Self-development as a Training Method

During the 1980s and 1990s, self-development has moved from the periphery of development activity into the mainstream of management and business development. This can be attributed at least in part to advances in information technology, which have made it more possible to deliver training directly to individuals at their workstations. Increasingly, training and development programmes will include some self-development element in their overall design and delivery. Here are just a few thoughts about the role which self-development can play in the overall development 'mix' within your organization.

Why self-development is attractive

The attraction of self-development for organizations is that:

  • it complements and reinforces other, more formal development activities such as courses and workshops
  • it can be carried out continuously, as an integral part of day-to-day working activity
  • it places greater responsibility on the individual to take the initiative in developing themselves
  • it requires less in the way of direct support.

The attraction for those undergoing self-development is that:

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

Uses of self-development

Individuals might use self-development to:

  • meet a professional requirement, i.e., to carry out n hours per year of CPD as required by their professional institute
  • meet a performance requirement, i.e., a development need identified during appraisal, or as part of a formal Personal Development Plan (PDP)
  • support their career development, i.e., as a route to preparing for a change in career direction, promotion to a new position, etc.

In each case self-development is, for the individual concerned, an effective and personally controlled way to achieve what is required.

A common misconception

A common misconception is the belief that, because self-development is personally managed, it needs also to be carried out in isolation from others. This is not necessarily true. Self-development can be:

  • carried out in peer study groups, alongside other learners with similar or complementary development needs
  • undertaken as part of a wider distance learning programme, with remote support from a distance learning tutor
  • included as an integral part of an organization's development plans, requiring individuals to learn alone but supported by a structure in which they can come together as groups, at regular intervals, to share and discuss their learning with others.

The learning skills required

Self-development is learning or development activity in which learners themselves take the primary responsibility for choosing what, when and how to learn. This requires some specific learning skills on the part of the individual:

  • choosing what to learn: ability in identifying and prioritizing personal development needs
  • choosing when to learn: ability to plan learning, set development objectives and schedule the development effort
  • choosing how to learn: ability to choose from a range of development options those which are best suited to the individual, and to their development need.

Some initial training and guidance may be required to help raise learners' awareness and understanding of what self-development requires of them as individuals. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for practicing and acquiring proficiency in these learning skills rests very much with the individual. Individuals undergoing self-development have the freedom to choose what they will learn. This implies that they also have the freedom to choose not to develop particular skills or knowledge. Such freedom carries with it the responsibility for the results of such choices. As part of their initial preparation for self-development, individual learners may need to be made aware that they have a responsibility to ensure that they:

  • invest development effort in areas which contribute directly to their jobs and careers
  • are objective and honest with themselves, about where their development priorities lie
  • exercise self-discipline in ensuring that they allow sufficient time and resources to carry out the development required
  • take responsibility for keeping relevant others (e.g., their line managers and supporting trainers) informed of their development progress
  • take responsibility also for requesting and seeking training support, as and when required.

Self-development methods

The question of choice is paramount in self-development. Self-development methods are any of the methods which learners may choose to use, in achieving identified development goals. A key role for trainers is to ensure that learners are aware of the wide range of both formal and informal opportunities which exist for self-development. Information on opportunities and methods can be included as part of the learner's initial briefing and preparation for self-development. Possible self-development methods include the following:

  • reading
  • shadowing/observation
  • coached assignments delegated by a line manager
  • supervised practice
  • peer coaching, from a peer with relevant skill and experience
  • mentoring
  • informal discussion
  • customer/colleague feedback
  • use of multi-media or other self-study packages
  • one-to-one tutorial
  • collection of learning 'logs', in which the individual reflects on specific experiences and what they have learned from them discussing and sharing learning in study groups.

Supporting self-development

Trainers need to be proactive, both in providing resources and materials, and in seeking opportunities to ''invite' learners to seek guidance and support where appropriate. Trainers must, however, avoid being overly prescriptive, as this may constrain and inhibit the learner. When starting out, there are number of key concerns which learners may have about their self-development. Key questions which learners may ask include:

  • What does 'taking responsibility for my own development' require of me?
  • How will I be able to identify my own development needs?
  • What methods should I be using to plan my self-development?
  • How can I source the learning resources and materials which I might need?
  • How will I find time for self-development alongside other responsibilities and commitments?
  • How will I measure my development progress?
  • How will it benefit me?

Trainers may also need to consider setting up a 'Study Centre' containing books, articles, videos, case-studies and other materials which may be useful to learners. In setting up a facility of this kind, key issues which trainers may need to take into account include:

  • careful cataloguing and cross-referencing of materials against topics
  • development of finding aids, to assist learners in quickly finding what they require
  • provision of adequate working space, so learners can study in comfort and in private
  • provision of appropriate technology and equipment e.g., videos, PCs, headphones, etc.

For more information...

DBA is an experienced designer and developer of self-study materials to be used for self-development. If you would like to know more about how we can help to develop materials which are relevant to your organization's needs, please get in touch and we will be glad to give you further information. You can contact us by post, telephone, fax or by e-mail.

© DBA 1998