Self-directed learning instruction as a tool for equity: A framework for improving student outcomes in online STEM courses

Concurrent Session 10
HBCU Research Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

Learn about research and practical strategies for supporting diverse students’ self-directed learning skills and mindsets, such as motivation, metacognition, and applied learning processes, in online courses.
Researchers and a practitioner will share theory guiding our work, its relationship to equity, and ways to embed the strategies into online courses.


Rebecca Griffiths is a principal education researcher at SRI Education, a non-profit research institute. She specializes in blending qualitative and quantitative methods to understand the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of technology-enhanced instruction in postsecondary education. Her work also examines organizational and systemic facilitators and obstacles to adoption of educational technologies. Griffiths has led large-scale research and evaluation projects involving numerous institutional partners and stakeholders. Her work spans multiple sectors of postsecondary education, including research universities, regional comprehensives, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges. Specific areas of focus are college readiness, open educational resources, and hybrid/blended learning.

Extended Abstract

In this presentation, team members from the Postsecondary Teaching with Technology Collaborative (the Collaborative), a research and capacity building center, will share an emergent framework to help
guide the design, delivery, and testing of technology-enabled instructional strategies to support student’s self-directed learning skills and mindsets in online learning. Self-directed learning are ways in
which students can more effectively manage their learning. We will share early findings from research activities, and you will hear from William Hoover, professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Bunker Hill
Community College, on practices he is currently implementing to support students’ learning management processes in collaboration with this research. Hoover will share reflections on
collaborating with researchers from the Collaborative on implementing evidence-based practices to support student success in online learning and their impact on underserved students.

From this session, participants will:  

  • Identify opportunities and barriers to helping students develop skills for managing their learning.
  • Deepen understanding of strategies with the potential to increase student success in online courses, especially in STEM.
  • Explore challenges and solutions to embed such strategies into their own courses.

Problem of practice:

To succeed academically, college students, with the assistance of their instructors and peers, must develop and apply strategies for managing their learning, such as goal setting, task planning, help
seeking, reflecting on progress, and adjusting their strategies. COVID increased urgency to improve teaching and learning in online courses, which require students to be more independent. STEM online
courses can be of particular concern - these courses often have high failure rates, and research shows that persistent barriers prevent Black and Latino students from completing the STEM courses required
to enter high-paying jobs in the field. Many students struggle with feelings of isolation and sense of belonging in online STEM courses and do not feel comfortable seeking help to mitigate any challenges
they may be facing. Addressing these inequities requires changes to instructional practices to provide additional support within academic courses.


Self-directed learning is a promising remedy, as instructional strategies designed to support these skills and mindsets can empower students in online STEM courses to overcome typical challenges, such as feelings of isolation and imposter syndrome. Research shows that successful students have these types of skills and yet not all students have had the opportunity to develop them before coming to college. Development of these skills and mindsets can be supported through intentional instructional design strategies.

Faculty members play a critical role in creating supportive course environments for students to develop these skills and helping to empower them with tools to succeed, especially when implemented prior to
beginning of a semester. This role is especially important in broad access institutions, which serve many students who received inequitable opportunities to develop these skills earlier in their educational
journeys. Stakeholders from higher education can benefit from more information about strategies to improve equitable outcomes in online courses using technology, particularly to promote effective social
mentoring and collaboration.

Come join us in this presentation where we will share early findings from this research and learn from the experience of an institutional partner who has collaborated with us in these activities.