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The Essential Elements of Self-directed Learning

The Essential Elements of Self-directed Learning

20 January, 2016

Self-directed Learning or known as SDL has 5 essential elements. The five elements outline the underlying structure of SDL activities and programs. They also describe the difficulties of SDL for the teacher as well as for the student. Many programs allow self-direction, too few teach students how to be self-directed.

The elements are as follows:

  1. Student control over as much of the learning experience as possible. The major shift from TDL (Teacher-directed Learning) to SDL is a change in the locus of control from the teacher to the student. For the student, this signifies a shift from outer control to inner control. Such a modification reflects the major change underway in the lives of adolescents as they begin to establish themselves as individuals separate from their childhood dependencies. During these years, they begin to mold their own opinions and ideas, to make their own decisions, choose their own activities, take more responsibility for themselves and begin to work. Charging students with the task of developing their own learning, turns them to their own resources, which develops their emerging individuality and helps them to rehearse more adult roles. As they become more self-directing, they not only learn effectively but become more themselves.
  2. Skill development. Inner control is aimless unless students learn to focus and apply their talents and energies passionately. For this reason, the stress in SDL is on the development of skills and processes that lead to productive activity. Students learn to achieve course outcomes, to think independently and to plan and execute their own activities. These processes, and the skills involved in them, come together in student proposals for study and action. They prepare and then negotiate them with their teachers, often in the form of written agreements, which become records of the contracts that they agreed. The intent is to give a structure that lets students to identify their interests and equips them to realize them successfully.
  3. Students learning to challenge themselves to their best possible performance. Self-direction is dormant without challenge. First of all, teachers challenge students and then they challenge them to challenge themselves. Challenge includes reaching for a new level of performance in a familiar field or launching an adventure into a new field of interest. It means setting the standard of achievement a step higher than one can readily attain. Challenging oneself means taking the risk to go beyond the easy and familiar. For those willing, it means reaching regularly for performances that demand from them the very best they have to offer. The challenge is to go out far and in deep: it is the challenge of the hero’s journey.
  4. Student self-management, management of themselves and of their learning enterprises. In SDL, choices and freedoms are matched by self-control and responsibilities. Students learn to express self-control by searching for, and making a commitment to, core personal interests and aspirations. In this process, they determine not only what they will do but the kind of performer they will become. SDL requires confidence, courage and determination to energize the effort involved. Students enhance these attributes as they become skilled in managing their own time, effort and the resources they need to do their work. Even well-organized efforts run aground. In the face of obstacles, students learn to face their challenges, find alternatives and solve their problems in order to maintain effective productivity. The combination of inner resources and performative skill neded for self-management in SDL is the same process students will require for the successful management of growth and productivity throughout their lives.
  5. Students motivate and assess their own efforts. Many principles of motivation are built into the design of SDL, such as the pursuit of one’s own high-interest goals. When students adopt these principles they become the major elements of self-motivation. By setting important goals for themselves, arranging for feedback on their work and attaining success, for example, they learn to inspire their own efforts. Similarly, students learn to evaluate their own progress. They plan the method by which their work will be assessed and usually negotiate the terms with the teachers. These terms are often stated in the learning proposals that students present. Since the responsibility for proving that they have achieved their goals lies with students, they gather their proofs and/or products in a portfolio, which becomes the focus of evaluation. Just as self-motivation energizes students to produce the achievements that are evaluated, self-assessment encourages students to pursue the best possible achievement.