Self-directed learning may be defined as “developing goals for learning, controlling the learning task, determining learning methodology, monitoring and evaluating progress towards goals, and determining the value of learning tasks in relation to personal and professional skills and knowledge.”
Self-directed learning is a flexible option for professionals to use in their personal development that is beneficial to both the learner and an organization. The employee takes ownership and responsibility for his learning needs. Sally Ann Davis, of the Northern Illinois University, suggests three methods to prepare a self-directed learner.
A learning contract is a way to balance employee initiative with company expectations. Oftentimes, employees don’t have any say so in what training they receive or what the company wants them to learn.
The first step in setting up a learning contract is to develop a list of key competencies that an employee must know in order to perform a job effectively. A new employee, with the help of a manager or experienced peer, may examine the list and decide what areas of knowledge or skill he wants to develop in order to develop professionally.
With the key competencies listed in writing within the learning contract, a professional has tangible guidelines to direct his development and the organization has defined expectations to use to track his progress and to measure his success during the evaluation process.
According to Davis, as an employee develops within a profession, he can watch and track the evolution of his knowledge and even the perception of his role within a company or career. As he encounters new or different situations, he can record these for reflection or to use as guidance in future situations.
Ongoing conversation and interaction amongst peers within a profession can be invaluable in the personal development of the participants. Some graduate schools have recognized the importance of study groups by encouraging students to use them as a means to encourage discussion and explore new ideas or to help answer questions.
Professional study groups can be beneficial to employees as they begin new careers, especially when they are grouped with others who are interested in self-development and gaining a broader perspective. Organizations can facilitate these study groups by having available resources, such as subject matter experts or recommended online sources, when additional information is needed.
Self-directed learning is a way for professionals to take control of their personal and career development. Although there is little research advocating the use of learning contracts, journaling, and study groups together as a means to develop oneself professionally, there should be measurable benefits of the combination of these individually proven methods .
According to Davis, “The professional who is self-directed in meeting his or her learning needs will have greater access to new skills and information than the person who relies solely on others to identify, schedule and provide skills training” (P. 5).