How self-directed learning can benefit adult learners

Between careers, household responsibilities and child-rearing, many adults rely on flexible types of learning to acquire new knowledge and skills. One of these types of learning, self-directed learning (SDL), appeals to many adult learners who want the ability to choose learning tasks that fit their unique learning needs.

Here’s what practitioners should know about self-directed learning so that they can start incorporating it into their literacy programs.

What is self-directed learning (SDL)?

As mature, responsible individuals, many adult learners want to be responsible for their own learning. Through SDL, an assumption is made that adults know what they need to learn, how to go about it, and can judge whether they have learned it.

Although this revolutionary way of learning taps into a natural human behaviour, it does require clear training, modelling and guided practice to be used effectively.

Characteristics of self-directed learning

SDL offers unique characteristics that are typically not found in traditional classroom-style learning.

The most distinctive feature of SDL is flexibility, as it allows a self-directed learner to design and structure their own unique learning experience. They can choose the who, the what, the where and the how regarding the learning experience. As a result, learners can guide their learning journey along whatever path they choose, with experiential learning and training as key components.

By viewing learning as a tool that will help them progress in their personal and professional lives, self-directed learners naturally become motivated to learn. Students can self-advocate for what they need to learn most effectively, such as requesting a different workspace or using more visual materials.

The proper tools and technology, easy access to content, and an organizational learning culture that encourages SDL are necessary for empowering this type of learner.

Benefits of self-directed learning

The positive effects gained from SDL learning are vast and include:

  • Improved self-confidence, initiative and life satisfaction: Being in charge of their own learning leads to greater determination to reach learning goals and satisfaction when goals are reached.
  • Better employability skills: SDL learners are typically on top of the latest information in their industries and are motivated to learn and develop specialized skills to remain competitive.
  • Increased independence: The responsibility of being in charge of their own learning experience leads self-directed learners to further develop their independent learning skills, which becomes beneficial in all other areas of their lives.
  • Greater happiness and success: In traditional school, learners may have experienced negativity in the form of poor grades. With SDL, this negativity is eliminated, leading learners to become more open and curious. No longer are learners separated by literacy levels; instead, they are encouraged to meet their own unique learning goals without the need to remain competitive with classmates.

With the proper structures and expectations put in place, SDL provides a wonderful way for many adult learners to develop their literacy skills. For complimentary learning resources to integrate into your SDL literacy programs, check out our free online adult literacy courses.