Self-directed learning (SDL) is not a recent concept. One of the leading experts on adult education, Malcolm Knowles, has researched and published studies on what he called the self-directed andragogy. He defined it as “a process in which individuals take the initiative without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, and evaluating learning outcomes”
He advocated that adults should seek to discover and understand themselves, be aware of their own needs, motivations, capabilities and goals. They should be able to conduct a fairly objective assessment of themselves before setting on a course to better themselves.
Even though all this sounds very 21st century when everybody is going to therapy, taking up all sorts of classes and striving to be mindful at least ten minutes a day, Knowles came up with this theory in the 1950s.
Features of SDL
Corporate learning, on the other hand, started out in a much more conservative manner. Instructor centered classroom learning has been the norm for decades and only with the astounding advances in connective technology did it move onto desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The shift has made SDL not only possible but preferable as it meets all the requirements of the modern organization.
SDL comes with great flexibility as learners enjoy the freedom of structuring their learning.
This also means an increased sense of ownership, responsibility and ultimately empowerment. Employees no longer feel that there is an obligation to participate in training programs but seek them out themselves in order to become more efficient both in their personal and professional lives.
With this in mind, instructional designers ought to focus on providing experiential learning situations that can be easily translated from the screen into real life.
Advantages of SDL in the workplace
According to the cognitive flexibility theory adults learn better when complicated information is explained through multiple perspectives, real-life analogies, and a number of examples. People assimilate knowledge better when they get to analyse and internalize it on their own and using their personal learning style – some may prefer video material, others may choose academic articles or podcasts of experts in the field.
While promoting a learning culture, organizations should give their employees access to various resources and allow them to grow at their own pace. The relevance of learning becomes greater as people choose to learn something when they feel it is of use to them, thus being truly engaged in the process.
When designing instructor-led training, the challenge was always that of conveying the “what’s in it for me” to the participants. With SDL there is no longer need for this.
SDL is the perfect fit for the fast-paced business world
This may seem as a contradictory statement, considering that SDL advocates learning at one’s pace and convenience. However, this approach to learning ensures that employees will stay up to date with all the rapid changes in markets, products and internal procedures all the while brushing up on their skills and improving the competencies required for them to be at the top of their game.
When learners get to choose what and how they learn, they get truly engaged with the program and the content. As a result, they will be naturally interested in any updates, new information, case studies or examples that are added.
E-learning has the great advantage of offering the possibility of constant additions and improvements – classroom training lacks those options that are so important in the economy of today’s business world.
Furthermore, today’s LMS solutions are able to take into account user history and notify them only when there is something relevant of interest to them.
Implementing SDL as a common corporate practice
Even though SDL had an obvious individual and very personal component, organizations can easily incorporate it as a general practice for corporate learning. This means investing in the right technologies so that employees can easily connect and find what they need.
Furthermore, broadcasting webinars and podcasts on various topics of interest and linking them to resources databases will ensure people feel encouraged to broaden their horizons.
Needless to say that a state of the art LMS is central to achieving and maintaining a true learning culture. Good learning platforms allow L&D professionals to upload and host various types of learning content, update information easily, and enable learners to manage their educational endeavors more efficiently.
All in all
The key to a successful business is hiring and growing the right people. Investing in the right technology and promoting SDL as an organizational value can only lead to positive results.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.