7 ways to make self-directed learning stick

By Amelia Fuell September 26, 2017

Cartoon image of learner training her brain, caption: step by step I trained my brain not to wander offLearning has never been more accessible. For virtually any skill – whether it’s learning a language, coding, business management or yoga – learners motivated by their own personal needs and goals will be able to find an online platform or application that has been created to help them. Self-directed learning is becoming more popular too: for example, 58 million people have registered for a massive open online course (MOOC)s since 2011, with nearly half of those signing up in 2016 alone.

But while technology has widened opportunities for skills development, information overload is a growing challenge. There are some 80,000 different education apps on the App Store alone. Furthermore, attrition rates are high: over 90% of people who start a MOOC will never finish it. In the age of distraction, many of us are guilty of downloading an app on our phones with good intentions, but then failing to use it long term.

If you are keen to start learning new skills online, then it can be hard to pick the right course and even harder to stick at it. So how can you create successful habits that will help you learn effectively and achieve your goals? Here are a few essential tips …

  1. Don’t try too much at once. It’s better to pick one or two skills and focus on those, rather than try to juggle learning Tai Chi, digital marketing best practices, Cantonese and C++ all at the same time.

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  1. Pick your platform carefully. Talk to friends, read online reviews, get a feel for the interface – don’t just follow an advert that’s caught your eye. Paid content is usually better than free, but only invest in courses that look reputable and are reasonably priced, and ‘try before you buy’ using free trials. Courses with more interactive content, gamification and bitesize chunks have better completion rates. Sometimes organisations invest in learning platforms that their employees can use purely for self-development, so check to see if this is something your employer offers. Ultimately different platforms will suit different learning styles, so experiment with a few before settling on one. The biggest MOOCs are EdX, Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn – however there are many other good learning platforms out there.
  2. Choose topics that interest you. If you’re studying independently, select topics that engage you professionally or personally; you’ll be far more motivated than if you try to learn topics you feel obliged to study. But that doesn’t mean you have to play safe: self-directed learning is a great way to try out creative or unusual skills with no consequence of failure.
  3. Set goals. Why are you doing this? Ask yourself what you want to achieve, then keep this end goal in mind while you learn. Perhaps you’re learning Spanish for a holiday, or studying project management so you can apply for new jobs next year. If your motivation is just completing the course, focus on the small steps you need to take to get that certificate. Tell people what you are working towards; whether that’s your manager, colleagues or friends, you’ll want to prove to them you can achieve your goal.
  4. Build a routine: Aim to do little and often – building in a couple of hours at a specific time every week will encourage you to stick at the habit. If you try and do too much, you risk getting overloaded and abandoning the project.
  5. Find a good workspace. Show commitment to learning your new skill by setting yourself up with a good workspace; comfortable, with fast internet, and away from distractions.
  6. Be social. Learn with friends – you can set group goals and compare your progress as you work through the course. Many apps or courses have a built in social component where you can interact online with fellow learners – make the most of these features to share tips and keep yourself engaged. It’s been shown that learners who interact with others are more likely to succeed.

Are you a Learning and Development professional looking to support and nurture self-directed learners? Talk to us about me:time, our fresh new creation designed to help create a culture of self-directed learning in your organisation. Contact us on metime@lumesse.com or check the me:time website for more information.

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