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SDL And Technology: A Vital Reciprocity

Technology. One word with such substantial significance, copious meanings, and expansive, pervasive impact. There are very few who are not affected in some way by some form of technology, whether through the basic advancements around us or directly via interaction with hardware, software, the Internet, social networks, or other means of computing technology. Technology has invaded our lives and become so ubiquitous that we may not be aware of the variety of ways in which we are interfacing with such tools. ,There are many ways in which technology not only requires, but also facilitates and cultivates self-directed learning. Rather than cite a list of technologies and how each can serve as a tool to transform previously adopted learning assumptions, instead this blog is centered on exploring the role of technology as a catalyst, delivery mechanism, conduit, and gateway to content, access, and knowledge.

The concept of self-direction is not new and originates from the seminal work of Houle, Tough, and Knowles (Sawatsky, Ratelle, Bonnes, Egginton & Beckman, 2017). Self-directed learning has been defined as incorporating elements of process, personal attributes and context, while authors have infused the lens of cognitive and social psychology, as well as other philosophical tenets. Knowles’ long standing definition of self-direction as “a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes”, has served well as demonstrable way of thinking about the construct. Recently, Van Noy, James, and Bedley (2016) suggest that self-directed learning “Occurs when the learners take the initiative and actively seek a learning opportunity or information on their own” (p . iv).

Despite the diversity of perspectives and the ongoing search for a clear and succinct meaning, the complexity of the term self-directed learning does not negate that at the heart is learner empowerment and assumption of control of the learning process. Regardless of the formal or informal setting, the mechanism and method of instructional delivery, age of the learner, and individual or group orientation, the ability to self-direct one’s learning is essential. Technology has served as a catalyst to the formation of a social dynamic that values the personalization of all things, including learning, rather than the mass industrial model.

There can be no doubt that technological change has accelerated beyond a comprehensible and an easily calculable rate. Friedman (2016) explains Moore’s law and the quickening pace of the development of “logic units” that has sped up technology advancement also has sped up the exchange of ideas between humans. People are at the core of innovation, and learning can facilitate the development of “creative units” to continue to grow the information supernova described by Friedman. While the disorientation caused by the invasion and assault of technology in our lives may have many wanting to call a halt to the madness, it is not possible to do so, nor will things settle down to allow our sensibilities to catch up. The only way to stay up with the rate of technological change is to reorient ourselves, continue to learn and adapt, and rethink our formal learning environments. Essentially, he is calling for a “social reinvention challenge” (p. 201) that creates an environment in which, “every person is able to realize their full talent potential and human capital becomes a universal, inalienable asset” (p. 207).

With the advent of the Internet, quality, validated, content on a variety of subjects has become available to the masses. Delivery of this content, access to experts, connection to affinity learning groups are now all readily available to those with computer access and an Internet connection. There are numerous examples of openly available Internet learning opportunities that have emerged including: MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), Khan Academy content, and College Board even has tutorials to help fill the gap that may be evident in practice tests such as the SAT. New models of K-12 and higher education are emerging with an emphasis on the personalization of the experience to accommodate the learning needs, wants, and talents of the learner. Barriers to access, while not completely eliminated, are being quickly diminished. The previous formal learning structures are being disrupted to add credibility to other forms of lifelong learning, “to support the needs of learners and promote economic vitality” (Van Noy, 2016, p. 2), while higher education institutions are also engaging a plethora of technological tools to facilitate a shift of individual learning responsibility to the learner. Flipped classrooms, online courses and programs, student pathway tools, automated systems are examples that support this notion.

In the “learning economy” (Jassal & Clark, 2016), lifelong learning is central to individual success in the workplace. No longer is the trajectory from secondary, technical, or higher education into the workforce; nor does learning merely relate to skill based tasks upon entering into employment. With “85% of full-time undergraduates working more than 20 hours a week” (p. 6), the world of work and learning have collided. For those who may not be enrolled in a formal program of study, the rapidly shifting work conditions in many industries, with continual technology advancement, altered work roles, and ongoing innovation require ongoing and targeted knowledge development. Jassal and Clark (2016) note, “It is clear that working learners of all ages will have to engage in a process of lifelong learning--often self-directed--using the panoply of resources that will exist” (p. 40). In this case, technology serves as both the catalyst and the medium by which an individual can gain access to resources to propel lifelong learning. A person’s ability to self-direct can assist in the process of “driv[ing] their own work and learn trajectory”; thereby upskilling and thriving in the changing demands of the workplace. Friedman (2016) underscores the emerging workplace requirements of grit and self-motivation to take advantage of employer provided learning options. Lifelong learning is the name of the game in the learning economy, with human intellectual capital at the heart of success for employers, employees, and the local/global economic health and vibrancy.

Learning is a very individual, personalized experience and an activity that has altered from a linear process on the human development timeline to a constant self-directed endeavor that allows response to accelerated technological change. Lifelong learning has unquestionably become an essential practice for survival in the context in which we live. The multifaceted nature of technology not only provides the impetus to substantiate the need for self-directed knowledge development; it also provides the means for garnering access to individual learning opportunities; the connectivity to others to expand thinking, perspectives and support; an abundance of content to engage with; and spark for continual innovation and entrepreneurship.


With over seventeen years of higher education and K-12 experience, Dr. Naomi R. Boyer, Vice-President/CIO/Strategic Initiatives & Innovation, has oversight of all institutional and instructional technology, K-12 partnerships, innovative program development, and international initiatives at Polk State College. Dr. Boyer spearheads educational robotics programs and maintains scholarship activities through research and publications primarily focused on self-directed learning. She is a charter member and Treasurer of the Board of Directors of the ISSDL.


Friedman, T. (2016). Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Jassal, P. K., & Clark, H. (2016). The new learning economy and the rise of the working learning: An anthology of recent evidence. ACT Foundation and ACT Center for Equity in Learning. Retrieved from

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Chicago, IL: Associated Press.

Sawatsky, A.P., Ratelle, J.T., Bonnes, S.L., Egginton, J.S., & Beckman, T.J. (2017). A model of self-directed learning in internal medicine residency: a qualitative study using grounded theory. BMC Medical Education, 17(31), 1-9. Retrieved from

Van Noy, M. (2016). Reconceptualizing learning: A brief on Informal learning. ACT Foundation. Retrieved from

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