Self-Direction in Learning of EdD Candidates at a Small, Private Institution

Julia Kirk, Andrew Courtner
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 353-371

Many researchers have investigated factors related to why doctoral candidates do or do not persist in a doctoral program, yet, literature was not found where researchers investigated the relationship between self-directed learning and currently enrolled EdD candidates. The authors sought to understand EdD candidates’ self-direction in learning at the onset of their EdD program. The findings informed program and course instructional strategies of the EdD Program and helped to determine what could be done to help candidates be more successful in the program.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the self-directed learning of doctoral candidates in one EdD program in a private university in a southeastern state. Adults are by nature self-directed individuals and it would be reasonable to assume that adult doctoral candidates might exhibit some level of self-directed learning.

The PRO SDLS (Stockdale, 2003) was employed to measure self-directed learning among a population of 110 EdD candidates currently enrolled in a private university in a southeastern state. The following variables were also included in the analysis: year of enrollment, program concentration, hour of enrollment, age, and gender. A series of one-way ANOVAs were used to compare the differences of each independent variable on each measure of the dependent variable.

The findings informed program and course instructional strategies of the EdD Program and helped to determine what could be done to help candidates be more successful in the program. The findings not only benefitted this individual EdD Program, but also additionally will add to the body of knowledge on encouraging self-directed learning among EdD candidates.

The researchers found that all candidates, regardless of variables investigated, had similar levels of self-directed learning, above average for adults, which is typical of doctoral students. While no specific variable was statistically significantly different, a few variables neared the significance level of 0.05, in exhibiting even higher levels of self-directed learning. It was found that females demonstrated slightly higher control, a sub-factor of self-directed learning, and candidates in the higher education program demonstrated higher motivation, another sub-factor of self-directed learning.

Practitioners would benefit by incorporating the following steps to increase self-directed learning among doctoral candidates in education: facilitating the dissertation process earlier, gradual release into dissertation hours, writing competency based curriculum for earlier writing skills, and fostering collaborative grouping within the program for social connection.

Self-directed learning is only one possible reason for whether or not students may or may not complete a doctoral degree in education. Other variables may influence, possibly even stronger, the candidate’s ability to complete the doctoral degree.

Adults are self-directed individuals. Adults returning to school are found to have higher readiness for self-directed learning. Fostering this self-directed learning through social collaboration in a doctoral program can help doctoral candidates be more successful.

Additional factors may exist that influence the completion of a doctoral degree: life circumstances, job change, health, relationships with faculty, etc. These factors could be measured in conjunction with self-directed learning to gain a more comprehensive picture as to why some students do not finish their doctoral degrees in education.

doctoral candidate, education, self-directed learning
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