Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ralph G. Brockett

Committee Members

Howard R. Pollio, Katherine H. Greenberg, Mary F. Ziegler


Self-directed learning has been one of the most widely studied topics within the field of adult education over the past three decades. It has gone from being a revelation for some to a topic heavily criticized by others. For those who have studied the concept, it has been a continued area of scholarly writing and research, while for others it is no longer a core area of interest. Some have even suggested this area of study is dead and it is time to move on. Little has been done to investigate how self-directed learning has developed over the years. The purpose of this dissertation is to describe the evolution of scholarship on self-directed learning as experienced by the people who have studied it.

The method consists of interviews with eight scholars who have made major contributions to the literature of self-directed learning since the inid 1960s. Research design and data collection were informed by phenomenology while data were analyzed on the basis of upon hermeneutic interpretation. In addition, the rich nature of data presented an opportunity to talk about personal stories of each expert.

Findings are presented through three lenses. First, results provided insight through a mini-case study of each participant. Second, a content analysis disclosed the data were in four descriptive categories: histories, learning theories, importance of a collaborative approach, and ideas about self-direction's future. Third, the experience of participants with self-directed learning evolved into a thematic structure involving four aspects defining its meaning for them: lifelong learning, can't do it alone, the critical side, and need for a model/mentor.

This study indicated that participants contributed 200 publications to the literature of self-directed learning and directed 80 doctoral dissertations involving self-direction. Through a living literature review, the professors provided insight into their histories by how they came to know and understand this topic over the years. Their personal theories of learning were discussed while each person's vision helped divulge new ideas for research and provide an opinion for the future of this topic. Last, the thematic structure of their experiences gives rise to an alternative view of self-directed learning.

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