4 steps to becoming a self-directed learner

Skip to:

What is a self-directed learner and why do you need to be one? Self-directed learning, as defined by foremost adult educator Malcolm Knowles, is the following:

“In its broadest meaning, ‘self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18, as cited from Self Directed Learning.org.)

In short, it is taking charge of your own learning needs. In Canada, this is the key to career growth. With the continually changing demands in the workplace, professional development is necessary to stay on top of your game. And if you are a newcomer, not only will you need to develop your technical skills but your soft-skills as well to meet Canadian standards (watch Dr. Lionel Laroche’s video below to know how important soft skills are in the Canadian workplace).

Why is it important to become a self-directed learner?

The amount of information newcomers need to keep up with – from the language to the intricacies of Canadian culture – can be overwhelming at times. For many of us, the idea of learning involves enrolling in a class and listening to a teacher. While this can be effective, not everyone will have the time nor resources to enroll in classes. This is why it is important to become a self-directed learner. When you develop the drive and the discipline to conduct independent study, online learning, and self-study through books, videos and other tools learning becomes easy and more effective.

Here are 4 easy steps towards taking charge of your own learning journey:

  1. Understand your learning style

    Do you learn better on your own? Or when there is a teacher that tells you what to do? Are you curious, patient, disciplined, good in managing your time? Understanding your study habits and how you take in and process information are essential in developing traits that are ideal for self-directed learning. Look back on your school days and think about the learning strategies that worked for you. You can also take this learning skills assessment tool to find out more about your learning habits. Don’t worry if you don’t exactly fit the profile of a self-directed learner. These skills can be developed with some effort.

  2. Find motivation

    Successful self-directed learners are said to be intrinsically motivated. But for some of us, learning for learning’s sake is not enough. The best way to be motivated in independent study is to start by setting goals or targets. Ask yourself: Will learning a new skill get you a promotion? Will improving your language make you better at your job? If you finish certain course units will it beef up your resume? When we visualize the outcome of our efforts, it pushes us to continue with our plans.

  3. Make a plan

    Writing down goals and listing down the possible paths makes the journey clearer and easier to follow. Make SMART goals to keep you on track. SMART means Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based goals. If you need more help, read Setting English Learning goals the SMART way (this works for any kind of endeavor). Download the goal setting plan sheet from the article to guide you.

  4. Try it

    Many online resources are free. You can probably start by reading articles on topics you are interested in, or try joining a short webinar. If your goal is to improve your English proficiency, you can start with English Online’s self-study resources or multi-week sessions. You can also join our multi-week session Become an Autonomous Language Learner to learn more tips and strategies.

Article updated February 16, 2021.

Back to top

Community Resources

In this TED Talk entitled the Revolution of Self-directed learning, Sean Bengry explains how the ways of professional development has changed:

Also read Brightside’s Top tips for independent learning to help you become an efficient and effective learner.

Read these related articles on 5 ways to make distance learning work for you and 5 reasons why you should try online learning to know more about this growing trend.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Become an Autonomous Language Learner (B-ALL)

2 chat bubbles with maple leaves in them

Course description Abbreviated as B-ALL, Become an Autonomous Language Learner is a five-unit course with English Online Inc. The course… Read more »

iEnglish Activities

Article thumbnail fallback

iEnglish is a set of resources and videos to give learners the tools they need to take more ownership for… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.