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Self-Directed Learning

Self-Directed Learning

17 January, 2016

Self-directed learning or SDL is not a new concept. Actually, much has been written about it. Unfortunately, however, it is a perception that has a variety of interpretations and applications in the corporate training arena. Typically, limited interpretations include simply giving learners some sort of choice in their learning. For example, letting learners to choose one or more courses from a curriculum, or, in cases of structured on-the-job training, allowing employees to choose what pre-designed modules (e.g., a video tape, workbook, special reading,  and so on) to complete. In terms of e-learning, the fact that learners can identify which modules or scenarios to review is also frequently touted as self-directed learning. The fact that the learner has a choice and makes a decision to select this or that module does not constitute true self-directed learning.

This interpretation is too restricted. Self-directed learning is much more. Using the analogy of taking a trip, the narrow interpretation of SDL is equivalent to choosing where to go, like the destination. The essence of the idea of self-directed learning advocated here, however, is broader, more fundamental. It is about the learner deciding not just where to take a trip but how they will go (both the means of transportation as well as route), when they will leave, how they will get there and how long they will stay.

Essentially, the notion of SDL promoted here reflects Malcolm Knowles definition of SDL:

“In its broadest meaning, ‘self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with our without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

Of primary concern in this definition of self-directed learning is the fact the learner takes the following:

  1. the initiative to pursue a learning experience
  2. the responsibility for completing their learning.

Once the initiative is taken, the learner assumes complete obligation and accountability for defining the learning experience and following it through to its conclusion. This does not preclude input from others, but the final decision is the learner’s. Self-direction does not mean the learner learns alone or in isolation. While, that may be the case in any given learning situation, the critical factor here, again, is the fact that the learner is driving the total learning experience, beginning with recognizing a need to learn.