Self-Directed Learning; The Practical Hows & Whys

Fulcrum Labs
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“The best predictor [of burnout], it turns out, is not too much work, too little time, or too little compensation. Rather, it is powerlessness – a lack of control over what one is doing.” – Alfie Kohn, Choices For Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide

Burned out, unengaged workforces pose a serious threat to businesses. In fact, Gallup estimates that unengaged employees cost companies between $480-$600 billion a year in lost productivity.

One way that organizations can avoid workforce burnout is through self-directed learning. Self-directed learning gives learners greater control over how they learn, their pace of learning and even some of what they learn. Through self-directed learning, employees have joint-ownership over their learning experience, resulting in significant psychological and practical benefits. That’s why self-directed learning is a critical component in our definition of a learning culture, and key to fostering the continual learning that’s necessary to maintain relevance in today’s fast-paced world.

What is self-directed learning?

Let’s start by examining what self-directed learning means. According to Malcolm Knowles, famed educator and father of the Humanist Learning Theory:

“In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with our without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

For most organizations, which are operating with fixed budgets, legacy technologies and set learning objectives, this interpretation is far too broad. Allowing employees to pursue whatever they want to learn, whenever they want to learn it and then self-evaluate how well they’ve learned it is not only a learning management nightmare, but also a recipe for increased corporate liability, risk and financial loss.

Narrowing the Scope

But what if there was a way to narrow the scope of Knowles’ definition of self-directed learning, so that employees still get all the benefits of self-directed learning (like greater control, self-determination and intrinsic motivation), but companies also have workforces trained in the specific knowledge domains that are critical to the organization?

It’s a question that many companies are trying to answer, especially with the emergence of content platforms that make on-demand learning easy and accessible. In fact, according to a report by Bersin:

To support the connection between on-demand learning and technology, many organizations are looking for solutions that can support such self-directed learning.

In the adaptive learning world, there are not a lot of solutions that tackle this notion. Fulcrum Labs is in the vanguard in this respect. Our technology offers learners greater choice about how they engage with learning content than any other adaptive provider. With a feature we call multi-modal access, learners can control their learning experience. Learners can choose how they want to access learning content –watching videos, reading text with graphics, jumping straight to practice assessments, or moving through a combination of all three. They can also control how long they want to spend reviewing content.

Scientific Support for Learner Choice

Numerous studies show that putting the learner in the driver’s seat and giving them some control of their learning experience has great benefits. For example, Andragogy, or adult learning theory, shows that adult learners are most likely to stay engaged when they have the power to make decisions about their learning path. Additionally, giving learners greater control over their learning experience not only provides a psychological boost, it also improves learner outcomes. Learners who have more control over their learning:

If your organization is looking for a way to implement self-directed learning within an adaptive framework, we’d love to connect. Or you can read more about how we integrate learner choice into our platform with multi-modal access.