Empowering Professionals through Self-directed Learning

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Empowering Professionals through Self-directed Learning

Winston Churchill once said

I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”

There's a bit of this in all of us. Learning demands that we change in some way, and generally as humans we prefer the status quo to the uncertainty that change presents. In short, we're all a bit wary of change and it triggers in us what neuroscientists call a 'threat response'. We can reduce this if we feel a bit more in control and if we're in a position to choose ourselves; in other words, be more 'self-directed'. This level of autonomy guards learning from becoming overwhelming, allowing us to benefit from, and perhaps even enjoy, the experience.

The thing is, we're all different, and we learn best in different ways. For some people, having a little background music keeps them alert and helps them focus. For others, this may be an impossible distraction. For certain kinds of learning, something as simple as allowing people to choose their environment can make a massive difference to productivity levels and improve how much the learning 'sticks'.

Malcolm Knowles, the adult learning theorist and educator, defined 'Self-directed learning' as:

A process by which individuals take the initiative, with or 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."*

Knowles wrote that back in 1975, and since then there's been increasing evidence to support the power of giving people control. Organisational learning communities and 'universities' are now widespread in large organisations where personnel can choose what, when and how their study takes place. The big thing about control is that it tends to reduce uncertainty, and worry. For instance, how much are our brains distracted by wondering whether colleagues are dealing with that customer's delivery – the one you didn't quite have time to complete before leaving for the course? For some courses, being out of the office is a real positive that allows focus and a fully immersive experience. For others, self-directed e-learning may be a great solution.

Knowles himself put forward three reasons for self-directed learning:

  1. First he said there was evidence that people who take the initiative in learning learned more and better than people who sit in a classroom waiting to be taught. He not only claimed these people had a greater sense of purpose and motivation, but they were also able to retain more information and put it to better use.
  2. The second thing that Knowles said was that self-directed learning was more in tune with our natural processes of psychological development. He went so far as to claim adults do not need teachers and are better off in charge of their own learning.
  3. He also felt that developing the skills associated with ‘self-directed inquiry’ would be more useful in a world where there is an increasing opportunity to learn from a wide variety of openly available systems. (He was so right – a perfect example is how often we now use the Internet to search for information!)

E-learning is not just convenient in allowing us to learn when and where we choose, avoiding travel and time out of the workplace – it’s proven to be effective. The sense of control that learners experience is sufficient on its own to improve learning outcomes, but also allows individuals and organisations to tailor their environment to suit, to work around deadlines, complete other commitments before starting, and for people to pace learning to match how they learn best.

At MKC Training, we include a high level of interactivity and personalisation in all our courses. We educate rather than train, allowing people to develop and grow as well as gain knowledge. Our e-learning options sit alongside our face-to-face and blended options to provide a comprehensive professional development service that can be customised around today’s organisational needs.

* Self Directed Learning, Malcolm Knowles, 1975

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