The Cultural Dimension of Individualism and Collectivism as a Factor in Adult Self-Directed Learning Readiness

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Studies and Research

First Advisor

John R. Rachal

Advisor Department

Educational Studies and Research


Self-directed learning (SDL) is a common approach adults take when setting out to acquire new knowledge and skills. This type of learning can take place inside and outside of formal learning settings and requires the learner to take responsibility for establishing his or her own learning objectives, strategies, resources, and evaluation. Although much research has been conducted, very few studies have examined SDL from a cross-cultural perspective. "Individualism" and "collectivism" (I/C) represent a major dimension of cultural differences that may be a factor in determining adult SDL readiness. The basic difference between individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures is the relative importance each places on the goals of the individual versus the goals of the group. This study reviews the SDL and I/C literature and shows that the development of the SDL construct has been primarily based in individualistic attitudes and values. That is, individualistic terms such as "autonomy," "independence," and "freedom" are prevalent in the SDL literature, whereas collectivistic terms such as "conformity," "interdependence," and "duty" are either peripheral or altogether absent. This emphasis on individualistic values, and the negation of collectivistic values has long gone unquestioned by adult educators. Empirical data from this study reveal relationships between SDL and I/C that reflect what is apparent in the literature. Using the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale and a measure of individualism and collectivism, 130 scores from among 149 subjects were used to explore possible significant relationships. The results suggest a moderately strong significant relationship between SDL readiness and individualism (p =.004), but no significant relationship between SDL readiness and other variables (i.e., collectivism, age, ethnicity, gender, and occupation). These findings suggest that adult educators should consider the individualistic cultural emphasis of the SDL construct, and begin to address the diverse learning preferences that may exist among multicultural adult populations.