Many corporate employees prefer self-directed learning, which is a celebrated professional development method. L&D specialists usually create learning paths for each role, but they also curate many valuable resources to be accessed by people at their own will.

However, we can’t help but wonder: is having a closely monitored content library enough for efficient self-directed education?

The answer is no. Several factors need to be considered besides the learning materials.

Organizations need to build an entire support infrastructure for employees who engage in self-directed learning. A Formula One driver is alone in the car but has to rely on a crew for information and assistance. Corporate self-learners need their own crew as well. Here’s what for:

Setting learning objectives

Since we are talking about self-direction in the workplace, it’s paramount that people know exactly what they need to know and what skills they need to master to be more successful.

Once the destination is clear, L&D has to further assist by providing information about the scope of certain skills and the nuances of competencies necessary to succeed in a specific role.

Furthermore, while individuals can choose the materials relevant to them and the preferred modes of presentation, self-assessment (especially on a new skill) is difficult. So, L&D specialists need to step in and evaluate, advise and coach employees. This way, they can be sure they have genuinely reached their learning goals and can move forward to new ones.


Read more: How to create highly personalized learning paths for your employees


Mapping milestones

L&D specialists are skilled at designing learning roadmaps for various roles in the organization. Traditionally, road maps were doubled by recommended courses, workshops, or seminars. In the context of self-learning, the materials are chosen by the learner, yet some checkpoints along the way are still needed.

It’s also in the best interest of all involved to know what resources will be used for each of these milestones. The most obvious one is time. Team leaders have to allow their team members to use some of the work hours for learning. Self-direction does by no means imply that people should learn in their own time. Leaders have to ensure that learning goals will not be put on the back burner to leave room for day-to-day operations.

Supporting the learning journey

Apart from the allotted time, other essential aspects should be taken into account for a successful self-directed learning journey. Team leaders have to openly show their support for employee development by creating and maintaining a positive environment for learning. This includes psychological safety, offering coaching and feedback, and ongoing encouragement.

L&D has a major role in ensuring that both managers and employees understand the most effective learning strategies, the recent findings in the field of adult education, and the constantly evolving technology that enhances the learning process.


Read more: Adult learning theories for instructional designers: Andragogy


Acknowledging completion

The finish line is always important, even more so with the effort it takes to get there. There’s a good reason why we celebrate the milestones of formal education with graduation ceremonies.

I’ve already talked about the importance of evaluations to ensure that knowledge is correctly acquired and applied. However, L&D specialists are not the only ones responsible for acting as a support crew. Managers need to be constant sounding boards for employee progress, offer positive feedback and coaching when required. They are also in the best place to identify possible obstacles and assist their team members in overcoming them.

Here are some practical tips for L&D specialists to support self-directed learning:

  • Get the managers on board: having the open support of middle and upper management is the first ingredient for any program’s success;
  • Curate carefully and constantly: learners choose the materials, but it helps if have quality options from trustworthy sources;
  • Offer resources on learning how to learn: this includes the latest discoveries in the field of adult learning, traditional learning theories and technological developments that may be helpful for acquiring knowledge;
  • Build platforms for connection and collaboration: most self-directed learning is individual so it’s important to give employees the chance to connect with peers and the opportunity to hear from subject matter experts.

Read more: How to foster a positive online learning community


Closing thoughts

Self-directed learning comes naturally to humans as it functions on a need-to-know basis. For the corporate world, it means more than finding a useful video or a whitepaper on a subject of interest. If self-directed learning is to benefit both employees and the organization, it needs the informational and logistical support of L&D specialists.

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