People learn new things every day. Whether in school or learning from home, learning ultimately comes down to being a choice. Some students who are enrolled in traditional school settings still partake in self-directed learning because they want to. Other people choose to learn in unconventional ways and strictly rely on self-directed learning. There are many benefits that explain why learning at home should be more self-directed and less structured.
We will break down what it means to practice self-directed learning, as well as how the educational landscape is changing to support this type of growth.
What Is Self-Directed Learning?
Self-directed learning, or SDL, is an educational process that gives power to the student to choose how they want to learn. Students receive guidance from a teacher, whether that teacher be in a school setting or online. Teachers may also be tutors or parents who are homeschooling their kids. Once a student is given their educational goal or target, they have freedom to choose how they achieve it.
So, the overall concept is such that teachers provide guidance and students have the control.
For example, a teacher may provide the goal to strengthen interpersonal communication and to learn about WWII. Then, a student may choose to interview their grandparent and share the interview in a written or recorded format. Or, a student may create a report on WWII and produce their own examples of propaganda.
Since students get to take power over their own learning, they can play on their own strengths, interests, and style of understanding new information.
How Can I Use Self-Directed Learning?
As an educator, you can promote SDL by creating activities that require design thinking. In this way, you direct students to ask questions and dissect challenges themselves. You can provide the resources to help guide students down the path of learning and conquering a new subject.
The iterative practice means that as students continue to build their own knowledge on a subject, you can continue to provide the resources to unlock the next level of information, so to speak. In this way, students are growing at their own pace and remain engaged in the learning with heightened curiosity.
Self-Directed Education Is Natural
Self-directed learning is proven to work because it’s the natural way of learning. When you look at a child playing, you can see how they learn through their experience. When a student feels success in accomplishing a task or understanding a new concept, they want to continue to learn more and more.
Traditional school settings can’t always accommodate for the needs of every individual child. So, it’s natural that some move ahead quickly and others fall behind. However, the danger is that when a child is forced to be compared to others around them, they may lose the love of learning and fear failure.
Instead, with self-directed learning, students get to move at their own pace and pick up knowledge based on what activities spark their interest.
Self-Directed Learning Has Growing Support
More families and students are seeking opportunities for self-directed learning. One of the biggest enablers that has made self-directed learning possible on a broad scale is technology. With access to the internet, anyone can learn anything.
In fact, many students are opting for attending online colleges as opposed to traditional campuses so that they can learn on their own schedule. At the University of the People, all classes and course material are online, so students have the freedom to study at their own pace and practice self-directed learning.
With digital and self-directed learning, students can decide what they want to learn and how they do it. They can communicate with beginners and experts and work with others who share their interests or on their own accord.
Benefits of SDL
There are a wide range of benefits that come along with self-directed learning. For instance:
- Natural Development: In school and in life, people are required to make their own decisions. With SDL, students hone the skill of evaluating situations and trusting themselves to choose the right path.
- No Negative Systematic Reinforcement: In some cases, schools can really tarnish a student’s psyche for life. There have been instances where teachers have verbally abused students or kids who learn differently are made fun of by their peers. With self-directed learning, there’s no winners or losers.
- Supports Interests: School curriculums are systematically structured and designed. In this case, some students have to read about things they are not interested in or make projects that are unrelated to things they care about. With SDL, students can explore a wider range of interests while learning a particular topic.
- Reinforces Collaboration: Students can collaborate with peers or family members in their learning process. They can work together instead of within a system of hierarchy. This type of learning also resembles the way teams work together in the workplace.
The SDL Process
Although self-directed learning has its fair share of freedom, there are important criteria to ensure that students are on the path to excel and grow. As a teacher or parent (especially those homeschooling), you can support SDL by:
1. Assessing Readiness To Learn
Provide an assessment for students to evaluate their current situation and methods of learning. This can be done through a series of questions. Some signs that show a student is ready for SDL include: strong organization and communication skills, the ability to be self-disciplined, and an openness to constructive feedback
2. Setting Learning Goals
An instructor and student taking part in SDL should set goals and communicate with one another. The goals not only will outline what the unit of study will be, but it will also describe the learning policy, grading procedures, and how feedback will be provided.
3. Engaging In Learning
Students should be prepared to engage with new topics on a deep level, surface level, and strategically. The deep level involves their personality and willingness to go above and beyond to learn new concepts. The surface level is to have an understanding on what learning goals are. The strategic level is how they will accomplish the goals and how much time they should spend on tasks.
4. Evaluating Learning
To be sure that SDL is on the path to success, instructors and students should have regular check-ins and also set time aside for reflection. Instructors can give useful feedback and students can assess how well they know material by applying their knowledge or sharing it with others.
A Different Approach To Learning
The goals of self-directed learning mirror that of a traditional school setting in that it is focused on a student’s growth, understanding and interest in new material. For students who take part in self-directed learning, it opens the door to learn in a genuine and personalized way.