What Is Self-Directed Learning?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Most self-directed learning is developed and controlled by the learner, not a third party like an institution or instructor. Adults are frequent users of this approach to education, although it can also be used by children. The degree of success can depend on the level of motivation as well as the tools provided for the learner. People who take the initiative still need support to accomplish goals, and may utilize a variety of resources through a library or similar facility in a self-directed learning project.

This process starts with the identification of a learning goal. Someone might want to learn how to knit, for example. After setting a goal, the leaner can develop a curriculum to accomplish this, using a variety of tools and options to create clear personal guidelines. This might include using videos, texts, and tutoring to acquire a skill or learn more about a subject. Learners set their own schedules and determine the level of depth involved in their learning experience.

Those interested in self-directed learning may be able to find a number of different resources useful. Some examples can include textbooks, curricula from directed courses, and organizations dedicated to particular topics of interest. Learners who want more structure can request material for courses to follow at their own pace online or through correspondence in the mail. They use the course materials to learn, but still direct themselves throughout the learning experience and remain primarily accountable to themselves as they learn.


Outcomes can be measured by learners themselves as well as external measures. Knitters can develop concrete goals like completing a scarf or sweater to demonstrate competency. People researching subjects to prepare for professional certification could use the outcome of examinations to determine if they are competent and ready to work in the field. For subjects like history, where easy assessment measures may not be possible, interactions with people who have experience in the field can help learners determine whether they’re meeting self-directed learning goals.

Children interested in various topics can also engage in self-directed learning. Active requests for information and assistance with learning tasks can be an indicator of academic interest and engagement. If children do not exhibit interest in learning more or enriching themselves outside the classroom with hobbies and activities, these can be signs that something is wrong. A student with a difficult home life, for example, might experience depression that makes it difficult to initiate and complete tasks independently.


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