Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning, as the name suggests, is the learning model in which the learning process is directed or controlled by the learner. In this type of learning, the learner makes the decisions regarding which learning path or levels to pick/choose/follow and which to skip. For example, during the Teacher’s Training program, the trainees are asked to complete the Child Psychology module consisting of 6 chapters in next two weeks. The trainees are given learning material in the form of online modules, books or articles references, and audio/video recordings. Each trainee will choose the learning mode based on their preference. Also, each trainee will have the option of going/jumping to the chapters that they need to learn instead of following the linear approach of learning one chapter after another necessarily.

Self-directed learning can result in a more meaningful education that goes beyond the mindless repetition of memorized content.

It is very logical to deduct that in majority of cases, self-directed learning is most suitable for adult learning and in very few cases, suggested for children. But, as a part of blended learning, children may also be asked to complete one or two chapters (daily-life observations or simple experiments) of a module through self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is a good option for those who feel pressurized in school environment due to peer-pressure, comparison with other learners, expectations to score high. It is also a good option for adult learners, who are not comfortable learning in a group with different kinds of learners having distinct personalities and behaviors.

“Going to school is rarely a choice at all, but rather just the thing you do because everyone else does it.” ― Brian Huskie

Theory of Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is one of the main concepts of Andragogy. When Malcom Knowles defined the principles of Andragogy, he greatly emphasized on how adults should be trusted and involved in each part of the learning program. According to the theory of Andragogy, as a person matures, his/her learning becomes self-directed, internally motivated, and problem-centric.

Following the theory of andragogy, self-directed learning comes out as a natural learning strategy for adult learning. As an adult learner, a person is aware of the purpose of the learning and how it can be used to reach their immediate goal or solve the current situation or problem. The adults have the experience and understand the importance of successful completion of learning program.

Self-Directed Learning is all about discovering new information, choosing your own learning path, selecting resources, and designing your own learning strategy.

Here’s the definition of self-directed learning by Malcolm Knowles – “In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

The Approach of Self-Directed Learning

Whether it is for the adult learners or for the children, self-directed learning involves the following approach:

  1. Assess the learner’s readiness to learn – For the learner to be able to learn in the self-directed environment, he/she should be able to:
    1. Go through the learning program independently
    2. Complete the self-directed learning module in the stated time, responsibly
    3. Organize the complete learning program according to his/her learning requirements
    4. Understand the feedback and self-evaluate
    5. Communicate through all the media channels like, messaging, video/audio-calling, etc.
  2. Set and confirm the learning goals – Since there will be minimum interaction between the learner and the instructor, it is important to set the learning goals and these learning goals should be confirmed by both the learner and the instructor. The learning goals document should include the following information:
    1. Learning objectives
    2. Course timeline
    3. Resources to be used for learning
    4. How learning success will be assessed
    5. Feedback and evaluation process
  3. Select the right learning approach – During the self-directed learning phase, the learner should give due importance to the learning approach. Since, she/he will be independently handling the self-directed learning, it is important that they have deep understanding of the subject and the topics preceding the learning topic. This will help the learner grasp the new information confidently.
  4. Evaluate the learning program and success – At the end of the learning program, the learner should be able to assess if he/she achieved the learning goals. The learner should be able to reflect on the learning outcome and should be able to decide if the learning program was successful. They should also be able to provide feedback on learning material and design and structure of the learning module.

What are the best practices for Self-directed Learning?

If you have decided to implement self-directed learning in your or your learners’ learning schedule, you need to take care of the following points to get the maximum benefits out of this learning style:

  1. Be Responsible – You should be responsible for your learning goals. You should be able to recognize your learning goals, amount of time to be spent on learning, and resources to use. You should also be able to self-evaluate your learning success.
  2. Be Disciplined – Since there will be no instructor or program manager to take you through the learning process or to check upon you, it is important that you are disciplined to follow a learning schedule every day for specific time.
  3. Be Motivated – In a instructor-based or classroom learning, the motivation to learn comes from peer pressure. You are motivated to learn better so that you score high or respond better in a class. However, in self-directed learning, it is very difficult to keep the motivation level high as you are not competing with anyone in that moment but yourself. Your learning goal and the subsequent success should motivate you to continue learning.
  4. Set SMART Goals – For your learning to be successful, you should set your learning goals which are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and time-bound. It is suggested that you break your learning target into smaller and specific learning targets. You should be able to measure the success of your learning in terms of a test score, success in the task performed, etc.
  5. Participate in the Learning – As you are sitting alone and taking your learning through an audio, video, book, or the environment, it is important that you participate actively in your learning process. This will help you to remain engaged and you will not lose interest in the learning. You can participate actively by asking questions, taking notes for further exploration, or by writing your own version of the subject.

Benefits of Self-Directed Learning

With self-directed learning, the learners:

  1. Become self-motivated and responsible
  2. Can choose what they want to study and how. They can also choose the learning environment conducive to them.
  3. Get the opportunity to use and expand their thinking skills, research skills, and self-management skills
  4. Learn to take constructive feedback and they are able to assess themselves positively. They work on their feedback and continue with their learning process.
  5. Learn to use different media like internet, library, TV, etc. and become independent in choosing the learning method best-suited for them.

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