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How to Promote Self-Directed Learning in Your Company


Lifelong learning is now more important than ever. Technology has brought about many changes in the world of work, and those who don’t adapt will be left behind. This creates a problem for many business owners. 

Research from the ManpowerGroup shows that 45% of employers across the world find it difficult to fill vacancies. There are numerous reasons for this.

Many jobs which drew lots of workers in the past are no longer in demand due to technological advancements. Think of bank tellers or typists. At the same time, new jobs are emerging directly as a result of technology. Think of social media analysts and artificial intelligence software developers. Even jobs which fall somewhere between these extremes are being significantly impacted by technology. Teachers, for example, are expected to keep up with digital developments and incorporate them in their lessons.

This means workers need to learn new skills quickly. It so happens that technology makes this easy since a lot of learning can now be done online. The burden of training is no longer placed solely on a company’s learning and development team. While they have a role to play, employees know how to engage in self-directed learning (SDL). Online course creators also need to ensure their content offers value and is tailored toward adult learners if they want to make an impact.



What is SDL and How to Encourage Workers to Pursue It

Most adults recognize the need to continue their education, but they may be used to the traditional compliance-based learning imposed by companies. Self-directed learning takes a different form, and some workers are still reluctant get onboard. 

SDL begins with awareness of your own educational deficiencies. You must know what you want to achieve, what you need to learn to reach that goal and how you can go about learning it. You must also know when you have gained the knowledge you need. All this requires discernment and motivation. Our role as L&D professionals is to provide the necessary support and mentorship during the process

Self-directed learning is much more than just an approach to education. Instead, it’s a new way of life. - Novoed


There are some key things employers and L&D leaders can do to get workers more interested in pursuing independent learning. They include urging them to set goals for themselves, supporting them and providing opportunities for learning. eLearning course creators also need to ensure their material is presented in a format that is appropriate for self-directed learning.

Also read: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Self-Directed Learning at the Workplace

We’ll discuss each of these in detail:

self-directed-learning

1) Urging Employees to Set Goals for Themselves

Goal setting helps learners identify what they should learn and how they should go about getting the knowledge.

Some workers will know exactly what they want out of their careers but not all will be sure about what they want to do. Some may also be resistant to the idea of not having an instructor guide them every step of the way during a course. As a learning and development professional, you may need to spend some time educating those in the latter category about how to set goals and pursue the relevant training. You may also need to stress the importance of lifelong learning in today’s environment. This article from The eLearning Coach is an excellent resource for hesitant learners or those with misconceptions about SDL.

You must ensure that learners set realistic goals that benefit them as individuals and as part of your team. Provide them with resources which can help them to choose conferences, workshops, and seminars which would be beneficial to their careers. Offer guidance but allow them to choose on their own.

You should also give clear directions and establish proper learning objectives. Learners who enroll in self-directed courses for the first time will not know what to expect or how to work through the course on their own. They will benefit from advice on how much time they should spend on readings, assignments, and quizzes. If they know how online courses work, they will be a lot less worried about the experience. Learners also benefit from knowing how the course relates to their career trajectory. This means they can assess what they’re learning and relate it to their goals.

2) Providing Opportunities During the Work Day for Employees to Learn

Self-directed learning places the onus on employees but you should still create a supportive environment.

Learning benefits not just the individual, but their department and the entire organization. You should, therefore, set aside some time for learning on a regular basis.

Udemy’s Head of Learning and Development Shelley Osborne said out of 425 employees surveyed in 2017, more than half believed that they would learn more if they had more time to learn at work. Corporate L&D managers shared similar sentiments. Osborne suggests putting learning on the calendar each month and scheduling it at the most popular time. She also recommends letting employees choose what they want to learn. You can ask them to consider their goals when they do this.

You don’t want learning to seem like a chore or obligation. Remind employees that increasing their knowledge is good for both personal and professional development. Explain that workers who stay on the cutting edge are more likely to retain their jobs and be considered for promotion and leadership roles. Allow your employees to have fun as they learn and to explore their creativity. Also, remind them that failure if part of the learning process and everything won’t go as planned.

Recommended reads:

How Self-Directed Learning Can Improve Your Workplace

Employers need ‘self-directed learners’ who are continuously upskilling

3) For Course Creators: Give Learners the Tools They Need to Succeed

Course creators can make their eLearning courses more attractive by detailing how their material can help learners reach their goals. And if the course isn’t mandatory they really have to set themselves apart! 

Course creators can also support self-directed learners by giving them more flexibility. They can try:

  • Allowing learners to choose their own projects

  • Planning eLearning modules in such a way that learners can choose where they want to start

  • Giving learners multiple opportunities to complete tasks

  • Permitting learners to set their own deadlines for projects

This may seem like a lot of freedom but employees who see the value of learning will be eager to work through the exercises. Adult learners don’t typically want to be spoon-fed by instructors so they will enjoy being able to study when it’s most convenient for them.

It is also important to track user behavior and take feedback into consideration. Instructors take note of which lessons are most sought after and which ones many learners skip. They should also look at the time of day which is the most popular and the types of materials which get the most engagement. They can use this information to inform future versions of the course.



Workers are increasingly being expected to play an active role in their education. They need to identify their career goals and find learning opportunities which will help them to reach those goals. Both learning and development professionals and course creators must ensure they offer support when necessary while encouraging independence. This will help to ensure employees are equipped to handle the modern world.

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