What Is Self-Directed Learning and Who Can Benefit From It?

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As the term implies, self-directed learning is an approach to education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences in order to become educated, whether or not those activities were chosen deliberately for the purpose of education. Students learn by integrating past and present experiences based on personal interpretations and subject matter. It is not a new trend in education, but rather a natural pathway to learning that runs back to Aristotle and Socrates times when the cognitive development was born.

In modern education, there are a variety of educational models that incorporate self-directed learning and support the idea that all humans can and should be responsible for their own cognitive development. Self-directed learning can include organized classes or lessons freely chosen by the learner. In this case, the educator’s role is to be a guide, supporting students in exploring the world around them, encouraging them to test hypotheses and formulate questions. However, oftentimes self-directed education does not happen this way. Most self-directed learning comes from everyday life, as people experience things, develop their interests, and learn along the way. They are motivated by their own curiosity, desires and sociability — which develop all sorts of aspirations from which people learn. Different individuals choose different paths along the way, even though they may sometimes overlap with others’, as each person’s interests and goals in life may be shared by others. Self-directed education does not exclude conventional education. However, it can be contrasted to imposed schooling, which is forced upon individuals, regardless of their choice and desire, and is imposed by systems of rewards and punishments, as occurs in conventional schools. There are pros and cons to each of the educational systems. We will focus on the benefits of self-directed learning for young learners:

1. Increase Ownership of Learning Process

Students become active participants in their education, thus they are in charge of their learning process, which gives them control over the path and the pace of their learning. It allows them to spend more time on what they need and want to learn. Students can focus on topics that fascinate them, then cast wide nets and explore topics they know little about.

2. Increase Self-discipline and Perseverance

Since students are in charge of their education, it takes a lot of self-discipline and perseverance to excel. It also requires them to be highly motivated, self-confident and goal-oriented, since part of the self-directed learning process should include setting goals and tracking their own progress.

3. Foster Cognition

To succeed in self-directed learning, you must understand how you learn. This may require confronting our weaknesses as well as our strengths to understand what makes us successful learners. Students should reflect on how well they achieve their learning goals. Through this process, students come to improve awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.

4. Expand the Interests

Since you have control over your studying process, with self-directed learning you can pursue a much wider range of interests than it is possible in a typical pre-defined school curriculum. Even the topics within the usual school curriculum can be explored in greater depth and detail, since it includes a lot of hands-on experiences. Moreover, since you are not limited by school standards or grades, you don’t have to worry much about a passing score, you can retake, renew and improve as much as you want at your own pace.

5. Develop Career Readiness Skills

Some of the important skills that self-directed learning helps to develop are time management, ability to work both autonomously and collaboratively, problem-solving, strategic planning, decision making, attention to detail. These are all skills required in the workplace that can be very helpful in many real-world situations. So, it is always good to start developing them as early as possible.

6. Reinforce Collaboration

Self-directed learning helps to enforce collaboration within and beyond the family.  Parents and children are free to learn, create, discuss, negotiate, design, explore—do what it takes to achieve their goals, values and personal preferences. Some studies prove that as a result of self-directed learning, young adults who decide to direct their education process by themselves, are comfortable in their own skin and deeply sensitive to the needs of others. They are good at working collaboratively and tend to empower others rather than seek power over others. People who take charge of their own lives are more likely to support self-direction in others.

Generally, self-directed learning can be applied by learners of different ages, occupations, backgrounds, in its pure form, or with certain modifications provided some necessary components are adhered to, like access to resources, hands-on practice, etc. No matter what learner’s purpose for undertaking self-directed learning is, it is important to set SMART goals for it to be effective. You can follow a five-hour rule by setting aside an hour every weekday for deliberate learning, use 80/20 rule, engage in active learning, visit the library, or use any other learning technics and methods. Your motivation will move you forward.

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