Students who practice self-directed learning take the initiative in their own education, honing the skills needed to plan and evaluate their own learning experiences. Doing so requires the ability to set clear goals, identify the learning strategies that work best for them, and remain motivated, self-confident, and self-controlled.
It’s a skill set that becomes even more important as students increasingly use online courses to further their educational goals. Educators increasingly strive to help students gain the ability to take more ownership of their education, including the development of self-directed learning and study habits.
Doing so can significantly impact their lives. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that “students with higher academic success were found to have significantly higher self-directed learning skills.”
What Is Self-Directed Learning?
The study defined self-directed learning as a type of learning where “responsibility to learn shifts from an external source (teacher, etc.) to the individual. Control and active involvement of the learner in the learning process are crucial in this process.” In short, self-directed learning requires a learner to take charge of their own learning process.
It’s something most adult learners practice. They stay motivated to learn on their own. Years of experience have shown them what learning strategies work best for them. Instilling those habits in younger students is the goal of many teachers today.
Self-directed learners possess certain characteristics that benefit them.
- Set clear goals for themselves
- Shape the learning process in line with their goals and plans
- Monitor their own learning process.
- Evaluate outcomes of their own learning.
- They also are autonomous, self-motivated, open to learning, curious, value learning, and practice self-control
Writing in Edutopia, global education specialist Lisa Petro noted that self-directed learning has been around since “the beginnings of cognitive development.” She wrote that educators who teach students self-directed learning and study skills “create a more meaningful learning experience for students that will last beyond the regurgitation of memorized content.”
Teaching Self-Directed Learning
Given the increased importance of self-directed learning, it’s important for educators to add different self-directed studies and learning in their courses. Here are four different ways to build good study habits and improve self-directed learning.
Assess Readiness to Learn
Some students may feel hesitant to do self-directed study and learn good study habits for a variety of reasons. The first step is to assess the feelings and conceptions they have around study habits, learning environments, and supportive networks to better understand where they need to grow and learn.
Start Setting Learning Goals
There are two aspects of learning goals: the ones set by the educator and the ones set by students themselves. It is critical for students to understand what is needed from them to achieve the benchmarks of the course. But they also should want to learn and achieve benchmarks of their own to stay motivated.
Setting goals should take into account:
- Goals for the course
- Course structures
- Timelines for completion
- Details and course materials
- Details about the grading structure
- Feedback and evaluation
Engage in the Learning Process
Students learning self-directed strategies should start with a few questions about themselves that help them understand their own learning style.
- What are my instructional needs? (books, videos, etc.)
- What educator motivated me to learn and do my best?
- What did they do differently and how can I apply that to my own course work?
Students also have multiple approaches to studying habits. The best strategy is for students to try different ones until they find a rhythm that makes sense for them.
As students go through the process of self-learning, they should do both internal and external evaluations. This includes checking benchmarks to see where they are in relation to where they should be. Students also should ask themselves how they feel about the process and if they have found a rhythm yet. They can also seek feedback from an advisor or educator.
Fresno Pacific Continuing Education for Teachers
Fresno Pacific University offers educators certificate programs that help them better prepare students for online learning and the creation of curriculums that consider aspects of self-directed learning. Both programs involve completing 15-course units. Educators can earn professional development credits while expanding their skill set.
The Online Teaching Certificate focuses on teaching K-12 and community college educators the latest information and research related to online learning, including teaching strategies, digital teaching tools, and online teaching best practices.
The Curriculum Design and Assessment Certificate, designed for public and private schools, focuses on the tools and resources required to design, implement and evaluate an engaging curriculum for all learners. The certificate program also explores who teachers are and why they choose to serve society by working in schools.