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Development of the Capacity for Autonomy and Self-Direction

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
484

At the lowest stage, students see education as some kind of product, external to the self and acquired by school attendance. By contrast, at the highest stage they see education as an open-ended and intrinsically valuable process within the self, leading to a better understanding of self and others.

Folks;

The posting below provides an interesting look at how the stages of ego development lead to stages in the conception of the meaning and purpose of education. It is from Chapter Six, Promoting Autonomy and Self-Direction, in Learning and Change in the Adult Years: A Developmental Perspective, by Mark Tennant and Philip Pogson. Copyright 1995 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 . A joint publication in The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series and the Jossey-Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series. Consulting Editor, Adult and Continuing Education, Alan B. Knox, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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DEVELOPMENT OF THE CAPACITY FOR AUTONOMY AND SELF-DIRECTION

 

Is there a link between self-directed learning techniques and strategies and the development of personal autonomy? What other kinds of experiences lead to the development of personal autonomy? Conversely, is there a link between the development of personal autonomy and the capacity to be a self-directed learner?

The views of autonomy mentioned at the outset have in common the emphasis on the capacity to think rationally, reflect, analyze evidence, and make judgements; to know oneself and be free to form and express one's own opinions; and finally, to be able to act in the world. We have seen in earlier chapters how these qualities appear in various guises in the psychological literature on adult development, and how more recent conceptualizations of intelligence, along with challenges to the social and cultural bias of developmental theories, serve to modify or extend the concept of autonomy. There also exists a literature describing development in terms of attitudes and views of education and knowledge. This literature makes an explicit link between development and the capacity for autonomous learning. It includes the pioneering work of Perry (1968) on intellectual and ethical development during college years, wherein he documents stages in the development of students' conceptions of what constitutes knowledge. It also includes the work of Weathersby (1981), who relates Loevinger's stages of ego development to stages in the conception of the meaning and purpose of education. At the lowest stage, students see education as some kind of product, external to the self and acquired by school attendance. By contrast, at the highest stage they see education as an open-ended and intrinsically valuable process within the self, leading to a better understanding of self and others.

Here are Weathersby's education ego stages:

Impulsive and Self-Protective Stages

Education is viewed as a thing that you get in school and then have. Positive remarks are undifferentiated. There are expressions of distaste for education, or of not getting along in school.

Conformist Stage

Education is generally interpreted as school attendance, which has practical usefulness; one can get a better job with it than without it. An uncritical, idealized view of education is expressed, in which the current number of years of schooling is considered necessary for everyone.

Self-Aware Stage

Education's importance is viewed in terms of one's life or future. There is a shift away from thinking of education as a concrete entity toward thinking of it as a goal and an asset.

Conscientious Stage

Education is viewed as an experience that affects a person's inner life. It is no longer merely a prescribed number of years useful schooling. Its importance lies in intellectual stimulation and enrichment. It influences a person's whole life, making it more worthwhile and enjoyable. Education is an opportunity that should be available to everyone. It is seen as being a significant force in improving society, though the educational system may be seen as needing improvement as well.

Individualistic Stage

This view has an element of both the conscientious and autonomous perspectives; conscientious themes are more fully elaborated, and the focus is shifting to education as a lifelong process essential for a full life.

Autonomous and Integrated Stages

Education is seen as leading to a deeper understanding of oneself and others, as helping to cope with life, as leading to creativity, self-fulfillment, and deeper values; hence, education is intrinsically valuable. It is not a thing one has or gets, once and for all, nor is it identified solely with school and intellectual achievement apart from interpersonal relations and emotional involvements [Weathersby, 1981, pp. 61-62, adapted].

Weathersby argues that learners at different stages of ego development have different assumptions (and therefore expectations) about the purpose and potential of education, different capacities to frame educational goals, and different interpretations of the meaning of educational experiences. Thus teachers need to understand how the ego stage influences the learners' perspectives, partly to accommodate those perspectives, and partly to challenge and promote the further development of those perspectives toward the autonomous and integrated stage.

"Exposure to higher level reasoning, opportunities to take others' roles and perspectives, discomforting discrepancies between one's actual experiences in a situation and one's current explanations and beliefs - these are the basic elements of the transition process. . . . The basic principle is to create a course structure in which the assignments and interpersonal interactions foster ego development . . ." (1981, pp. 71-72).

For Weathersby, education is inextricably bound up with developmental change, and teaching practices need to take into account the developmental change, and teaching practices need to take into account the developmental capacity and potential of learners. A developmental framework also provides the teacher with a better grasp of how learners interpret and make use of educational experiences.

REFERENCES

Crittenden, B. "Autonomy as an Aim of Education." In K. O. Strike and K. Egan (eds.), Ethics and Educational Policy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.

Gibbs, B. "Autonomy and Authority in Education." Journal of Philosophy of Education, 1979, 13, 119-132.

Perry, W. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

Weathersby, R. "Ego Development." In A. W. Chickering (ed.), The Modern American College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,