Benefits of Self-directed Learning

In recent years self-directed learning has moved from the periphery to the mainstream of management and business development. Most development programmes now include some self-directed learning elements in their overall design and delivery.

The attraction for organizations is that this form of learning:

  • complements and reinforces other, more formal development activities, increasing retention and reducing the fall-off of learning
  • can be carried out continuously, as an integral part of day-to-day working activity
  • places greater responsibility on the individual to empower themselves and take the initiative in planning their own personal development.

When used, for example for Induction, capitalizes on the energy and enthusiasm of the New Entrant.

The attraction for individual learners is that self-directed learning:

  • gives them greater freedom of choice
  • is flexible
  • is, by definition, specifically tailored to what they need.

Supporting Self-directed Learning

The role which trainers play in support self-directed learning is very different from other aspects and responsibilities of the training function. In our work with client organizations we are increasingly involved in helping trainers to manage this transition from trainer-led to learner-led development, and to acquire the different training skills which this new responsibility requires of them.

Key responsibilities which we have identified for trainers in this context include:

  • enabling individuals to make informed choices about their development
  • providing support on an individual level, in response to specific requests for help
  • providing a range of readily available materials and resources from which individuals can choose those best suited to their individual development needs
  • coaching, guiding and assisting individuals in using learning resources and materials to their best effect.

For learners who are new to the discipline of self-directed learning, some initial training in how to manage their development is often required. Our experiences of inducting individuals into self-directed learning methods have revealed the following as key themes which need to be included in their preparatory training:

  • the learning skills involved in planning what, when and how to learn
  • the responsibilities of the individual learner in managing their own development
  • recognizing and using opportunities for learning and development in ordinary day-to-day work
  • linking self-directed learning to job development and/or long term career development
  • choosing and using materials and support resources appropriately and effectively.

Integrating Self-directed Learning with Other Development Methods

It is possible to design most development programmes to include some elements of self-directed learning as part of their overall delivery mechanism. Effectiveness of training delivered through more traditional, formal methods such as group-based events can be greatly enhanced when supported by continuous, ongoing, self-directed learning.

This example describes how we at DBA integrated trainer-led and self-directed learning methods in one organizationís management development programme, to ensure that the initial learning impetus would be carried through and maintained over the long term, by the learners themselves.

Self-directed Learning in Management Development: an Example

Facilitator-assisted identification of personal development priorities against a range of management development topics

Participants choose between self-study and group training options for their development priorities

Participants choose between self-managed development activities and coaching provided by peers/colleagues

Facilitator-assisted groups to share and discuss participants' development

Self-development groups, managed by participants with complementary or similar development needs

Participants were new to the concept of self-directed learning. A key requirement initially therefore was to prepare participants, setting the programme in context, informing them of their responsibilities as self-directed learners, and supporting them in their choices about their personal development. As participants became more familiar with the concept, trainer input was reduced and ultimately removed. Two years on, peer support groups are still functioning independently of the organization's training function - although training support continues to be made available at the request of learners.