Self-directed learning occurs when the learner decides the how, what, when, where and why of their own learning and then takes concrete steps to carry that out. The availability of computer technology and the Internet makes self-directed learning automatic and easy. Self-directing one’s own learning can be formal, including joining an online class such as a webinar. Or it can be as informal as seeking out a mentor, surfing the web to research information on a given topic or consulting and interacting on forums and chat groups.
Who are self-directed learners? Everyone can develop the capacity to be self-directed and take charge of what they learn, when they learn it, how they learn it, and why they are motivated to learn it! Here’s how you can be a self-directed learner:
- Keep an open mind – even if you’re not particularly interested in a subject, find a way to be curious about some aspect of it. For example, I’m not a fan of football, but when I attended a talk-back/meet and greet session with the captain of our local team and learned how he and his wife had overcome a major hurdle with her health, I became interested in the parallels with football as a team sport involving great perseverance and humility, and I wanted to know more!
- Stay curious – seek always to know and to know more.
- Be resourceful – think about where and who to go to for answers.
- Take a proactive approach – plan ahead, make choices and take decisions, always remembering that there are many right ways and approaches to learning material.
- Critically consume information – compare information sources and always verify the credibility of an information source. For example, while a personal blog might be helpful for understanding someone’s journey through a health issue, this doesn’t replace the expert information from a reviewed medical body such as the Mayo Clinic.
- Be confident in your ability to learn and retain new information.
See learning as something you do for yourself as opposed to something that is done to or for you. And know that learning never ends. There is no beginning and no end to learning a subject, only a continuum of comfort around new knowledge that expands from knowing little to knowing more and in more depth. Ultimately, we self-direct our learning when we feel passionate about a given topic, approaching that topic with great enthusiasm and motivation. Self-directed learning is like engaging with a buffet of delicious food—we scope out the choices, taste some of everything, then return for the favorites and eat with gusto and appreciation!