Why the best learning and development is self-directed

Sarah Cordiner


written on May 17, 2017

The most effective training programs have a self-directed element. But a lot of training programs go too far and leave learners feeling unsupported and neglected. Here’s how to strike the balance.

One of the fundamental principles of successful adult education programs is ensuring that learners are given a sense of control and decision-making over their own learning and development.

With the recent boom of online learning and technology making it simple to access any information and training that we desire, self-directed and ‘DIY’ education has become a huge part of mid-career learning and a growing preference for the modern learner.

If you include these 10 elements into your online courses, you will make sure employees feel empowered in their training.

1. Know what ‘need’ you are meeting

Self-directed learning is active learning. Adult learners consciously select and engage with content that they find useful and have an immediate need for. Iif they don’t see that clearly, they will reject it. Courses will be more interesting and desirable if learners understand how it applies to their own needs.

2. Reinforce the results your course produces

You need to direct your market research towards the precise results your employees are looking for. You can then use this research to paint a compelling picture of what their life will look like once they complete the course. Courses that highlight results also optimise the amount of information learners will retain.

3. Give Them Control

Whereas children feel safer when they are taught didactically (told what to do), adults respond when they feel they have more control over the learning experience. Malcolm Knowles, the “godfather” of adult education theory, describes self-directed learning as “a process in which individuals take initiative without the help of others”.

To this end, course designers need to incorporate training elements that allow the instructor (if there is one) to take a step back and give students the reins where appropriate.

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4. Enable flexible learning

Adult learners want to be responsible for planning, initiating and even the conducting of the learning project itself. Therefore, ensure that training courses have a self-enrolment function so that they can start and log in whenever they want, and pace themselves in a way that suits their lifestyle.

5. Ensure They Can Monitor Their Progress

The great thing about most training and development courses is that there is no exam requirement where students pass or fail. Instead, success is measured in ways that allow employees to understand how far they have come – and how close they are to reaching their personal goal.

In the DIY adult education world, employees see themselves as being on an independent journey that should not be compared to the progress of fellow students. The course should include a way for learners to assess and reassess themselves throughout.

I use a method called ipsative assessment for this, which entails assessing a person’s progress, increases their motivation and evaluation of its value.

6. Allow Them to Work in Their Preferred Learning ‘Zone’

Some people prefer to write on paper with coloured pens and sticky notes. Some prefer digital work. Some like to watch videos, while others prefer PowerPoint slides that they can write notes on. Some like to listen to audio on the way to work, and others like to discuss their work in social media groups or face-to-face.

Design your training to allow self-directed learners to choose their learning style. Offer flexible learning methodologies so that although the same principles, skills or knowledge are being taught to your learners, they can encode and practice in their own learning preferences or processing styles.

This article is condensed from Cordiner’s book The Theory and Principles of Creating Effective Training Courses, I discuss the implementation of these principles in much more detail.

Photo by Henry McIntosh, sourced from upsplash.com.

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