Self-Directed Learning: Learn At Your Own Pace

Support Lifelong Learning With Tools And Platforms

Learning is an essential part of life. We must constantly learn to navigate our continuously evolving environment successfully. This insight has shaped human societies for thousands of years and developed from tribal storytelling to academies, libraries, schools, and universities. In a world characterized by rapid societal, technological, and economic change, self-directed learning is becoming more important than ever.

Self-Directed Learners Independently Acquire Knowledge And Skills

From an early age, we begin learning within the context of institutions and organizations. It may start with nursery or kindergarten and then continue through primary and secondary school to university. After exiting formal education, many people rely on the training and development opportunities provided by employers. With so much focus on learning within institutions and organizations, one of the most important kinds of learning gets neglected—self-directed informal learning. The world we are entering requires lifelong learners who can independently acquire new knowledge and skills. The good news is that unprecedented connectivity and access to information are making self-directed learning easier than ever.

Lifelong Learners Will Be Most Successful In A Rapidly Changing World

A child starting school in a developed country today can expect to spend over 15 years in education [1]. A century ago, children in most of those countries attended fewer than 5 years of schooling. The expansion of compulsory schooling started with industrialization and the need for a skilled workforce. Economies have continued to transform. Post-industrial economies rely heavily on highly-educated knowledge-workers, who are skilled at thinking and manipulating data. As human lifespans continue to creep slowly upward, people have longer careers. At the same time, people are changing jobs more frequently. If futurists’ visions of a world infused with Artificial Intelligence and automation become a reality, we can expect employment markets to become even more dynamic and competitive. The future we are headed toward is one of constant change in which learning is critical to remain relevant and competitive.

"To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again," Yuval Noah Harari [2].

Due to economic disruption and rapid social change, formal education can’t equip people with all the knowledge and skills they require throughout their lifetime. This explains why policymakers have wholeheartedly embraced the concept of lifelong learning. Although the majority of people in Western countries consider themselves lifelong learners, data indicate that participation in education beyond formal schooling remains low.

We’re Too Reliant On Teachers And Formal Learning Environments

Lifelong learning can be challenging because of the increased responsibility of the learner to independently discover and pursue learning opportunities beyond formal education. Lifelong learning requires individuals to be active learners that have the skills to learn in a self-motivated and self-directed manner. But many people exit formal education without the motivation or ability to pursue independent, self-directed learning. Compulsory schooling has many positive benefits, most importantly, that it has increased literacy and spurred economic growth. It has undoubtedly been a boon to the individuals who have had the opportunity to take advantage of it. There is a strong link between earnings and education levels. But many observers criticize formal education for failing to sufficiently develop curiosity, creativity, and a set of so-called 21st-century skills required in a post-industrial information age [3]. Unfortunately, the incentives to change are low in a standardized system focused on transmitting information and fixated on achievement as measured by performance on standardized tests. This is not to disparage the efforts of dedicated teachers trying to impart knowledge to their students. What schools and universities have done incredibly well is industrialize the process of bringing together students and teachers. But is it possible that we’ve become too reliant on teachers and formal learning environments? It may come at the expense of informal learning, which is a deliberate and self-directed activity aimed at improving knowledge and skills.

Self-Directed Learners Need Tools To Harness The Best Sources Of Knowledge

Digital technologies are transforming learning and education. But online learning still tends to emulate traditional learning in classroom environments, where students are expected to absorb knowledge from a lecture and later pass a test to achieve certification. Such courses often depend on a teacher to structure the information and then present it in an easily digestible format (e.g., slides or a whiteboard accompanied by narration). Such offerings can work well for many people, but they rely heavily on the ability of one person to teach all there is to know about a topic. It’s not the only way to learn. The Internet has provided a wealth of other sources of learning to self-directed learners. Excellent journalism is piling up in the archives of media companies, quickly obscured by the next big event. The leading experts from virtually every field are publishing their insights in open access journals and sharing what they’ve discovered in talks and long-form podcasts. The net is replete with tutorials, how-to guides, question-and-answer forums. Communities are discussing topics and sharing information on platforms that specifically encourage participation. Still, it can be hard for beginners to make use of the vast pool of knowledge in a replicable way.

Self-directed learners need tools and platforms that empower them to make use of this deep knowledge and facilitate learning at their own pace. Finding the best sources of knowledge can still be a challenge. But the world is changing too quickly to depend on others to define our learning journey. We need to take back control and be self-directed lifelong learners.


[1] Global Education

[2] What Kids Need To Learn To Succeed In 2050

[3] Critics Accuse Schools Of Outdated Practices That Stifle Curiosity And Creativity