SDL has currently become the hallmark of higher education. Its scope has also broadened – encompassing many extrinsic factors, such as, instructional processes, human interactions and selection of various strategies12. We, however, studied an intrinsic factor that might be considered the backbone of SDL and could be measured through an appropriate instrument.
The response rate to our questionnaire in the targeted population was 27.4%. It seems low compared to other such reported studies7,13. It may be due to wanting students’ motivation and coordination. Homogeneity of our data, however, allows certain valid inferences to be drawn from its analysis.
Readiness score ranking for optimum SDL has diverse reported values, and also, the instruments used had been quite variable. Fisher considered a SDLR score of > 150 to be the marker of good enough readiness for his scale, while Devi et al considered it to be 129 or more for the same instrument 10, 14. In our study, the total mean SDLR score was 123.96, which falls short of both these values. Many other studies using Fisher’s scale, also had reported higher scores than ours. In the study by Abraham et al, mean total readiness score was 151.4 with 60.2% of students scoring more than 15013, while the one reported by Gayawali et al, also had more than 150 score in 72.7% of the students15. Balamurugan et al, had 144.6 as the mean SDLRS score in a similarly configured study16. On the other hand, in the study using Guglielmino’s instrument, the reported mean score was 237.2 - well above the average 124 for the scale17. With this instrument, however, a lower mean score of 212.91 was reported in an Indian study18. Using another instrument, devised by Williamson, Kidane et al reported 225.63 as the overall mean SDLR score against the maximum score of 300 with 141–220 being the medium rank19. One of the largest studies on the subject, comprising of 2600 university students of medical and other fields, however, was conducted by Askin and Demirel20. By employing Askin’s scale, they reported a mean SDLR score of 84.02 against the highest possible score of 105.
Kindey et al in their originally designed study found that most of Saudi students didn’t support SDL7. Besides personal attributes, this could be due to their cultural and educational background and unfamiliarity with the process, and the same could be the reasons for low SDL readiness score in our and other reported studies21. Students need to be fostered at a very young age for the qualities which will make them proficient independent learners in coming times. Self- regulation, for instance, which significantly contributes to self-direction, is an attribute to be acquired during school education. It can be achieved by learning activities which promote intellectual growth and cognitive function for controlling behavior, emotions and motivation. Other techniques to improve self-direction skills at higher level are the individualized teaching-learning process and contract learning22
Total SDLR score reflects the overall level of students’ skills in SDL. However, the specific areas of strengths and weaknesses of students are better revealed by scores obtained in various domains. We found the highest mean score in self-control (48.10) and the lowest in self-management (37.8) with that of desire-for-learning in between (38.07). The respective optimum domains’ scores, as stated by Fisher et al, had been 58.98, 47.31 and 44.269. Our all domain scores were thus also lower than the optimum levels, though they matched in ranking from the highest to the lowest. Many reported studies also had the same ranking in the domain scores11,13,16,21.
In our study, we grouped the subjects as pre-clinical and clinical for a more revealing comparison given the paradigm shift in the curriculum of basic and clinical sciences and the consequent change in the dynamics of learning. The last is evident by the finding that early clinical exposure, irrespective of the type of curriculum, augments SDL skills20. The two groups in our study differed in their total as well as domain-wise scores - the difference being most obvious in self-learning.
Higher scale and subscale values in the clinical than in the pre-clinical group reflects the maturational process of developing self-directedness. It means the readiness for SDL is not a static attribute and can be improved by adopting appropriate strategies. Other studies have also shown a positive upward trend in the readiness score as the students move from junior to senior classes13,20. On the contrary, some studies have shown a decline or little change in the readiness score with increasing year of study 17,18,20. In one such study, higher scores were obtained by the first year and the fourth year students compared to the students of other years16. The explanation given by the author for this phenomenon was the change in the attitude and enthusiasm at the beginning and end of the course.
In the analysis for partial correlation, we found a significant positive correlation between SM and SC if DL was controlled and between DL and SC if SM was controlled. However, there was a moderate negative correlation between SM and DL when SC was controlled. Its implications is that students having good self-control are also likely to have better self-management, higher desire for learning and greater readiness for SDL. It further showed that some attributes of the individuals are complimentary to one other.
Many studies have been done to find a correlation between the readiness score and the academic performance of students. Their findings, however, have been quite contradictory - with many reporting a poor relationship between the two13,19. It could be due to the both having difference domains - the first one about the ability to utilize a particular learning method and the second about the breadth and depth of the knowledge base16. Some studies, however, have shown that students having high readiness for SDL also have significantly higher academic success20,23. It might be due to the overlap of the skills required for either SDL or academic success - particularly those related to the self-management.
About the relationship between self-direction skills and lifelong learning tendencies, one study has found a moderate positive correlation between the two20. Our study, with one-time data and without a follow up, could not throw light on the relationship between SDLR and academic performance or lifelong learning.
A self-reporting questionnaire in our study reflects the students’ own perspective about their readiness. Being subjective, however, it might not reflect the true level of their readiness13. For instance, the teachers’ perspective about students’ readiness has been reported to be quite opposite to that of students themselves4,6. Also, the readiness scale is a predictor and not the measure of the success of students in self- direction.
Readiness for SDL is only one determinant of the effectiveness of SDL. Equally important for it is the learning environment to which the students are exposed during learning. Factors which contribute to the learning environment are many, such as, the instructional processes, teachers’ collaboration, use of technology, and administrative and technical support services. The learning environment could also be possibly measured through an instrument devised for the purpose, as had been done in a recent study24. The SDL model to be adopted for a particular setting ideally should fit both the level of students’ readiness and the prevailing learning environment5, and so could vary from a very structured process grounded in behaviorism to complete learner’s autonomy based on humanistic approach22.
Self-direction, despite its attraction, may not be applicable in all situations4,6,25. Also, a person’s ability of self-direction may vary with circumstances. In the population with modest readiness, SDL needs to be implemented more consciously5. Employing an integrated or a hybrid curriculum may be an appropriate approach in such situations4.
Our study had a limited number of subjects belonging to a single institution and involved one-time data. Large, multi-institutional and longitudinal studies which take into account all the factors influencing SDL are needed for further defining the scope of SDL in a particular educational setting.