Self-directed learning is not a very new trend in education. It is a common road to deep understanding and effectiveness. By being aware of how self-directed learning can occur in the classroom, and utilising it as an integral part of how we learn. We can generate a more meaningful learning environment for students that will last beyond memorised content parroting. Indeed, we live through self-directed education. In this article, you will find information on what is self-directed learning, self-directed learning models and strategies.
Self-directed learning definition
A learning strategy that encourages learners to take responsibility for their learning process (diagnosing learning needs, determining learning objectives, choosing learning strategies, and evaluating learning success and outcomes). A self-directed learner can formulate a strategy and recognise the tools, resources, and strategies needed for his or her own learning. Self-directed learning habits and characteristics contribute to intrinsic motivation, honesty, authority, commitment, perseverance and grit.
What makes self-directed learning effective?
In the latest years, educators have come to focus increasingly on the value of laboratory-based research, hands-on participation, student-led exploration, and the use of “manipulable” in the curriculum. The underlying principle seems to be that students are better at learning when they can control the flow of their experience or when they are “self-directed” in their learning.
Although the advantages of self-directed education are well known, there is limited understanding of the reasons why a sense of control contributes to better knowledge acquisition.
- A few researchers have emphasised the motivational aspect of self-directed learning in the classroom, arguing that such learning is successful as it makes students more eager and motivated to learn.
- Some other researchers have explored how self-directed learning, such as those involved in attention and memory, could affect cognitive processes.
- Cognition research offers several explanations which help to take into account the benefits of self directed learning in the classroom.
A self-directed learner, for example, can maximise his educational experience. He can concentrate on valuable knowledge that he does not already have. The successful aspect of self-directed learning also helps us codify and retain knowledge over time.
Self-directed learning strategies for teachers
1. Open questioning
Planning high-order, open-ended questions lesson plans is a strong tool for engaging students and stimulating their curiosity. It eventually brings them to the road of self-directed learning. Develop questions which compel students to think, analyse and research critically. Including open-ended questions to illustrate various aspects of the lessons, rather than straightforward goals, opens the door to conversations and debates. This approach requires direct input on understanding and awareness of students. This also bolsters critical thought.
2. Implement a hybrid or blended style
This learning method focuses primarily on blending the interest and curriculum of the teacher, with the students’ needs and interests. It is required to create a learning environment that is focused on the students. Engage students in the determination of learning objectives and the formation of lesson plans. This stirs a sense of duty for learning inside them.
3. Use technology efficiently
Technology encircles us all the time, especially in the world of online learning that is now prevalent. Incorporating it as an instructional resource is an important solution to developing a diverse learning environment. Technology broadens the academic horizons and offers students the ability to participate creatively in the learning process. Learning comes to them internally when it stimulates their curiosity. Hence, it promotes constructive learning. The Internet, then, becomes their teacher-substitute. Create assignments which encourage them to utilise technology to find answers. This would prompt them to delve into the subject further. Use interesting videos to make learning more enjoyable.
Self-directed learning strategies for students
1. Make SMART goals
Identifying the ultimate objectives is the first step towards beginning self-directed learning, but it does not stop here. Creating goals for each stage is crucial. It is very easy to lose focus. So, short-term concrete targets can help keep you focused and also improve the learning process. One of the most effective strategies to start self directed education is using the SMART system.
SMART is an abbreviation for:
- Specific: Specify what you want to earn. Do not rest with general goals.
- Measurable: Build targets in a way that you can keep track of your success.
- Attainable: Build achievable expectations. Challenge yourself, but do not make accomplishing them impossible.
- Relevant: Make sure that the goals are important to you and consistent with what you want to accomplish. Build realistic targets that will get you motivated.
- Time-bound: Fix deadlines. Time limits will help you stay focused and unwavering.
2. Choose a method suited to you
Self-directed learning offers flexibility in choosing a learning method which is tailored to individual needs. Hence, analysing the learning process utilised and choosing the methods that correspond with the interests of the learner is essential. Different topics demand different approaches. Hence, you must choose the most appropriate one. It can even be updated along the way.
3. Develop a productive mindset for learning
Building a positive and ‘never give up’ outlook is necessary for self-directed learning. This is often assessed at every curve of the learning process. Learners will have to accept the fact that failure is a component of growth. Having confidence in one’s ability and believing that he or she will achieve the objectives is a prerequisite for a fruitful experience in self-directed learning. Moreover, learners would have to tackle one of the biggest enemies of learning – procrastination. They will have to forward with perseverance and a strong, dedicated mind that remains focused.
4. Use the sandbox approach
Step 1: Create your sandbox
Creating a place where one can explore and build on their abilities is advisable. It will give learners an incentive to work more actively. From the very beginning, share any completed works with friends, teachers, and family. This would help you overcome public fear and at the same time, receive valuable feedback.
Step 2: Do some research
Regular research has to be carried out diligently to master a skill. The sandbox’s limits will broaden as new ideas are tried and perfected. The immediate resources that will help with research are books, online courses, blogs, forums, and so on.
Step 3: Implement and keep practising
Practice progressively as much as you can. Self-directed learning eliminates naïve action, where there is always motivation given to repeat the same items endlessly. Instead, self-directed education encourages the study of concepts and then the application of them in different scenarios. This will also open up cracks in learning and offer an incentive to fill the gaps.
Step 4: Receive feedback
Constructive feedback provides growth opportunities. Having someone who can provide positive input on learning goals, development, and the work being done goes a long way towards making any self-learning project productive. This would also help determine possible gaps in the learning approaches employed. Without a doubt, mentors, instructors or targeted topic experts act as excellent guides.
Repeat this process for every phase of self-directed learning.
Tip: Follow Benjamin Franklin’s five-hour-rule for an enhanced self-directing learning outcome.
Self directed learning models
Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) is one of the most widely used self-directed learning models. This model is based on the work of Hersey and Blanchard, which related to situational leadership in the business setting. It was then incorporated by Gerald Grow to the atmosphere of education as the SSDL model in 1991. There is a significant hierarchical system of SSDL teaching styles.
Its fundamental principle is that teaching is situational: at a specific point of time, the style of teaching must be matched with the ability and motivation of the learner. This is called readiness. Grow suggested four styles for learners and four equivalent styles for instructors. Only if you figure out where they are currently and match them first, you can move trainees to the next level. Problems arise when dependent learners are inconsistent with non-directive teachers, and when self-directed learners are inconsistent with highly authoritative teachers.
Thus, this model has the function of helping you:
- Identify where the current learners are when it comes to self-direction.
- Compare your activities or sessions of education to that level.
- Enable their advancement to the next higher level.
Remember that effective teaching does two things: it matches with the self-directing stage of the student, and it encourages the student to advance towards greater self-direction.
Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) model
- Status of student: Dependent
- Status of teacher: Expert
- Providing rigorous coaching that is immediately followed by feedback.
- Offering an informative lecture.
- Adopting a directive and pedagogical teaching style.
- The teacher can be very controlling.
- The learner’s initiative might get stifled.
- The dependency of the learner on the teacher might increase.
- Status of student: Interested
- Status of teacher: Motivator
- Providing inspiring lectures.
- Offering guided discussions.
- Implementing and teaching goal-setting and learning strategies.
- The teacher might end up being very entertaining and less informative.
- The learner might be left with little skills of learning and/or motivation.
- Status of student: Involved
- Status of teacher: Facilitator
- Facilitating a discussion in which the teacher also takes apart as an equal.
- Providing collaborative and group tasks.
- Adopting a non-directive teaching style.
- The teacher might end up giving acceptance and value to any kind of work.
- The learner might show only a little respect for the teacher and the work.
- Status of student: Self-directed
- Status of teacher: Delegator
- Delegating internships and dissertations.
- Providing individual work or self-directed study.
- Encouraging creativity.
- Offering mentorship.
- The teacher might withdraw too much from the learner and therefore, lose touch.
- Losing touch could cause the teacher to fail in monitoring the progress of the learner.
- The learner might not be able to receive valuable external feedback if the teacher loses touch.
Tip: Use the 80/20 rule for effective prioritisation.
How to get into the groove of self-directed learning?
1. Evaluate learning readiness
For successful independent study, students need different skills and attitudes towards learning. This phase includes students performing a self-assessment of their current circumstances, study patterns, family condition and supportive network at school and home. They must also evaluate any previous experiences with independent learning. Indications of readiness for self-directed learning include being autonomous, organised, and self-disciplined. You must also be able to communicate effectively, accept constructive feedback, and engage in self-assessment and self-reflection.
2. Establish goals for learning
Interaction between a student and the advising instructor regarding learning objectives is critical. The learning contracts are essential to develop a clear understanding of learning goals between students and instructors.
- Goals for a specific study unit
- Structure and action series
- Timeframe for activities to be done
- Description of the materials used for each goal
- Description of the assessment methods
- Feedback and assessment when each objective is complete
- Meeting arrangement with course advisor
- Unit policy agreements, such as a policy on late submissions
Once established, the advising faculty member must assess these contracts and pose concerns about viability (for example, what can go wrong? Is it too much or too little work? Is the timetable and assessment reasonable?).
3. Start engaging in the process of learning
To recognise their requirements as self-directed learners, students must understand themselves as learners. Students may also consider answering questions such as:
- What are my specifications for methods of instruction?
- Who had been my favourite teacher? Why?
- How was what they did different from that of other teachers?
During their program, students must focus on these questions and replace “teacher” with “advising instructor”. Learners should also have an understanding of their study approach.
A few study approaches are mentioned here:
- A deep study approach includes transformation and is suitable for self-driven learning. This approach includes discovering concepts for yourself, applying experience to new scenarios and using new examples to illustrate a concept. Also, learning more than what is required to complete the unit is done.
- A surface approach includes reproduction. This means coping with unit requirements and learning only what is needed to complete a unit in good standing. There is also a tendency to regurgitate examples and explanations present in the readings.
- A strategic approach includes organisation. Obtaining the highest possible grades, learning what is necessary to pass tests, memorising information, and spending time by attempting previous exams happens here.
Earlier academic studies may have facilitated studying with a surface or strategic approach. Such methods will not be enough (or even suitable) for effective independent study. Independent study needs a deep study approach, where students can grasp concepts and apply them to new circumstances. Students have to create their associations and be motivators for themselves.
4 Evaluate learning outcomes
To be effective in self-directed learning, students need to be able to invest in self-reflection and self-evaluation of their learning objectives and progress in a study unit. To help the cycle of self-assessment, they should:
- Consult the advising professor frequently.
- Seek feedback.
- Reflect on their accomplishments, which requires asking: how do I know that I have learned it well?
- Am I flexible in the adaptation of the knowledge and its application?
- Do I have the confidence to explain the material?
- How do I know that I have learnt enough?
- When is the time for self-reflection and when is it time to consult with the advising faculty member?
Self directed learning examples
For a clearer understanding of this topic, refer to the self-directed learning examples provided below:
1. Implementing design thinking
One excellent element that teachers use to encourage the use of learning tools, versus telling students how to learn, is through activities promoting design thinking. They create opportunities for students to write their critical questions about the material discussed in the online classroom. This process is started by asking them, “What do you think you have to know about this information, event, or perspective ?” or “What questions could be asked about this subject to reveal new knowledge and perspectives?”
2. Vetting of information
One great way to explore the origins and effect of the various viewpoints is not only to rely on the information presented. Self-directed learners should build ways to interpret knowledge and understand how ideas and viewpoints can be built on it.
- Creating tasks that help students assess outcomes, taking into consideration the potential results.
- Accepting a range of viewpoints using Mind Mapping or Infographics.
- Comparing and analysing student maps that help the students in identifying differences.
- Using reflective methods such as journaling and conversation helps to discuss the relational consequences and impacts on social circumstances and the common environment.
3. Modelling experiences
Decisions made during important tasks are emulated and piloted. Experiments and theories based on experiential and problem-related learning are encouraged. The following inquiries are considered:
- Will the students discuss their results healthily and responsibly?
- How will students scaffold their own learning experiences as a way to find new ways to communicate and explore them?
- How do we assist students through the learning process and help them handle moments when they ignore others, display prejudice, or become involved in discrimination?
- Do we, as educators, create the room for students to pursue new ideas and identities without making them feel stigmatised, reduced to stereotypes, or considered wrong for their decisions and opinions?
A healthy learning culture is one made up of self-directed learners who make a powerful commitment to encouraging, uplifting and inspiring one another. To establish this degree of inclusion and creativity, all learners (students and teachers alike) have to know how to learn and effectively collaborate by taking responsibility for their contributions.