The University of Arizona

Emerging Student Learning Networks: Self-Directed Learning in an Eighth-Grade Life Science Classroom

Gerald P. Ardito


Although self-directed learning environments are common in higher education and online learning environments, they are uncommon in secondary educational settings. This mixed-method action research study, in which the author/researcher was also the teacher, reports on the design and implementation of a self-directed learning environment for eighth-grade life science students. This study investigated the impact of this type of learning environment on the behavior and achievement of students. The findings demonstrated an increase in self-regulatory behaviors, higher performance on a state-mandated final exam, and the development of complex and robust student learning networks. Implications for teaching and learning practices and suggestions for further research are discussed.


self-directed learning, self-regulated learning, science education, K-12 education, social network analysis, student learning networks, blended learning

Full Text:



Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2010). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(3), 80-97.

Berg, B. L., Lune, H., & Lune, H. (2004). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (5th ed., Vol. 5). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Blumenfeld, P. C., Marx, R. W., Soloway, E., & Krajcik, J. (1996). Learning with peers: From small group cooperation to collaborative communities. Educational Researcher, 25(8), 37-40.

Borgatti, S. P., Mehra, A., Brass, D. J., & Labianca, G. (2009). Network analysis in the social sciences. Science, 323(5916), 892-895.

Bouchard, P. (2011). Network promises and their implications. RUSC. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 8(1), 288-302.

Bunterm, T., Lee, K., Ng Lan Kong, J., Srikoon, S., Vangpoomyai, P., Rattanavongsa, J., & Rachahoon, G. (2014). Do different levels of inquiry lead to different learning outcomes? A comparison between guided and structured inquiry. International Journal of Science Education, 36(12), 1937-1959.

Centola, D. (2015). The social origins of networks and diffusion. American Journal of Sociology, 120(5), 1295-1338.

Cicuto, C. A. T., & Torres, B. B. (2016). Implementing an active learning environment to influence students’ motivation in biochemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 93(6), 1020-1026.

De Smet, C., De Wever, B., Schellens, T., & Valcke, M. (2016). Differential impact of learning path based versus conventional instruction in science education. Computers & Education, 99, 53-67.

Dougiamas, M., & Taylor, P. (2003). Moodle: Using learning communities to create an open source course management system. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), ED-MEDIA 2003--World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications. Honolulu, Hawaii.

Downes, S. (2017). New models of open and distributed learning. In M. Jemni, Kinshuk, & M. K. Khribi (Eds.), Open Education: from OERs to MOOCs (pp. 1-22). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Dron, J. (2007). Control and constraint in e-learning: Choosing when to choose. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Dron, J., & Ostashewski, N. (2015). Seeking connectivist freedom and instructivist safety in a MOOC. Educación XX1, 18(2), 51-76.

Fruchterman, T. M. J., & Reingold, E. M. (1991). Graph drawing by force-directed placement. Software: Practice and Experience, 21(11), 1129-1164.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87-105.

Giannakos, M., Krogstie, J., & Aalberg, T. (2016). Toward a learning ecosystem to support flipped classroom: A conceptual framework and early results. In Y. Li, M. Chang, M. Kravcik, E. Popescu, R. Huang, Kinshuk, & N.-S. Chen (Eds.), State-of-the-Art and Future Directions of Smart Learning. Lecture Notes in Educational Technology (pp. 105-114). Singapore, Springer.

Gomes, G. (2014). Blended learning, student self-efficacy and faculty an interpretative phenomenological analysis (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Northeastern University, Boston, MA.

Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological Theory, 1(1983), 201-233.

Grunspan, D. Z., Wiggins, B. L., & Goodreau, S. M. (2014). Understanding classrooms through social network analysis: A primer for social network analysis in education research. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(2), 167-178.

Guskey, T. R. (2010). Lessons of mastery learning. Educational Leadership, 68(2), 52-57.

Hartnett, M., St. George, A., & Dron, J. (2011). Examining motivation in online distance learning environments: Complex, multifaceted, and situation-dependent. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(6), 20-38.

Hay, K. E., & Barab, S. A. (2001). Constructivism in practice: A comparison and contrast of apprenticeship and constructionist learning environments. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 281-322.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.

Honebein, P. C. (1996). Seven goals for the design of constructivist learning environments. In B. G. Wilson (Ed.), Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design (pp. 11-24). Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, Inc.

Kalamaras, D. (n.d.). Social network visualizer (SocNetV). Retrieved from

Krajcik, J., Blumenfeld, P. C., Marx, R. W., Bass, K. M., Fredricks, J., & Soloway, E. (1998). Inquiry in project-based science classrooms: Initial attempts by middle school students. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7(3-4), 313–350.

Kriner, B. A., Coffman, K. A., Adkisson, A. C., Putman, P. G., & Monaghan, C. H. (2015). From students to scholars: The transformative power of communities of practice. Adult Learning, 26(2), 73-80.

Lazonder, A. W., & Harmsen, R. (2016). Meta-analysis of inquiry-based learning: Effects of guidance. Review of Educational Research, 86(3), 681-718.

Leedy, P. D., & Ormrod, J. E. (2005). Practical research (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Lim, F. V, O’Halloran, K. L., & Podlasov, A. (2012). Spatial pedagogy: Mapping meanings in the use of classroom space. Cambridge Journal of Education, 42(2), 235-251.

Miri, B., David, B. C., & Uri, Z. (2007). Purposely teaching for the promotion of higher-order thinking skills: A case of critical thinking. Research in science education, 37(4), 353-369.

Newmann, F. M., Marks, H. M., & Gamoran, A. (1996). Authentic pedagogy and student performance. American Journal of Education, 104(4), 280-312.

Novak, J. D. (2002). Meaningful learning: The essential factor for conceptual change in limited or inappropriate propositional hierarchies leading to empowerment of learners. Science Education, 86(4), 548-571.

Peters-Burton, E. (2015). Outcomes of a self-regulated learning curriculum model. Science & Education, 24(7-8), 1-31.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Rhodes, A. (2016). Effects of constructivist approach in science (Unpublished master’s thesis). California State University, Northridge, CA.

Sadeh, I., & Zion, M. (2009). The development of dynamic inquiry performances within an open inquiry setting: A comparison to guided inquiry setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(10), 1137-1160.

Schelfhout, W., Dochy, F., & Janssens, S. (2004). The use of self, peer and teacher assessment as a feedback system in a learning environment aimed at fostering skills of cooperation in an entrepreneurial context. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 29(2), 177-201.

Schraw, G., Crippen, K. J., & Hartley, K. (2006). Promoting self-regulation in science education: Metacognition as part of a broader perspective on learning. Research in Science Education, 36(1-2), 111-139.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2010). Learning presence: Towards a theory of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the development of a communities of inquiry in online and blended learning environments. Computers & Education, 55(4), 1721-1731.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Smith, K. A., Sheppard, S. D., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom-based practices. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 87-101.

Swan, K. (2001). Virtual interaction: Design factors affecting student satisfaction and perceived learning in asynchronous online courses. Distance Education, 22(2), 306-331.

van Dinther, M., Dochy, F., Segers, M., & Braeken, J. (2014). Student perceptions of assessment and student self-efficacy in competence-based education. Educational Studies, 40(3), 1-22.

Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J., Kiernan, L. J., & Frost, F. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Yüksel, M., & Geban, Ö. (2015). Examination of science and math course achievements of vocational high school students in the scope of self-efficacy and anxiety. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(1), 88-100.