A Self Directed Approach

St. Francis Xavier's Master of Adult Education program is a challenging program in many respects. Students who enroll are typically highly motivated, strong academic students with busy personal and professional lives. Many of them come to this program with particular learning needs and specific goals in mind, and with the expectation that this graduate program will help them integrate their professional experiences with current research and literature in the field of adult education. Our master's program is particularly suited to this type of student because it is learner-centered, life-centered, and self-directed.

Self-direction can mean many different things to many different people. In this program, self-direction means that the faculty encourage students to study and explore their own areas of interest in adult education (e.g., community health education, literacy, nursing education, workplace learning). We also encourage students to plan projects that relate to their interests and work responsibilities, based on our belief that students learn most when they have control over their learning, and when they have the opportunity to study issues that have relevance to their own life situations.

As with any academic program in any educational institution, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled in order to obtain a Master of Adult Education degree. Thus, the level of self-direction has some constraints. Institutional requirements, professional standards, and the needs of the students are constantly held in balance. For instance, there are five phases of the master's program (500, 510, 520, 530, thesis) that must be completed in order to meet the academic requirements for the degree. Similarly, the faculty advisor is required to forward grades or notice of completion to the Registrar's Office for each of the four major program components. Working within these parameters, faculty assist students in the exploration of the adult education literature, the development of a substantive learning project, the evaluation of personal and professional learning, and the writing of a thesis.

Faculty realize that offering a self-directed program requires a willingness on our part to share knowledge and power with students. We also must respect the students' wishes when it comes to readiness to take ownership of their learning. For some students, the self-directed nature of the program is challenging. For others, it is a natural extension of their workplace activities or of previous learning experiences. This recognition of differences among students is the way that we respect the uniqueness of individuals. The tasks of setting one's own deadlines and establishing a learning contract, for instance, are challenging for some students, yet not for others. The faculty advisor is there to assist in the process and to provide academic guidance when the student requests it. At the end of the three-week Foundations Institute, students are encouraged to assume increasing degrees of responsibility for designing, implementing, and evaluating their learning experiences. Along with their faculty advisor they design their program to meet a variety of needs, personal, professional and institutional. On-going consultation with the faculty is an important part of the master's degree process so that all these needs can be satisfied adequately.

Self-direction in learning has been the hallmark of this Master of Adult Education program for almost thirty years. We believe that all adults should be provided with the opportunity to learn and grow in a supportive, academic environment that respects the individual and his or her individual learning needs. This graduate program enables students to identify and meet these needs.