Self-Directed Learning (2023-2025)

Self-Directed Learning: Promoting Students’ Persistent Use of Effective Learning Strategies

Project Proposal & Implementation (click + for details)

Brief Project Description: The University of New Hampshire’s Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CEITL) proposes to develop, implement, and assess the impact of a Student Cognition Toolbox (SCT) that will be an open educational resource (OER). Many students enter college with limited and ineffective study skills. In this project CEITL will develop a comprehensive set of online instructional materials that will teach students cognitively-supported effective and efficient study strategies. A distinctive feature of our learning modules is that each lesson will include a practice component that will assist students in mastery of that strategy. CEITL will then conduct a number of assessments that examine whether and how students use their newly-acquired skills, as well as the impact of their use on academic performance. The grant will include a strong dissemination component involving colleges and universities throughout the New England states. By the end of the grant, SCT modules will be available to all through the world wide web as an OER. 

Project Description: We have previously established that many students use relatively ineffective learning strategies as they prepare for academic assessments. Our previous Foundation-funded project documented that students can be taught to develop effective learning strategies informed by the science of learning (through successful completion of the Student Cognition Toolbox [SCT]; If students use these strategies to prepare for academic assessments, our work (and the work of others, e.g., Donker et al., 2019) documents that they benefit on assessments of their learning (e.g., earn higher scores on high stakes exams) (Overson et al., forthcoming, 2022; Fiorella & Mayer, 2015). We and others (e.g., Manola et al., 2018; McDaniel & Einstein, 2020) have found that the challenge is that many students do not persist in using these effective learning strategies when left to their own devices. For example, after completing the SCT, students may use these strategies during study leading to an upcoming exam, but they do not continue to apply these strategies when preparing for exams in subsequent courses (or even for later exams in the same course). Thus, although students can and do learn to use effective learning strategies, the challenge is to increase the likelihood that students spontaneously apply them as part of their regular protocol for studying academic material. The purpose of our grant project is two-fold: 

  1. Teach UNH faculty interventions they can use in their courses to increase the likelihood that students will persist in using the study strategies they learned from the SCT. 
  2. Provide students with access to information to facilitate their self-directed learning. 

Based on theory and research, we developed a five-factor model associated with students’ persistent use of effective learning strategies.

Components of Our Five-Factor Model (Our model is similar to that of McDaniel & Einstein [2020]. We developed our model independently from theirs at about the same time.) 

  1. Utility Value
  2. Study Strategy Knowledge
  3. Confidence (Self-efficacy)
  4. Estimated Likelihood of Use
  5. Planning for Study

We propose that college students will apply, and persist in applying, learning strategies with associated learning benefits to the extent they: 

  1. believe the strategies they learn will be useful to them in learning future academic material (utility value; Clinton & Kelly, 2020; Soicher & Becker-Blease, 2020) 
  2. learn the study strategies and the circumstances under which specific strategies are most effective (knowledge; Overson et al., forthcoming, 2022) 
  3. believe they have the skill to effectively use the strategies and that the strategies will work for them to promote learning (academic self-efficacy; confidence in having the skill to successfully perform the task; Bandura, 1993) 
  4. report that they are likely to apply the strategies in their academic coursework (likelihood of use/commitment, Lokhorst, et al., 2013) 
  5. develop an appropriate study plan to prepare for their upcoming academic assessments (planning; implementation intentions; McDaniel & Einstein, 2020)      

We will develop a set of Self-Directed Learning activities and instruct faculty on how to incorporate them into their teaching (Training Phase). We will then work with faculty to implement these activities in their courses (Implementation Phase). Next, we will assess the impact of these interventions for students in their courses (Assessment Phase). We will then make iterative improvements to our training activities/resources and modify, as needed, how the activities are implemented and assessed (Iterative Improvement Phase). 

Coming soon...

Coming soon...

If you would like additional information on this grant, please contact Catherine Overson (

Davis Educational Foundation
The development, implementation and assessment of self-directed learning activities is made possible by a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation (Yarmouth, Maine). The Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis's retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc.