The Research Base for Take Responsibility for Learning

While the ability to take responsibility for learning is acknowledged as a desirable focus of adult learning and development explicit treatment of the selection, use and monitoring of studying and learning strategies is rarely found in the traditional, academics-focused adult basic skills curriculum. So teaching and assessing the ability to take responsibility for learning in adult education, especially in complex, real-world adult contexts, is a fairly new endeavor.

The descriptions of performance at each level of the Take Responsibility for Learning Performance Continuum are anchored in analysis of data on adult learner performance collected by teacher researchers in five field research states who developed activities based on the Take Responsibility for Learning Standard. Teachers developed performance tasks and measured learner performance on the tasks as part of a rigorous three-year field development process. This evidence of learner performance on the standard went through analysis by research staff that also consulted research and theory on learning to guide and refine the definition of performance criteria. Our job of developing a performance continuum for the Standard that will support valid and reliable assessment of individual performance on the standard has been a challenging one and our understanding of competent adult performance in "learning to learn" continues to evolve.

A number of sources have guided our understanding of learning proficiency including research on how pre-K-12 students learn to think and learn, and research from the field of cognitive psychology. In the background resources we studied, we found broad agreement that the development of "learning-to-learn" proficiency is demonstrated through progressively more efficient, fluent, and independent performance in addressing increasingly complex and unfamiliar learning goals. The EFF approach to defining performance levels for Take Responsibility for Learning depends on a conception of learning to learn as a goal oriented, problem-solving-focused, integrated skills process. Specifically, this process calls for the ability to:

  • identify and fully understand one's learning needs, and to communicate learning goals based on those needs;
  • identify one's own strengths and preferences as a learner;
  • identify options for addressing weaknesses and "gaps" as a learner;
  • select and use appropriate learning strategies (whether general or domain specific), in appropriate sequence or combination, to reach the learning goals; and
  • plan, carry out and monitor the effectiveness of learning processes, and to flexibly adjust the approach as necessary to reach the learning goals.

In the EFF Standard definition, the process of learning to learn explicitly requires one to seek out learning opportunities that are goal-oriented and that allow one to build a positive self-perception as a learner. Additionally, we follow the findings of cognitive research on diverse learning styles. We acknowledge the usefulness of allowing students to pursue learning goals that are meaningful and of interest to him or her and follow up with a willingness and ability to act on those goals. These are key characteristics of proficiency in learning to learn in our definition of the Standard. Also, we agree with the findings of cognitive science that suggest that there is an important social dimension to thinking and learning, and, as a result, the integrated skill process defined by the EFF Standard at each level accommodates the social dimensions of learning to learn, especially in activities related to monitoring content understanding and the outcomes of strategy selection and application.

(The Take Responsibility for Learning Resources section of the EFF Assessment Resource Collection library contains a more detailed description of this research and a bibliography).

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