Will Richardson’s Vision of Self-Directed Learning

Will Richardson and Self-Directed Learning to the Extreme

I found out some time ago that the real test of our beliefs is how they play out with our own kids. For 14 years, I used Dick Bolles’ book What Color is Your Parachute as a guide to how to organize a self-directed job search. The method outlined in the book is unconventional and requires an uncommon level of organization and commitment. At one point the book recommends closing a job interview with a series of six questions that escalated something like this:

  1. Now that you’ve interviewed me, do you feel that I have the skills to do the job?
  2. If we agree that I have the skills, can you hire me now?
  3. If you can’t make the decision to hire me now, who would have the authority to hire me, and could we arrange a meeting with that person?

I looked at What Color is Your Parachute through much different eyes when my own son called and recounted the reaction he got when he tried to follow that advice in his own job search. (The hiring manager was totally freaked out, to say the least.) What had seemed a perfectly logical way for job seekers (other people’s kids) to control their interviews seemed like pretty strange behavior when my child tried it.

In this post, Will advises his own kids not to feel that they have to get a college degree.

But, and I haven’t told your mom this yet, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.

…that is what I want for you, to connect to people and environments where your passions connect, and the expectation is that you learn together, not learn on your own. Where you are free to create your own curriculum, find your own teachers, and create your own assessments as they are relevant. Where you make decisions (and your teachers guide you in those decisions) as to what is relevant to know and what isn’t instead of someone deciding that for you. Where at the end of the day, you’ll look back and find that the vast majority of your effort has been time well spent, not time wasted.

It’s a brave statement for a father to make.

3 thoughts on “Will Richardson’s Vision of Self-Directed Learning”

  1. Self-directed learning use to be the way most learned in America early on. Miguel Guhlin quotes you on his site. Here is my comment to him about this idea…

    Our country was founded on self-directed study that took place while individuals were serving as indentured servants learning an apprenticeship.

    In fact, Nathaniel Bowditch, an early mathematician, made most of his important higher mathematical discoveries while serving as a bookkeeping apprenticeship on a sailing ship. He is one of many examples.

    Nathaniel Bowditch

    Conventional education, whether it is K-12 or higher education is one way of learning. But it isnt the *only* way.

    Here is my comment on Will’s site. http://weblogg-ed.com/2006/dear-…e/#comment- 7021

  2. What a fabulous post… I am a huge supporter of SDL and hopefully more people will catch on and it will become just as important as having a formal degree.

  3. That’s an extraordinary post. Will never disappoints. Thanks for sharing that link, particularly as I am so (painfully) behind in the blogosphere.

    Other than “hurrah” and “amen,” I have two observations.

    One is that I have to agree with Will about learning only when one decides the learning is “relevant” and the assessments are authentic. Learners are not always in a position to judge the relevance of what they’re learning. Children and adolescents (up to 21, I’d say) are usually not is a position to make those judgments. That said, I do think it is the teacher’s job to demonstrate the passion of one for whom the subject matter is not only relevant, but crucial.

    The other observation is that the heart of my own hopes for education, as well as my own disappointments, is summed up in this beautiful sentence from Will’s post: “And I want to remind you that in my own experience, all of the “learning” I did in all of the college classrooms I’ve spent time in does not come close to the learning that I’ve done on my own for the simple reason that now I am learning with people who are just as (if not more) passionate to “know” as I am.” Without that community, the education always suffers.

    Paradoxically or ironically or inconsistently, this is one of the main reasons my wife and I homeschooled our kids for several years. The lack of thorough, passionate intellectual commitment in most institutional educational settings made us want to forge that community early at home, so that our kids would always know how it *could* be and not just settle for how all to often it *is* (and, they say, must be–but I don’t believe them).

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