By Nina Parsons
NMSU EDLT 572
Self-paced learning (SPL) is a recently proposed learning regime inspired by the learning process of humans and animals that gradually incorporates easy to more complex samples into training. Self-paced instruction is any kind of instruction that proceeds based on learner response (Jiang et al, 1970).
The content itself can be curriculum, corporate training, technical tutorials, or any other subject that does not require the immediate response of an instructor. Self-Paced learning outside the classroom means a student can start and complete learning targets at any time (Jiang et al, 1970).
This model will allow students to have a schedule that meets their individual needs. Students will not have to wait for the beginning of a traditional semester to start work on learning targets. They can complete their learning in any setting, at home, on the road, or anyplace that has internet connections.
There are advantages and disadvantages to Self-Paced learning programs that happen outside a traditional classroom setting. First, learners have the opportunity to learn in their home or a familiar environment. When they are in a familiar environment, the student is more relaxed and can concentrate on their learning. Learners can even participate in courses when they are on-the-go (thanks to mobile phones and tablets) (Two Approaches to Self-Paced Learning. (n.d.).
Learning can also progress at a pace that suits the learner. Learners who work at a fast pace have the opportunity to gain competency quickly. Learners who learn at a slower pace have the opportunity for repetition without being pushed ahead to quickly (Jiang et al, 1970).
Self paced learning is good for permanent content; All organizations have some training content that’s permanent and that needs to be distributed to a lot of people. Common examples include company policies or standard training manuals. Self-paced learning is good for permanent content, because it eliminates the need of live facilitators and scheduling-related coordination (Two Approaches to Self-Paced Learning. (n.d.).
There are also disadvantages to Self-Paced learning programs that happen outside the traditional classroom. Learners who lack time management skills can fall behind easily. If the student is not self-motivated this type of program might be difficult for them (Jiang et al, 1970).
One of the most significant drawbacks of self-paced learning is the absence of a facilitator. This means that there is no opportunity for feedback or assistance from an experienced instructor, unless the learner is able to communicate with the instructor via the Learning Management System (Two Approaches to Self-Paced Learning. (n.d.).
Next, students who need opportunities for collaborative learning are at a disadvantage because when the student is outside the classroom they are working independently. Finally, not all learners cope well working externally through their self-paced materials (Jiang et al, 1970).
For example, learners with English as a second language (or special literacy/numeracy requirements) may struggle and therefore need face to face assistance from a classroom teacher. There are quizzes available for students to take to see if Self-Paced learning outside the classroom is right for them.
Self awareness at a cognitive and emotional level would appear to be the key enabling process in the development of self-regulatory strategies” (McMahon, 2001). However not all students have or are able to develop such self awareness. While learner self-awareness is considered to be the key enabler of successful self-paced learning, organizational self-awareness is also a critical component. This factor is certainly a key consideration in the traditional academic world where colleges and universities seek to expand student access to classes through online courses and resource centers. It is even more important, perhaps critically so, in the business world (Jiang et al, 1970).
Distance Learning in general, and self-paced DL in particular, is often seen by cost conscious organizations as an attractive alternative to expensive instructor led learning. While it is true that many economies can be had in self-paced learning, sufficient attention and resources must be applied to establishing an environment in which it can succeed.
The middle school math teacher Natalie McCutchen showed us how she has converted her pre-algebra class to a completely self-paced system where students work on different skills at their own pace, and how she’s gradually introducing self-paced learning in her other math classes as well. She developed a system through trial and error, here are the steps to her system (Gonzalez, n.d.)
Step 1: select a unit of content: This can be a chapter in a textbook or a batch of skills or content you would typically teach as a unit over a couple of weeks. This unit should have clearly defined learning targets, which are likely dictated by whatever standards your school follows (Gonzalez, n.d.).
Step 2: create the assessment: Decide what students should be able to do by the end of the unit and create an assessment that measures it. The simplest type is a test with clearly identified right and wrong answers, where each item (or small group of items) in this assessment is aligned with one learning target. For skills that require more teacher interpretation to measure, like writing, the assessment could be a writing task, such as an extended response question with a prompt and a rubric. Each skill listed in the rubric would align with a specific learning target (Gonzalez, n.d.).
Step 3: create the chapter guide: set up a guide that shows which assessment question aligns with each learning target, then lists book or video lessons students can follow to learn each skill, exercises that will give students independent practice with the skill, and a brief assessment students can take to test their mastery (Gonzalez, n.d.).
Step 4: give the pre-test and help students identify standards to master: Use the assessment you created in Step 2 to pre-test students on the skills for this unit. Use the results to identify which learning targets each student has already mastered, and which ones they still need to learn.
Step 5: Giving each student a Chapter Guide, have them mark which standards they have already mastered—based on pre-test results—and which ones they still need to learn (Gonzalez, n.d.).
Step 6: provide time, materials, and supervision for self-paced learning: From this point on, students will begin the process of moving through the lessons on their own. Your job is to make sure they have the materials they need to do the work: If you are sending students to videos, make sure they have devices to access them (and earbuds to keep the audio to themselves). Make sure students know where to look for answer keys, and where they can access the mini-assessment when they are ready to take it. Check in with students regularly to make sure they are making good use of their time (Gonzalez, n.d.).
Step 7: Iterate. Keep in mind that this system probably won’t work perfectly the first time you try it. You may want to try it just once with a short unit, rather than attempt to convert your whole year to self-paced learning. You might want to offer it only to students who have the academic skills and maturity to handle it (Gonzalez, n.d.). You may need to tweak it, then tweak it some more. But speaking for the kids who would love a chance to see just how fast they can learn and how far they can go, I’d say it’s worth a serious try (Jiang et al, 1970).
Gonzalez, J. (n.d.). Self-Paced Learning: How One Teacher Does It. Retrieved March 09, 2017, from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/self-paced-learning/
Jiang, L., Meng, D., Yu, S., Lan, Z., Shan, S., & Hauptmann, A. (1970, January 01). Self-Paced Learning with Diversity. Retrieved March 05, 2017, from http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5568-self-paced-learning-with-diversity
Two Approaches to Self-Paced Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/two-approaches-self-paced-learning