Self-Directed Learning in Adolescents - Top Resources
Six top resources and authorities on the development of self-directed learning in adolescents are Self-Directed Learning (Maurice Gibbons), Alliance for Self-Directed Education, John Holt and Growing Without Schooling (Pat Farenga), Alternatives to School (Peter Gray), Whole Family Learning (Kerry McDonald), and Life Learning Magazine (Wendy Priesnitz). These six authorities were chosen because of their education in the field and based on the fact that they and their websites are often cited in self-directed learning academic research papers. Although none of the resources specifically focus on adolescents in grades 9-12, they all include that age group as a major part of their research. In addition, both Maurice Gibbons and Wendy Priesnitz live in Canada, but their work is applicable to adolescents in the United States and their websites include resources for the U.S. as well. A deep dive of my findings is below.
Self-Directed Learning — Maurice Gibbons
Maurice Gibbons is far and away the most recognized authority on self-directed learning. Prior to becoming a professor at the University of British Columbia and Simon Frazer University, Gibbons taught at both the elementary and secondary education levels. He is a "specialist in the creation of innovative approaches to instruction" and his programs "emphasize self-direction, challenge and excellence." Gibbons is the author of more than 60 academic articles on the subject of self-directed learning, including the oft-cited "The Self-Directed Learning Handbook: Challenging Adolescent Students to Excel," which was mentioned in nearly every academic paper regarding adolescent self-directed learning I came across during my research.
Gibbons was awarded the "Malcolm Knowles Memorial Self Directed Learning Award" in 2007. In addition, he is "a founding member of Challenge Education Associates that produced The Self-Directed Professional program for teachers;" the founder and director of "Personal Power Press which produced a dozen books on SDL;" and a founding member of World Citizens for a Universal Curriculum, a global education project designed to empower students to create a sustainable world."
The Self-Directed Learning website provides activities, tools, and free teaching resources to help teachers and parents provide a self-directed learning environment for children of all ages. There are 21 activities to help students transition from traditional education to self-directed learning and instructions and tips on how to start a self-directed learning school. Visitors will also find personal development resources and suggestions on how to incorporate technology and video into self-directed learning activities. Many articles and websites dedicated to self-directed learning and unschooling direct readers to Gibbons' website, where they can access resources on all aspects of the alternative schooling philosophy.
Alliance for SElf-Directed Education
This website is a collaborative effort put forth by a number of self-directed learning experts including Peter Gray, Pat Farenga, and Kerry McDonald, each of whom have their own websites dedicated to self-directed learning and unschooling. The mission of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education is to inform "people about the benefits of, and methods for, allowing children and adolescents to direct their own education." Ultimately, its goal is to create "a world in which Self-Directed Education is embraced as a cultural norm and is available to all children, everywhere, regardless of their family’s status, race, or income."
Although it is still under development and expected to go live in early 2018, the main feature of this website is its resources directory, which "will be a comprehensive, searchable database that contains listings of SDE-aligned schools, learning centers, co-ops, collectives, books, films, websites, workshops & training, professional services, and more." Visitors can also sign up for "Tipping Points," the online magazine that is "designed to amplify and celebrate the voices of [the self-directed education] movement."
As with Maurice Gibbons' site, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education website was referenced in numerous academic articles about self-directed learning and unschooling as a starting place for learning about this alternative form of education. The Alliance's president, Peter Gray, writes a blog in prominent psychology magazine, which is based on the information found on this website. Until the resources directory is up and running, there are many informative articles discussing what self-directed learning is and the psychology of human learning.
John Holt Growing Without Schooling
The John Holt GWS website is based on the work of John Holt, an American "controversial and progressive school reformer" who was the first person to coin the term "unschooling." Holt was a strong proponent of allowing students to direct their own learning and in fact, said that "most of what I know I did not learn in school, and indeed was not even 'taught.'" He was an advocate for homeschooling and believed that most learning occurs outside of the classroom. Holt was the author of numerous books including "How Children Fail," "Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better," "How Children Learn," "Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education," and "Freedom and Beyond," in addition to becoming "a mainstream figure in the mid-1960s, contributing articles to magazines such as Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and Redbook." He also began publishing the networking newsletter, "Growing Without Schooling" in 1971.
Holt passed away in 1985, but Pat Ferenga, Holt's colleague, continued to publish "Growing Without Schooling" until 2001, and through the John Holt GWS website, "continues to popularize Holt's work through this site, public speaking, articles, and books to help create and understand the huge number of ways that people live and learn throughout their lives without going to school." He maintains a self-directed learning blog and serves on the board of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. His media appearances include "The Today Show, Good Morning America, Voice of America, Geraldo, NPR’s Learning Matters, CNN’s Parenting Today, The Dr. Drew Pinsky Show, and Fox and Friends."
The website itself serves as a resource for parents and educators interested in homeschooling, self-directed learning, and unschooling. It provides videos, books and downloads, podcasts, and other products designed for children of all ages. Although this site is not as popular as the first two websites, it is notable because it is based on John Holt's work, which pioneered the self-directed learning movement.
Alternatives to School
Alternatives to School is a self-directed learning website operated by John Gray, president of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Gray is a "research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education." Recently, his research focus has been on "the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so." He is the author of "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life." Gray also authors "a blog for Psychology Today magazine entitled Freedom to Learn."
This website is "a collective effort of private citizens from around the country" that is working toward transforming "the education system using a completely different paradigm—self-directed learning—that is in tune with how children naturally learn." The resources available on the website include information that argues against traditional schooling, resources for self-directed alternatives to the current educational system, tips for how to apply to college as an "unschooler," and an FAQ section that provides scientific support for self-directed education.
Whole Family Learning
Whole Family Learning is a website run by Kerry McDonald, a board member of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. McDonald "has a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University, where she studied education administration, planning, and social policy." She also contributes to "Forbes, FEE, Intellectual Takeout, and Natural Mother Magazine" on unschooling and self-directed learning topics. She is currently writing a book entitled, "Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Kids Without Conventional Schooling," and seeks to "provide the philosophical and historical context for unschooling and self-directed education, as well as the latest educational research on how and why it works."
This website has fewer resources than the others profiled in this brief. However, McDonald's expertise in unschooling provides significant insight into the self-directed learning movement. She does provide numerous resources including books, magazines, and podcasts that offer expert opinions and tips on self-directed education. Moreover, McDonald can be contacted through her Harvard email address or via social media for further information about homeschooling, unschooling, and self-directed learning. I included McDonald on this list, as she is frequently cited in academic papers for her work with the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.
Life Learning Magazine
The Life Learning Magazine is "free, web-based source of support and information about interest-based, learner-directed education for all ages (also known as life learning, unschooling, natural learning, and free-range learning)." Its editor, Wendy Priesnitz, has devoted her life's work to "unschooling, and life learning; conscious, non-coercive parenting; social change; environmental stewardship; and entrepreneurship/home-based/micro business," and the magazine provides "access to the work that [she has] been doing for the past forty years." Priesnitz has written more than 70 articles on alternative schooling options and much of her research is based on John Holt's principles of unschooling. Her books include "Beyond School: Living As If School Doesn’t Exist," "Life Learning: Lessons From The Educational Frontier," "Challenging Assumptions in Education: From Institutionalized Education to a Learning Society," and "School Free: The Homeschooling Handbook."
The Life Learning Magazine includes more than 400 articles about self-directed learning, unschooling, and other educational topics. It is an ideal starting point for people just learning about the self-directed learning philosophy, but it also has resources for those who are already well-versed in the theory behind unschooling as well. New articles are added on a weekly basis, making this resource an up-to-date tool that can be accessed by teachers, parents, and students interested in self-directed learning. In addition, visitors have the option of purchasing numerous books on the subject of self-directed learning as well. Although there are other topics addressed on this website, the majority of it is focused on education and alternatives to traditional schooling.
The foremost authorities on the development of self-directed learning in adolescents and their corresponding websites are Maurice Gibbons, Self-Directed Learning; John Holt and Pat Farenga, John Holt and Growing Without Schooling; Peter Gray, Alternatives to School; Kerry McDonald, Whole Family Learning; and Wendy Priesnitz, Life Learning Magazine. In addition, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a top resource on self-directed learning that is a collaborative effort by several of the most recognized authorities in the field.