self directed learning,  unschooling,  unschooling special needs

Snapshots of Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed, interest-driven learning is the way humans are designed to learn.  Consider the newly mobile child, who has just learned the skill of crawling or moving her body from one place to another.  She has achieved a new level of self-awareness that allows her to exercise her autonomy and connect what she wants with doing something to get what she wants.  She sees a toy across the room, she crawls, scoots, rolls her body to get the desired toy.  She doesn’t require coaxing, positive reinforcement, or for the parent to lay out the steps towards her goal.  She is driven by her internal desire to achieve the goal she has set for herself, in the manner she chooses.

Consider the adult who has an interest in learning an instrument.  He might start with some Youtube videos after an inexpensive investment in the instrument of choice.  Or solicit the services of a friend or acquaintance who already knows how to play.  At that point, he might decide that it wasn’t quite what he expected, and move on to something else OR that the effort required is worth struggling through the initial growing pains.  (For me, decades ago, it was the guitar.  I love the idea of playing the guitar, and the aura that went with it.  But, after a few attempts and painful fingertips, I chose not to continue.  That guitar sat in my closet for years, untouched.)  So, he persists, advancing in his skills at his own pace, internally driven to master this instrument to whatever level he chooses and seeking out the appropriate paths as he is ready.  There is no coaxing.  There is no external driver of the progression.  Only his own internal desire to achieve the goal he has set for himself, in the manner he chooses. 

Consider the child who has an interest in art.  With today’s technology, there are so many resources available for her to explore the many facets of Art, and travel different paths until she chooses a direction that appeals to her.  She chooses a style.  Watches videos.  Participates in a few online classes.  Practices on her own.  Watches more videos.  Continues to practice.  As she advances in her skill level at her own pace, she discovers different techniques, mediums and styles that she wants to “try out”.  There is no external coaxing, no “did you practice today?” questions, no assessments.  There is only her internal desire to master these skills, these new techniques, that drives the choices she makes to achieve the goal.  

Consider the child with special needs.  His physical challenges add an additional layer of complexity to his endeavors.  Nonetheless, his interest in beatboxing propels him forward.  At first, through videos and online tutorials, he just listens.  And, as he continues to explore, he ventures into the realm of imitating what he hears, following the direction of his online mentors.  When the sounds he makes doesn’t match what he knows, he makes adjustments.  He practices.  He researches a variety of “instructors” until he finds one whose explanations and examples help him the most.  He spends hours each day mastering the techniques.  And, once he masters one technique, he moves on to another, continually challenging himself.  All of it, internally driven by his desire to improve, to achieve a personal goal.

The above examples provide a snapshot of self-directed, interest driven learning.  It is a process that is internally motivated, a feedback loop that allows space for integrating what has been learned before moving on to something new.  (I have intentionally chosen examples that are not “academic” because “core knowledge” is a misnomer.  What might be considered core knowledge today could be updated or replaced by the time our children are adults.)  And, this process is applicable to any subject. Learning, ultimately, is the activity of the learner.  And isn’t that a skill that is worth mastering?

One Comment

  • Sarah

    Yes! My son would refuse to do copywork but wrote more than he ever has (and in his best handwriting) all the names of the rugby players he loves. Totally on his own, I was out in the garden. It amazes me that when we give them space to really dive deep into what they love (even if it doesn’t seem ‘educational’) all manners of self-improvement occurs.

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