Let’s say you want to learn how to properly carve the turkey you’re planning on cooking and serving for your Thanksgiving dinner. Do you…
I’m guessing the answer is C. And why is that? Is it because you don’t care about improving your cooking (Since you’re planning on roasting your own turkey, I’m guessing that’s not the answer)? No, it’s because you need to learn a particular skill, and you want to do it in the most effective yet expedient way possible.
As humans, we are innately wired for self-directed learning. In fact, researchers have determined that it’s this keen natural ability to identify and solve problems on our own that has been the key to our survival. That’s why over the last several decades K-12 education has shifted away from the teacher-focused “sage on the stage” approach, where students are expected to sit quietly at their desks reading books and listening to lectures, and toward independent learning experience where teachers are the helpful “guide on the side.” This active method holds students accountable for their own learning and does more than teach them about a particular subject – it teaches them how to learn on their own.
So why then is the world of corporate learning still seemingly stuck in the Dark Ages? Why are linear, click-through trainings still the norm at work when we have options like Google, YouTube and Ted Talks right at our fingertips to help us learn what we want, when we want it away from the office? In addition to being more in line with the way our brains work, according to noted adult education researcher Malcolm Knowles, self-directed learning experiences helps people learn more – and learn more easily – than passive ones. It also increases motivation, as it gives learners the opportunity to solve a problem quickly rather than wading through content searching for the answer they’re looking for (see our turkey-carving example above).
The main reason some companies are hesitant to move toward self-directed learning experiences can be distilled into a single word: trust. It takes trust to make self-directed learning work – trust in their employees’ learning ability and trust that they’ll walk away from the experience having learned what they need to know. But self-directed learning doesn’t mean just creating content and hoping that employees will engage with it when they need it. It means creating engaging content and allowing employees to interact with it in the order that makes the most sense to them based on their individual needs. It also means creating complete microlearning modules rather than long lessons. And it means creating content in varying formats that can be easily accessed from a variety of devices.
When properly designed, self-directed learning experiences still begin by communicating the prerequisite knowledge learners will need before they embark on their personal journeys. They also check for understanding and provide helpful feedback along the way. And in the end, they result in more engaged learners who are more apt to master your content.
 Self direction in learning. Retrieved from infed.org: http://infed.org/mobi/self-direction-in-learning/