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What is self-directed learning?

What is self-directed learning?

Self-directed learning definition

Self-directed learning, from an L&D perspective, refers to the process by which an employee takes initiative to lead their own learning. Instead of waiting for someone else to tell them what to do, they identify a gap in their own knowledge or skill set, decide on the most effective way to educate themselves, and actively seek out resources on the topic before testing their new-found knowledge.

Self-directed learning example

An employee has been working in their industry for a number of years, but recent advances in technology reveal a gap in their skill set.

They want to become more proficient in AI, so instead of waiting for someone else to volunteer the necessary next steps, they take it upon themselves to learn. They identify the ways in which they learn best (e.g. video, reading, audio or a mix) and seek out resources and authorities within that medium. Perhaps they even approach other people within the organisation who have a proficiency in AI to learn directly from them.

They then dedicate time to learning about AI, and evaluate the outcomes by testing their knowledge on the topic.

Without being prompted, they have successfully identified - and filled - a gap in their knowledge. They are now more knowledgeable about the advantages and applications of AI, and how to leverage that within their workplace.

Self-directed learning FAQ’s


How do you encourage self-directed learning?

Creating a culture of self-directed learning within your organisation is incredibly worthwhile. To encourage self-directed learning, give your employees the dedicated time and space to develop it. Whether this is simply through blocking out time in their calendar, organising fully funded development days or running skills-sharing initiatives, it's imperative that they feel empowered and authorised to take control of their own learning.

You can deliver specific learning campaigns via your Learning Management System and hone in on a specific topic or focus, which then encourages learners to explore further without prompting.

Make sure that your employees have access to learning resources at work, covering topics both broad and business-specific. Make it clear that you are in full support of their professional development by continuously signposting these resources.

Encourage and support regular goal-setting to motivate your employees to reach short and long term milestones. Find a platform that allows you to do this automatically so they can track their progress, and run goal-setting workshops. Goals should be specific, measurable, and aligned with the broader goals of the organisation.

Finally, employees should feel welcome to collaborate. Break down knowledge silos by carving out dedicated time and space for departments to share knowledge.


What are the 4 stages of self-directed learning?

The four stages of self directed learning are generally accepted to be:

Identifying the need to learn

Setting learning goals

Engaging in the learning process

Evaluating the results of your learning


What is the challenge with self-directed learning?

Although self-directed learning is an incredibly valuable thing to cultivate within your organisation, it is worth making note of the challenges so you can address them ahead of time.

The first challenge is to engage the learner enough that they are motivated to take part in their own self-directed learning. As we mentioned in the first FAQ, you can encourage self-directed learning with learning campaigns, resources and knowledge sharing.

Another challenge associated with self-directed learning relates to the learner themselves: They don’t know what they don’t know. They have to understand what to learn, in order to seek out the correct knowledge. By providing your people with consistent guidance on their professional development, you can mitigate this challenge and encourage them to gradually take control of their own learning.

Content chaos - or disorganised resources - is another challenge. If resources, knowledge and content are split up amongst multiple programs and platforms, your people may have trouble finding where best to start and how to direct their learning. You can remedy this by consolidating all of your content onto one central learning platform, so employees always know where to go to find what they need.

Why is self-directed learning important?

A self-directed learning culture brings several benefits. The first is an engaged, happy and autonomous workforce. When learners feel in ownership of their own development and progression, they’ll be more connected to their goals. The second is flexibility. People are more likely to engage with learning if they can do so at a time and pace that suits them.

It’s also cost-effective: A self-directed learning culture reduces the need for expensive training programs, as employees can seek out the specific resources that best suit their needs. Self-directed learning results in innovation. Because self-directed learning is so efficient and personalised, employees can focus on the skills that are most relevant to them and the wider goals of the business. Widening their knowledge results in new perspectives and creative thinking.

Finally, self-directed learning nurtures initiative. Self-directed learners become adaptable through the practice of seeking out new knowledge.

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