Autonomous (adj. 1 having self-government. 2 acting independently or having the freedom to do so. [Gk autonomania f. autos self + nomos law]) does explain the self-directed element well enough, but it says nothing about the kind of learning that ensues from that.
Ali has just been explaining to me that he's always thought of it as 'dynamic' learning, because of the integral difference between that and the kind of learning that takes place at the behest of a teacher or other authority. Here's how he described it:
"School learning does kind of work. I mean, it is possible to learn something to order - to listen, read and be able to reproduce what it is you've been told to do, but you can never really feel excited or passionate about or even properly engaged with what it is you're learning unless it was something you spontaneously wanted to learn, and you're in the driving seat. The experience and end results from the two kinds of learning are two completely different things. Schooled learning is passive, whereas autonomous learning is active: it's dynamic."
Dynamic (adj. & n. ~adj 1 energetic; active; potent. 2 Physics a concerning motive force [opp. STATIC]. b concerning force in actual operation. 3 of or concerning dynamics. ~n. an energising or motive force. [Gk dunamikos power]) is definitely a better way of describing the nature of student-led learning.
"Maybe school is a valid choice," I said, "If obedience, compliance and stability is what people want for their children. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that. It would generate a peaceful, ordered society if it worked well."
"I can't see how it can work well," said Ali. "Not now they've tightened up on attendance and curriculum, because people who are forced to comply and have no option to resist or avoid something they don't want to do, feel angry and trapped. Then they either internalise those feelings, by being ill, or externalise them, by being disruptive."
"So what do you need, for dynamic learning to take place?"
"Total freedom. The learner has to be in control of the learning process. But the adult - the parent - mustn't just do nothing. This is really important. They have to be there for the child and provide whatever's needed, whenever the child asks. Access to books is important and open access to the Internet. And some equipment, maybe. Travel.. a tutor if the child asks for it.."
"So how does the parent know what to provide and when?"
"By being responsive. This is the most important thing, by far. You have to ask and listen and remind the child regularly that you are willing to provide anything it needs."
"So the adult has to be a kind of slave to the child?"
"YES, but it's voluntary enslavement, which is a totally different thing to the adult being in charge. In the first instance the adult, by consciously choosing to let the child take charge, always has a get-out option. But when adults are in charge, children usually don't have that. They have no choice and no power, so they'll rebel by mentally disengaging from what's going on, or by disrupting it."
"Do you think that's true for everyone, or just for people like us? We do have a kind of rebellious streak."
"No, I think it's true for everyone. It's human nature. A person who has learned something under their own steam, on their own terms, just because they wanted to, will always be able to do that thing so much faster and better than someone who's learned it because they've been made to. That's why I've always thought of it as dynamic learning. I see the difference all the time."