11 ways to empower the self-directed learner

By John Helmer November 17, 2016

Graphic ident for research report Me Time: Empowering the Self-Directed Learner Recently our Head of Transformation, Rachel Cook, contributed a piece to this blog about how changes in the pattern of employment are shaking up the employer/employee relationship. One of the most interesting aspects of Rachel’s work for us was how these changes ­– momentous enough to get analysts talking in terms of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – are highlighting the phenomenon of the self-directed learner.

Aware that this is a source of much debate for the learning and development clients we work with, and in many cases a pain point, we wanted to know more.

We reached out to our research partners, Towards Maturity, for help in investigating this phenomenon, and commissioned a report written by Peter Williams, editor of e.learning age entitled Me Time: Empowering the Self-Directed Learner that you can download for free. The findings were fascinating.

Self-directed learning is no flash in the pan ­– it’s more like a full-scale kitchen fire. Learners and organisations alike are changing in fundamental ways that L&D is going to have to respond to, or suffer a drift into eventual irrelevance.

The report makes 11 recommendations for how organisations should adapt to the change towards a more self-motivated, self-directed learner.

  1. Organisations should evaluate the threats and opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution ushering in new technologies and new ways of working.
  2. Organisations should evaluate how much they need to introduce and enable the concept of learnability.
  3. Understand the barriers to successful self-directed learning, finding out whether your organisation and your learners have a fixed or a growth mindset. Don’t be judgemental.
  4. Re-examine how your organisation motivates, develops and retains employees within the context of the impending fourth industrial revolution.
  5. L&D needs to lead a mindset shift within their own organisation, moving away from learning programmes owned by learning professionals to self-directed solutions owned by individual employees.
  6. Self-directed learning experiences should be shaped by design thinking’s central principle of putting the user experience ahead of the process.
  7. Recognise that learners are time-poor and use self-directed learning to help them learn when the need or the opportunity arises.
  8. Organisations should examine the social connections, workplace experience and formal programmes which are in place to support self-directed learning.
  9. Dare to rethink learning programmes to encourage and encompass self-directed learning, be prepared to curate content and help support learners in developing their own networks.
  10. Find out what learners want and how they want it (e.g. short videos, coaching), but bear in mind that it ultimately has to be in line with the organisation’s needs.
  11. Start to believe your colleagues are capable self-directed learners.


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