Apr 20, 2018

How to Help Students Be Self-Directed Learners

by Digital Marketing Institute

The way people learn is changing.

Companies now want to hire individuals that are prepared for a digital future. Being skilled is not enough, as employees need to be motivated and agile enough to adapt to a rapidly-changing landscape, regardless of industry. Employers want people with a proactive approach to self-directed learning.

Learning should not simply be about remembering material and regurgitating it. Instead, true learning should be natural, therefore, students will be self-motivated in their quest for more knowledge.

Higher education is an ideal place to nurture a love of learning, where educators can drive self-direction, not only as a study method but as a vital skillset for the future.

Higher Education Students Need to Be More Independent

Studies indicate that graduates aren't prepared for the real world, as 87% feel like they are ready to make their mark in the working world soon after graduating, but only half of hiring managers agree with them.

Key skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership were not as prevalent in graduates, which have caused concerns that this generation is not being adequately prepared.

With the world going digital, workers need to become more disciplined at working independently and better at managing their own time.

Employers seek candidates who are able to:

⦁ Identify major issues.

⦁ Select the right team to work on solving the problem.

⦁ Coordinate tasks and people to make the team effective.

⦁ Execute plans and manage the project.

⦁ Assess performance include an evaluation of their own work.

In order to get ready for the modern workforce, students need to adopt a similar mindset when it comes to self-directed learning.

How to Improve Self-Directed Learning

Higher education institutions are arguably the most important touchpoint for adults in their journey to forging a successful career.

Fostering an ardent attitude to self-directed learning should be one of the top priorities of educators today.To make this possible, there are 4 processes required:

1. Assess Readiness

Assess Readiness

Before any student can achieve their learning goals, it's important to know their current situation. Educators can perform an audit, taking the specific circumstances of the individual into consideration so they can tailor the self-direction process.

Studies on this factor define self-directed learning readiness as “the degree the individual possesses attitudes, abilities, and personality characteristics necessary for SDL.”

In junior education, the long-ingrained practices of bell schedules, hall passes, and punishments have created a culture of compliance. Young people grow up with this as their normal life, which leads to regimental behavior, often the antithesis of self-direction and true, creative learning.

Higher education providers, or students themselves, can carry out a readiness assessment to determine the current status of their abilities. By making an honest assessment, they will be in a better position to make the necessary adjustments.

2. Determine Goals

Without goals, success is much harder to achieve. Research shows that there are three main reasons for students failing to hit their learning goals.

The goals lack rigor - There are too many, or else the metrics, objectives or deadlines are too vague.

Lack of commitment - If there's no link between goals and a positive future, it's difficult to embrace the work required to achieve goals and the long-term rewards that follow.

People don't see goals as a process - Instead of enjoying the journey, many people consider goals to be a fixed outcome. Goals take a long time, often evolving and growing into bigger versions of themselves. The journey to the end is where transformation happens, not simply at the finish line.

Having a roadmap that sets out the activities and actions a student needs to take to achieve their goals is a fantastic motivator. A fundamental aspect of determining learning goals is communication. Instructors and students must develop clear goals, getting a full and focused picture of what needs to be done.

This is most effective when it takes the form of a learning contract, which typically includes:

Specific goals for the study unit

⦁ Activity structure and sequence

⦁ Activity timeline including final completion deadline

⦁ Information on resource materials for the goals

⦁ Grading procedure information

⦁ Feedback and evaluation after completing each goal

⦁ Meeting plan with the instructor

⦁ Policy agreement, detailing what happens in certain situations, such as late assignment submissions.

These learning contracts need to assessed thoroughly, with any questions answered and potential pitfalls addressed ahead of time.

3. Engage in Learning

Engage in Learning

The most effective method of learning varies between different people. Some prefer audio to visual, others choose textbooks over online.

To truly grasp personal needs in self-directed learning, students must be helped to understand themselves. Consider what their needs are in terms of educational instruction and what type of teaching approach helps. When it comes to embedding a successful approach to studying, students should consider the 3 approaches:

⦁ A surface approach is based on reproduction. Students learn just what is needed to complete the units, often relying on memory and regurgitation to get by.

⦁ A strategic approach is centered on organization. Students learn what they need to pass exams, but invest enough time in memorizing material and learning from mistakes so that they can achieve the highest possible grade.

⦁ A deep approach aims to comprehend ideas. It means going beyond the minimum requirements to pass the unit, instead of applying the knowledge to new scenarios and explaining concepts with novel examples This makes this approach perfect for self-directed learning.

Dr. Ellen Galinsky discusses this topic in her book, Mind in the Making, stating that, “it is through learning that we realize our potential.”

Out of the three approaches above, only one truly opens the door to a student's full potential. The others may have been the methods of years gone by, but they are no longer enough in the modern world.

4. Evaluation

To determine which methods have been most effective, students be encouraged to honestly evaluate their efforts. This can help them think about how the methods will transfer to a practical work environment.

As part of the self-evaluation process in self-directed learning, students should:

⦁ Consult regularly with their instructor or advisor.

⦁ Reflect on achievements, asking themselves how much they have learned and whether they have the confidence in explaining the material to others.

⦁ Seek feedback from advisors.

With a lot of online self-directed learning, there is the issue of educators being unable to verify that the person who takes the learning program is the same individual that completes the assessments.

In the digital age, this problem has given rise to solutions such as online proctoring, offering higher education providers the ability to use finger proof I.D. in their learning programs. This market is expected to be worth $10bn by 2026.

Learning initiatives

Self-directed learning is not some modern movement. As early as the first century, the philosopher Plutarch saw the potential for going above and beyond with study.

He proposed that “a learner is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted.”

Here are two initiatives that have been adopted from innovative companies to instigate a culture of self-directed learning in higher education.

Genius Hour

This concept was first made famous by Google. The search engine giant encouraged their employees to spend 20% of their working day on their own passion projects.

As these run from intrinsic motivation, Google hoped that by stirring up curiosity and passion in their employees, they would ultimately gain a more creative and productive workplace.

Schools have introduced their own version of genius hour, allowing students the freedom to design their own learning. This student-centered approach provides students with a say in how they learn, which can then produce improved results in the rest of their school day.

Maker Spaces

GE Maker Space

General Electric (GE) may be one of the titans of industry, but they are not adverse getting involved in popular trends.

Makerspaces are a catalyst for community growth, with designers, inventors, and engineers freely sharing ideas, methods and hacks online, allowing students to draw inspiration and motivation for self-directed learning.

Even if your institution doesn't have the tools at hand, it is possible to create a simple makerspace that suits the subject being studied and nature of the teaching environment, which can bring students together, encouraging creative thinking and innovative efforts to go above and beyond.

By handing just 20% of the classroom time over to the students, there is great potential for educators to nurture self-directed learning practices into becoming a strong skill that all students possess.

Getting out of the way to allow students to make some decisions in what they learn, and how they learn it, may well be one of the most effective ways of getting the most from higher education.

Going forward, it will set graduates up so they are ready to hit the ground running.


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