• self-directed learning;
  • nurse education;
  • qualitative enquiry;
  • paediatric intensive care

Self-directed learning: views of teachers and students

Aim. This paper reports the findings of an investigation into teachers’ and students’ understanding of the term self-directed learning (SDL), and their views concerning its value in paediatric intensive care (PIC) nurse education.

Methods. Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis were used. The findings from interviews with teachers and students across eight PIC nursing courses are reported. Local Research Ethics Committee protocols were followed. Data were analysed using constant comparative analysis.

Findings. Teachers and students appeared to experience some difficulty in articulating a precise definition of SDL. Both groups saw it as one teaching and learning method to be used alongside others, and focused their definitions on the observable events thought to demonstrate self-direction rather than the cognitive processes involved. Teachers and students considered SDL of some value, but only when used in conjunction with teacher-led methods. Both teachers and students felt that students take more responsibility for learning in SDL than in traditional teaching. However, there was a difference of opinion as to the manner in which responsibility was devolved and accepted, and neither party was completely convinced that the other respected them.

Limitations. The study explored only PIC nurse education, and was not intended to be generalized beyond this field.

Conclusion. The evidence from this study suggests that SDL has elusive qualities which defy precise definition. It appears that attempting such a definition and reducing SDL to an observable form may detract from its perceived value. It can be inferred from this study that in order to implement SDL issues of control and autonomy within the learning environment merit further exploration, rather than simply focusing on observable teaching and learning tools or methods.