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Involvement with the University


The Development of Self-Directed Learners

^ , ' by ,,

rt a r ^

_• Irwin M. Rubin and Hervey L. Sweetwood

Working Paper 571-71

November 1971





NOV 19 1971

Involvement with the University


The Development of Self-Directed Learners

' by

- ' Irwin M. Rubin and Hervey L. Sweetwood

Working Paper 571-71 November 1971

* The research reported in this paper is part of a larger study
of Freshman Socialization at M.I.T. supported by funds from
the Edwin P. Land Fund. The data to be reported were analyzed
as part of an unpublished masters thesis, by Sweetwood (1971).
Computation was done at the M.I.T. Computation Center.

no. 57 1-1 1



NOV 18 1971
M. i T. MBf^Ri£S

This paper is part of a larger study concerned with londerstanding the process
of socialization and adaptation to the university. The sample under investigation
is the M.I.T. class of 1973. Several areas have been investigated:

1) The effect of social class background factors on adaptation patterns,
satisfaction with the Institute and performance (Bumstead, 1971).

2) Satisfaction and performance have been related to the extent to which a
student feels meaningfully connected to the Institute (Rubin, 1971).

3) A set of adaptive styles have been defined and compared as to their
relative success on a variety of dimensions (Gerstein, 1971).

In this paper we will try to relate a person's degree of involvement with the
Institute, to the degree to which he adopts a self-directed learning posture. We
will use the taking of a Freshman Seminar as one behavioral indication of self-
directed learning. The effectiveness of this particular option (Freshman Seminar)
in producing high involvement will be related to certain needs and expectations of
those who have chosen to take the option. Finally, we will try to generalize from
this specific situation to the broader question of the development of self-directed



M.I.T. 's Objective; Self-Directed Learning

In addition to facilitating an individual's cognitive development in a variety

of areas, a major objective at M.I.T., as articulated by Paul Gray, is the

development of "an academic environment in which the primary task focuses

on the objective of individual growth and the development of a real capacity

for self- education, for self-sufficiency, and for self-renewal..." In

essence. Gray describes the ideal learning community as one that produces or

develops the capacity for self-directed learning. But then what is this self-


-2- ■■^~ !l EB J

directed learner really like? What norms govern his behavior? To help answer

these questions, let's look at Carl Roger's definition of self-directed learning.

[Self-directed learning] has a quality of personal involvement —
the whole person in both his feeling and cognitive aspects being
in the learning event. It is self-initiated . Even when the im-
petus or stimulus comes from the outside, the sense of discovery,
of reaching out, of grasping and comprehending, comes from within.
It is pervasive . It makes a difference in the behavior, the atti-
tudes, perhaps even the personality of the learner. It is evaluated
by the learner . He knows whether it is meeting his need, whether
it leads toward what he wants to know, whether it illuminates the
dark area of ignorance he is experiencing. The locus of evaluation,
we might say, resides definitely in the learner. Its essence is
meaning . When such learning takes place, the element of meaning to
the learner is built into the whole experience (Rogers, 1969, p. 5).

These are the ideals toward which M.I.T. is attempting to move, with the

ideal learning commimity functioning to support the student in his attempt to

develop a self-directed learning orientation.

Individual /University Involvement and the Concept of Adaptive Style

Although self-directed learning, as we can see from the above, is highly per-
sonalized, it does take place within a context. The individual, in other words,
interacts with the M.I.T. community and it is the intent that, as a result of these
interactions, he develop a self -directed posture toward learning. We know, however,
that this intent is not realized with all students. Many students develop a dif-
ferent posture. In addition to the self-directed posture, four other styles have
been identified; conformist, rebel, withdrawn, and counter-cultural (Gerstein, 1971).

Furthermore, we have argued (Rubin, 1971) that in order for the self-directed

posture to develop, the interactions between the individual and the Institute must

result in two things: the student must experience a sense of purpose or

We have called this complex dynamic process of interaction the development of a
psychological contract. The student expects certain things of M.I.T. and M.I.T.
provides certain opportunities. If individual expectations are continuously not
satisfied by organizational contributions - if a mutually satisfactory psychological
contract fails to develop - the individual becomes alienated from the organization.
The reverse also exists if the student fails to meet the organization's expectations,
e.g., grades, units accumulated or adherance to certain rules of behavior.


connnunity (low anomie) and 2) a sense that the authority of the system i^- legitl^iate
(low political alienation). These two factors have been found to exist in varying
degrees among people and the particular combination of the two helps to define
a given adaptive style (Gerstein, 1971).

For our purposes in this paper, we will combine the rebel, withdrawn, and
counter-cultural styles into one we call alienated . This reduces the number of
discrete types with which we must deal. In addition, it makes our previously
developed typology of adaptive styles (Gerstein, 1971) similar to a broader frame-
work developed by Etzioni (1961) to deal with the way in which an individual can
become involved with any organization (Rubin, 1971; Sweetwood, 1971). Etzioni
distinguishes three forms of involvement: moral, calculative, and alienative.
These can be defined in terms of their meaning in the M.I.T. environment as
follows :

Moral (self-directed) - This student has internalized the norms of the M.I.T.
community — he feels a sense of self-direction, a sense of purpose and mean-
ing in his own life and in his relationship to M.I.T.; he values M.I.T. in
general and the faculty in particular as a legitimate source of influence
over his attitudes and behavior .

Calculative (conformist) - This student accepts M.I.T. and its representatives,
the faculty, as valid sources of authority, but he hasn't internalized the
norms of the community and thus reacts and conforms to the most easily identi-
fiable norms of the system such as grades, dress, etc.

Alienative (rebel, withdrawn, and counter-cultural) - This student has been
unable to internalize the norms of the M.I.T. community and has also rejected
M.I.T. as a legitimate source of influence over his attitudes and behavior.
He remains within the system only because he feels "coerced" by influences
such as the draft, parental and/or societal expectations, or simply because


he never expected to get involved.

Morally involved individuals, for example, intrinsically value the mission
of the organization and/or their role within it. It is most appropriate in those
situations where intense individual commitment is required or where the individual
is doing a task (e.g., growing, developing, learning) that is not easily measured
by external sources. Such involvement is based entirely on participant internali-
zation of system norms (directly analogous to our concept of anomie) and positive
identification with authority (directly analagous to our concept of political aliena-
tion) . The qualities of moral involvement and self-directed learning are markedly

Our major hypotheses would be, therefore, that self-directed learning behavior
is more likely to result if the individual experiences a sense of moral involvement
through his interaction with the M.I.T. community.

The Freshman Seminar

It is clear from Snyder's research (1971), for example, that while the publicly
stated norm at M.I.T. may be that of developing self-directed learners, the imple-
mentation of this norm is not uniform. The overall environment at M.I.T. (courses,
workloads, learning processes, teacher styles, grading procedures, etc.) can and
often does communicate norms which are in conflict with the objective of developing
moral involvement and self-direction.

For the purposes of this research, we have chosen to focus on one particular
subsystem within the M.I.T. community - the Freshman Seminar. By focusing on the


Freshman Seminar, we have taken an environment that, in and of itself , clearly
conveys and supports the norm of self-directed learning. This assumption is
based on the following characteristics of the Freshman Seminar:


1. Close student-faculty contact . There are 6-10 students in most seminars

with several running to about 30 students. A major purpose of the seminar
program is to develop student-faculty relationships.

2. High level of student and faculty interest . The Freshman Seminar is op-
tional for both the student and the faculty member. Faculty members offer
seminars in their current area of interest only, and students usually have
from 30 to 50 different topics from which to choose — with the freedom not
to take any if they so desire.

3. Freedom from external pressure . The seminar has no required body of know-
ledge to master or book to finish. There are few requirements of the students,
and there is maximum freedom to follow divergent interests as they develop.

The faculty encourage and support such interests. The grading system is pass-


fail , and students have complete freedom to terminate the relationship — i.e.

they drop the Seminar with little consequence since it is only a six unit

We will assume that the act of taking a seminar is one behavioral indication
of a self-directed posture toward learning. Seminar takers are more likely to
be morally involved (and less likely to be alienatively involved) than non-
seminar takers. We will first focus on those students who did have a seminar
experience the first semester. We will then look at this group's second semester
behavior (return rate). If the student continues his seminar taking behavior,
his first semester seminar experience is rated as congruent. If the student
drops out of the seminar program second semester (i.e., he decides not to take
any of the seminars offered spring term) , then his first semester experience is

judged incongruent (i.e., it did not meet his initial expectations of what a
seminar would be like). Obviously this is a rather crude measure since there
exist many reasons for not continuing in the seminar program, such as lack of
interest in the spring term topics, lack of time, the development of other more
exciting interests, etc.

Our hypothesis would be that morally involved students are more likely to
choose to take a second seminar (to return) . Alienatively involved students are
more likely to "drop out" of Freshman Seminars after their first experience.
Student Needs

The Freshman Seminar environment provides certain opportunities to students
and "requires" certain behavior of them. The structure of the teaching-learning
process within the seminar context would appear to be most attractive to students
who expect to/enjoy playing an active part in the learning process. High levels
of student participation and contribution would seem to be salient requirements.
Our general hypothesis would be that when the characteristics of the environment
are congruent (match) with the individual's needs and expectations, moral involve-
ment is more likely to occur. Specifically, moral involvement is more likely to be
characteristic (and conversely, alienative involvement is less characteristic) among
those individuals who have both a high need to participate and who do take a seminar.

The hypotheses, as stated, do not identify the cause of the high concentration
of morally involved students among the seminar takers. This could happen via self-


Within the sample available (N=408) , 172 people took a seminar first semester.
Of those who took a seminar first semester, 36% (N=62) also took a seminar second

In addition, one might expect that the small class size and informal atmosphere would
represent an opportunity for some students to satisfy their social, aff illative, in-
clusion needs. In this paper, we focus specifically on a student's expectation con-
cerning participation. The indications are (Gerstein 1971, Sweetwood, 1971) that
students more often use non-classroom situations (e.g., living groups) to satisfy
these social needs.

selection (morally involved students choose the seminar) or via the effects of
the seminar environment on the student. All that our data will allow us to test
directly is whether any association exists between the two. These relationships
are summarized in figure 1.

Research Design

Data to test the above hypotheses were collected as part of a larger study
of the class of 1973. Questionnaires were sent to the entire Freshman class and
45% were returned in usable form. The scales to which we refer in the next sec-
tions were a part of the longer questionnaire. All were adapted to be specifically
relevant to M.I.T. For more detail on the particular methodology and a copy of
the entire questionnaire see Sweetwood (1971) and Rubin (1971).

Form of Involvement

Earlier, we argued that moral, calculative, and alienative involvement
could be differentiated along two dimensions .. .the student's feelings toward
M.I.T. as a legitimate source of authority or influence and the degree to
which the student was able to internalize the M.I.T. community's norms. Two
measures were chosen to approximate these dimensions, Olsen's (1969) scale
of political alienation and McClosky and Schaar's (1965) scale of anomie ,
respectively. The resulting scale items used to measure these two dimensions
are reproduced in Table 1.

The student who felt M.I.T. was not a legitimate source of influence or

authority would agree with such items as, "These days M.I.T. is trying to do

too many things, including some activities that I don't think it has the

right to do," and "M.I.T. is run by the few people in power and there is not

much the student can do about it." Conversely, our student with a high sense

of system legitimacy corresponds to the non-alienated student who strongly
* Gerstein (1971) uses these same scales to help develop his typology of adaptive
styles. As we pointed out, forms of Involvement and adaptive Style are con-
ceptually synonymous.


Figure 1.

Flow Chart of Relationships Between Involvement,
Expected Level of Participation and Seminar Taking

Seminar Taking Behavior
First Semester


Seminar Taking

(1) The double headed arrow implies that seminar taking can lead to moral

involvement, morally involved students are more likely to take a seminar
(selection effect), or both are operating in a dynamic process.

(2) The cause-effect relationships are somewhat clearer with respect to second
semester seminar behavior. While the student had his first semester seminar
experience before we collected data concerning his involvement etc. , he
was just beginning his second seminar experience.


disagrees with these scale items.

A highly anomic student would strongly agree with such scale items as
"The trouble with the university today is that most people don't believe in
anything" and "Everything changes so quickly these days at M.I.T. that I
often have trouble deciding which are the right rules to follow." Clearly,
the highly anomic student has not been successful in internalizing any set
of norms, the second aspect of moral involvement. On the other hand, the
M.I.T. student who scores low on anomie has been able to internalize some
set of norms, but not necessarily the M.I.T. learning norms in which we are
interested. To distinguish the internalization of positive M.I.T. learning
norms vs. some sort of "counter-cultural" norms or norms negatively oriented
in relation to M.I.T., the student's system legitimacy score will be used.

If the student is low in anomie and has a high degree of faith in the M.I.T.
system, then he is considered to have successfully internalized the desired
M.I.T. norms (self-directed learning). If the student is low in anomie but
has a low degree of system legitimacy, then he is considered to have inter-
nalized some "counter-cultural" set of norms.

Earlier we defined the moral student to be high in system legitimacy and
to have successfully internalized the M.I.T. community norms; the calculative
student was similar to the moral student, except that he had been unable to
internalize M.I.T. 's norms; finally, the alienative student not only was un-
able to internalize M.I.T. 's learning norms, but also rejected the legitimacy
of the entire system. Operationally, then, these students will be defined as
follows :

1, Moral - high system legitimacy, low anomie

2, Calculative - high system legitimacy, high anomie


3, Alienative - low system legitimacy, high or low anomie



Questionnaire Items Used to Measure the Extent to Which an Individual Has
Internalized M.I.T.'s Norms and the Extent to Which He Sees M.I.T. as a
Legitimate Source of Authority

Internalization of Norms (Anomie)

With everything in such a state of disorder at M.I.T. , it's hard for
a student to know where he stands.

I often feel awkward and out of place at M.I.T.

What is lacking in the imiversity today is the kind of friendship that
lasts for a lifetime.

It seems to me that other students at M.I.T. find it easier to decide
what is right than I do.

Students were better off in the days when everybody knew just how he
was expected to act.

Everything changes so quickly these days at M.I.T. that I often have
trouble deciding which are the right rules to follow.

The trouble with the university today is that most people don't believe
in anything.

Legitimacy of Authority (Political Alienation)

It seems to me that M.I.T. often fails to take necessary actions on
important matters even when most people favor such actions.

For the most part M.I.T. serves the interests of a few organized
groups and isn't very concerned about the needs of people like myself.

As M.I.T. is now, I think it is hopelessly incapable of dealing with
all the crucial problems facing the university today.

M.I.T. is run by the few people in power and there is not much the
student can do about it.

It is difficult for people to have much control over the things of-
ficials do in office.

These days M.I.T. is trying to do too many things, including some ac-
tivities that I don't think it has a right to do.

The response format was a six point scale ranging from strongly disagree
to strongly agreed. The distinction between high and low is based on a
dichotomous splitting of the sample at or about the median score for
the entire group.


^f fhe three involvement


types is as follows: Frequency


1, Moral (134)


2, Calculative (82)


3, Alienati^e q92)

ejected level o. participation, t.e .tudenf s response to t.e foUowins

question was used.

..people have different ideas of Jnst .ow the, fit into univetsit, affairs,
would yon say that yon are: ^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^

High - 1- A person who contributes to

Average 2. A person who is active, but not one of the decls.on-»a.ers.

,» . 3. .ust an ordinary f "-,f,,J^,:3ririnifi;ute life.
4 A person who rarely participates ii ^_
5. Not a part of the university at all.

.he five possihle responses „ere co^hined to three categories of approximately
e,„al si.e. Kesponse .1 «as laheled hi.h, response n average, and responses
,3 «, and « were grouped together to for. a low category. The frequence of
response to the hi^. average. a«d low participation categories was as follows:

* — " 77^ ^h-r this is representative of the "actual

*These data are not meant to suggest ^^^' .^^^' '' ^^^^^^esents a relative dis-
distribution at M.I.T. This -t^g°^^^/^^^°^^^^raUenative! more moral, or more
tribution of students into groups that ^^^..^^f^^f/^^f ^e^^^^es. The alienative
calculative ^^-" ;^^.°5"-":/-rt\lTH e emembrred w ^^^^ombined three
category looks "high" because it ^^^^''^ J,^^^„__ , ^^^al - into this oni^ite-
adaptive styles - rebel, withdrawn, ^^d^°^^" the Resulting distributions will
gory. Depending on the definition one chooses ^^^^^^/^^'^J^f 3,^3 33 .oral and
vary. Faculty advisors, for example, rated ^8^ o^ ^heir advls
Llf-directed and 41% as calculative-conformists (Gerstein, l^n).


Frequency of Response
High 25% (103)

Average 35% (141)

Low 40% (164)

Self-Directed Behavior

As discussed earlier, the act of taking an elective optional Freshman Seminar
will be taken as one indication of self-directed learning. The act of taking a
second seminar - return rate - is expected to be a more powerful indicator.


Our major hypotheses concern the relationship between form of involvement and
seminar taking behavior as an indicator of self-directed learning. In addition,
we will explore the relationship between a student's "expected" level of participa-
tion and a) his form of involvement and b) his seminar taking behavior. Finally,
we will explore the interaction between these three variables.
Form of Involvement and Seminar Taking Behavior

As can be seen from Table 2, there is no significant relationship between form
of involvement and first semester seminar taking behavior. Morally involved students
are almost as likely to elect to take a seminar first semester as are their alienated
counterparts (45% vs. 39%). The data with respect to return rate, however, strongly
confirm our expectations (Table 2). Morally involved students are significantly
more likely to return and take a second seminar than their alienated counterparts
(45% vs. 27%). Calculative students fall in between these two extremes,
exhibiting a 36% return rate. Another way to look at this is to remember
that, for the entire population, the return rate is 36%. Morally involved students

The significance tests made in this report are based on a simple differ-
ence of proportions test. The samples are assumed to have identical standard
deviations and be of equal sample size. With a sample size of 100, a 10%
difference in samples corresponds to a .05 level of significance (two-
tailed). With a sample size of 50, a 14% difference in the samples cor-
responds to a .05 level of significance (two-tailed). Thus when comparing
cells with UJilOO, a percentage difference of 10% will be labeled sig-
nificant at the .05 level. When N


Online LibraryIrwin M. RubinInvolvement with the university and the development of self-directed learners → online text (page 1 of 2)