Development of PBL Students as Self-Directed Learners

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Publication Date



This research paper describes the study of the impact of a project-based learning (PBL) curriculum on the learners’ development of self-directed learning abilities. The motivation for this study is that self-directed learning (SDL) ability is positioned as one of the essential outcomes of engineering education. This can be seen in the following quote from the International Engineering Alliance: “The fundamental purpose of engineering education is to build a knowledge base and attributes to enable the graduate to continue learning and to proceed to formative development that will develop the competencies required for independent practice.”

There are many terms that are used to describe the processes that are desired in and used by individuals when they acquire new knowledge. Metacognition, lifelong learning, self-regulated learning, and self-directed learning are among those terms most commonly used. The commonalities and differences of these concepts are presented in the paper in order to then describe the development of the self-directed learning abilities in undergraduate students.

This research is grounded in the prior works of others who have studied the changes of engineering students’ SDL abilities across the four to five years of an undergraduate education. Prior studies by multiple researchers indicate students experiencing PBL curricula have experienced significant growth. These studies all used the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS), a commercially available tool that has been administered to 120,000 adults and as been used in over 90 PhD studies.

The researchers developed qualitative study in an attempt to characterize how the PBL graduates experience self-directed learning. 27 PBL graduates were interviewed. A phenomenographic methodology was used to determine how the graduates experience SDL in their engineering practice.

The result of the qualitative study is a set of six different “ways of experiencing”. In a phenomenography, the “ways of experiencing” are the outcome space. By studying and interpreting the different ways of experiencing, academic decision makers who are considering the implementation of PBL can contemplate how these results can impact their design decisions.


Integrated Engineering

Publication Title

2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition