed learning IS, please check out the blog post linked here!

If you’re still here, I’ll assume you know what Self-Directed learning is and we are ready to chat about what it isn’t!

Here are 5 Myths about Self-Directed learning/education: in no particular order of importance or frequency.

  • Myth: “Isn’t it just a big free-for-all?” 
  • Myth: “Kids from a place like this won’t be ready for the ‘real’ world.”
  • Myth: “Kids from a place like this ‘fall behind’ on content.”
  • Myth: “This is just a trend, it won’t last.”
  • Myth: “If Kids aren’t forced to go to class, they will just play all day.”

Let’s chat about these 5 today and another 5 next time!

Please feel free to reach out and ask us about any you have heard of! We’ll happily debunk those too.

Before we dive in, I want to provide an opportunity for you to check out this vlog, where Paul and I chat about this very thing! Here’s that video if you’d rather jump over! 

5 Myths about Self-Directed Learning: Debunked!

Ok, let’s begin!

Myth #1 “Isn’t it just a big free-for-all?”

  • Myth “Isn’t it just a big free-for-all?” 

Self-Directed learning is NOT a “free for all”… it does require the right ingredients. 

This does not involve being raised by wolves or throwing swords unsupervised. We have laws, people. Regulations put in place by kids, to keep themselves – and each other – safe! I digress… eh hem, back to it…ingredients.

To be successful as a human, we all need a few things- kids are humans, FYI…so they also need the following:

  1. A caring community of diverse and supportive people and mixed ages
  2. Freedom to play and explore without time constraints
  3. Access to the most meaningful tools of the culture
  4. Connection with interesting, skilled, supportive, adults who are willing to answer questions and provide help when the child requests it.
Self-Directed learners investigating fish and turtles!

Myth #2 “Kids from a place like this won’t be ready for the ‘real’ world.”

  • Myth: “Kids from a place like this won’t be ready for the ‘real’ world.”

Self-Directed learning does NOT leave students unable to handle the ‘real’ world as some in opposition have suggested. This viewpoint inaccurately supposes that kids will only do what is fun and easy. Trust me, they choose hard and hardest all the time. If the hard thing gets them to their goal, they do whatever it takes, often in greater measure than when being coerced or forced into something. Don’t you?  

Students are immersed in real-life practices every day while Self-Directing their education. There are always multiple layers of authority at play. We each have a blend of individual responsibilities, collaboration, and formal authority at various points in our day at WyldFlower, a Self-Directed learning environment. 

Students operate daily within the formal structures of school government, judicial system, corporations, committees, certifications, fort occupancy codes, and many other rules established by the School Meeting, which they run! 

Our students are developing healthy relationships with authority and structure, knowing when to question and challenge, how and when not to, and how to engage with that process. Messy sometimes? Obviously! But well worth getting the mop out. Better they practice now when there is support than when getting booted out of the nest!

How do they turn out then, you might be asking? 

Graduates from similar schools show a successful transition from school to college to employment and life with less turmoil and greater fluidity. They have practice and are familiar with making meaningful choices that have real-life implications. They have been doing it all their lives by now. 

Studies of Self-Directed graduates overwhelmingly show successful and satisfied adults. One such study conducted by Dr. Gina Riley and Dr. Peter Gray reported ​​”83% of those surveyed had gone on to some form of formal higher education and 44% had either completed or were currently in a bachelor’s degree program.”

Overall, graduates reported little difficulty getting into colleges and universities of their choice and adapting to the academic requirements there, despite not having the usual admissions credentials. 

Those who had been Self-Directed throughout what would have been their K-12 years were more likely to go on to a bachelor’s program than were those who had some schooling or curriculum-based homeschooling during those years. 

Concerning careers, most were gainfully employed and financially independent. A high proportion of them—especially those in the always-Self-Directed group—had chosen careers in the creative arts; a high proportion were self-employed entrepreneurs, and a relatively high proportion was in STEM careers. 

Many career paths had been birthed from the play they were able to explore as children.

Most felt that their unschooling benefited them for higher education and careers by promoting their sense of personal responsibility, self-motivation, and desire to learn.” Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 4, 33-5

Myth # 3 “Kids from a place like this ‘fall behind’ on content.”

  • Myth: “Kids from a place like this ‘fall behind’ on content.”

Kids who are allowed to move at their own pace cannot “fall behind” since they are not being compared to children pushed through a coercive setting with a predetermined standardized curriculum. 

Miami Sudbury School points out that “Grade levels” are invented benchmarks that have little relationship with future abilities unless the learner has been demoralized by being labeled “behind.” Naturally, some children are symbolic learners and readers as early as age 3 and as late as age 12 with no discernible difference. This is normal but not “allowed” in standard curriculum classrooms. 

Furthermore, we know that learning is rarely a linear process for anyone. As unique individuals, we might develop in patterns but it does not happen at the same pace. Compulsory schooling that forces students to perform uniformed benchmarks impedes both those who are moving at a clipped pace and those who require more time to meet the arbitrary “norms” set by uniformed curriculums.

It could also be argued that Self-Directed learners are ahead of their traditionally schooled peers. They know how they learn. They have experience and fluency in making choices, contributing to a community, and learning great chunks of information in reduced amounts of time when it becomes meaningful to them. They do not shrink from responsibility. They do not pull back from difficult tasks. They have not learned helplessness, apathy, or conformity. I think that sounds much better. Content can come at any time. Mental health and a sound understanding of their value are MUCH harder to learn later in life.

Here is a quick look at what we actually do all day in a Self-Directed Learning environment!

Myth # 4 “This is just a trend, it won’t last.”

  • Myth “This is just a trend, it won’t last.”

Self-Directed learning is NOT new, so it won’t be ‘out’ in the spring, I promise! 

It is neurologically, biologically, and psychologically, advantageous to go with nature. Learning is natural, we do not need to force it. 

In Dr. Peter Gray’s Psychology Today article Differences Between Self-Directed and Progressive Education, he explains that “In an extensive review of the anthropological literature on education cross-culturally, David Lancy (2016)) concluded that learning—including the learning that comprises education—is natural to human beings, but teaching and being taught is not.”

As was mentioned above, self-direction in learning has been a major topic in the educational literature field for about three decades. This is hardly indicative of a fad. Yet it is true that because self-direction has gained widespread use throughout the field, there is the potential for misunderstanding and misappropriation of the term. It is often intermingled with progressive education since many of the terms are similar. 

The problem then is that educators can adopt a view in an unbalanced fashion, without considering the extensive body of knowledge in this area, and be led to think that they oppose self-direction without a complete understanding of a proper definition. 

A nurturing environment with opportunities for experience, exploration, and autonomy gives them the perfect place to learn. Active and supportive adults who are interesting and provide a model are invaluable. Mixed-age relationships in a thriving and healthy community allow them to exercise their internal sense of motivation and they naturally learn all the things.

Myth # 5 “If kids aren’t forced to go to class, they will just play all day.”

  • Myth: If kids aren’t forced to go to class, they will just play all day.

This one is kind of true- but let me explain. The current schooling system and culture have given us the idea that play is not as valuable as teacher-directed instruction for a child’s growth and development.  

This couldn’t be more incorrect and this misconception is harmful to child development.

For physical development, mental health, and optimal learning, children need to have free play in abundance. A mastery of skills within one’s passions is discovered through play.  Play also brings a focus and intensity that are precursors to being in a state of ‘flow’.  

By practicing the act of losing yourself in the process of creating something, this most efficient way of producing becomes familiar and second nature. 

Furthermore, creativity is cultivated through play. Professionals play with ideas; managers play with new processes; scientists play with hypotheses and experiments; inventors play with new toys, vehicles, and products; marketing professionals play with new slogans; and pioneers in all fields play with finding new ways.

Often hidden from our adult world, children learn various things from each other through play. If you take time to sit back and listen to a group of any age, the multiple ways in which learning is happening becomes relevant.  Here is a list of things South Jersey Sudbury School reported students do through play.

“They learn that there is more than one way to do something; they discuss politics from their family’s perspective and hear how other families think; they dream about the future and share their dreams; they take charge one day and follow the next; they are honest with each other about their feelings; they examine the workings of machines; they hear about a friend witnessing her baby sister being born; they hatch a plan to protect their inventions; they help younger children with a project; they find a way no matter how long it takes… the list and the learning are endless.

Children also learn about society through their interaction with others in play. They learn the importance of rules and boundaries, the importance of working them out, and the value of all members of the group. They develop skills in leadership, initiative, cooperation, responsibility, collaboration, fair play, compassion, and justice.”

More important than the positive learning outcomes of play, play is the mode through which the cultivation of overall well-being occurs. Play is therapeutic, and grounding, supporting social, mental, and physical health.  Healthy, happy people want to engage in life and want to learn and apply themselves.  If you look carefully enough at children playing, this is self-evident.  

WyldFlower wants to apply this fact to every child’s day-to-day experience.  

To make a real impact on the overwhelming mental health needs of society and our community, play is the antidote we all need to take very seriously.

All right folks, that’s it for this post! 5 myths about Self-Directed learners, fully debunked at this point. Join me next time for another set! If you have any burning questions please feel free to email us anytime!

Thank you so much for joining me on this topic! It is great to have you on this adventure with us! We wouldn’t be us without our community! (THAT’S YOU!)

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