Self Directed Learning


22 May, 2020


An Aboriginal Elder once told me a story about an old man and his grandson who were walking through the desert when they came across a snake track in the sand.

“Which direction was the snake moving?” asked the old man to his grandson. The boy looks quizzically at the tracks for a moment, then taking a guess he points and says, “It was heading that way”. The old man shakes his head and says “No, it was heading the other way”. He then waits silently while the boy examines the track, and when the boy is ready, they move on.

Further along they find another snake track in the sand. “Which direction was this snake moving?” the old man asks the boy. Again, the boy looks inquisitively at the tracks, but not being sure he takes another guess and says, “It was heading that way”. The old man replies, “You’re right, it was heading that way”, and again he waits silently while the boy examines the track.

This story was told as an example of the way many Elders would pass on their knowledge, which required the learner to be very aware, engaged, observant and self-directed in their learning. The boy knows that there are important signs and knowledge in those snake tracks that his grandfather can see, but that he cannot yet see. He must look carefully, examine deeply, and have the internal motivation to push himself to learn to see the signs, access the knowledge, and make meaning of it all.

Contrast this with much of our modern schooling, where knowledge is often handed to students on a platter and they know that if they shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know” enough times, someone will give them the answer. It can make for very passive, lazy learners who lack the grit and determination to persevere through the struggle of learning and mastering difficult things.

As we transition back to face-to-face learning one question being asked is “What have we learnt from e-learning that we want to continue in the regular classroom?”. One thing that I would like us all to maintain is the self-discipline, initiative, internal motivation, and self-direction that the vast majority of our students have shown while learning remotely on the other end of a computer screen.

Mark Hassell
Dean of Students

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