Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

William H. Young


academic success, At-risk, Freshmen, Let Me Learn Process


The purpose of this study was to examine the reflective essays of first-year, first-generation college students for evidence of self-directed learning at the conclusion of their first semester at the university. A phenomenological qualitative method was employed and a content analysis rating rubric used to identify and code evidence related to four themes: Self Awareness, Decoding and Pattern Fit, Autonomy/Responsibility, and Academic Success.

The study findings indicated that first-year, first-generation college students have the capacity to take ownership of their learning in ways exemplified by self-directed learners. Participants demonstrated deep reflection and metacognition and their essays revealed unexpected student vulnerability as they voiced fears and hopes with a nearly innocent transparency and candor. Study findings also emphasized the importance of a support system that includes coursework designed to facilitate understanding of individual learner characteristics, emphasize strategies to maximize learner efforts that lead to successful outcomes, and empower students to become more self-directed. This study also expands the field of adult education by providing evidence that learner control is a key component of self-direction and is positively correlated to academic success. Ample evidence related to metacognition, self-regulation, and learner control was identified in the essay data.

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