Self-directed Learning: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

Changes in teacher-regulated learning have increased the importance of self-directed learning in students of all ages. Keep reading!
Self-directed learning: what is it and why is it important?

Self-directed learning is closely related to the way people regulate emotions, cognitions, behavior, and environmental aspects during the learning experience. In addition to this, we know that it is important to be able to control the mind in terms of learning processes. The earlier we learn to do this, the more successful and satisfying our educational experience will be.

There are many self-control skills. Some of these include good time management, the ability to choose the best strategies for problem solving, and the ability to actively manage mental states such as frustration.

Self-directed learning: definition

Barry Zimmerman is one of the leading researchers in the field of self-directed learning. He asserts that self-direction is not about mental or academic performance. Instead, it is a  process that allows students to turn their mental skills into academic skills. 

a man draws on a blackboard

According to Zimmerman, self-directed learning includes not only the acquisition of detailed knowledge of a skill, but also other skills such as self-awareness, self-motivation, and the ability to behave in a way that makes it possible to apply the knowledge and skills learned.

Beginner students convince themselves by comparing themselves to others and receiving feedback from others. They also often count failures as shortcomings they don’t even control. While experienced students who know how to manage their own learning accept their failures when that happens. Instead of blaming their failure, they focus on how they can fix their weaknesses.

If we look at it from another perspective, we can see that self-regulation is not something that some students have, but others do not. According to Zimmerman, self-guidance consists of the selective application of scientific processes for each learning task. These must be selected on the basis of personal characteristics. Therefore, it would be best to talk about self-guidance based on learning or some defined learning style.

Self-directed learning involves setting goals and then choosing the right strategies to achieve them. Once selected, progress must be monitored and techniques changed if the goal is not achieved. The time available must also be used effectively, the methods chosen must be evaluated, and the methods must be adopted for future learning. Of course, we need to apply the new things we have learned for future efforts.

Self-directed learning skills

Self-directed learning skills are essential for learning. Despite this, teachers rarely teach them accurately. Therefore, many students lack independence, motivation, perseverance, and a positive sense of well-being during their studies. In order for teachers to effectively transfer these skills to their students, it is important that they are familiar with the most important mechanisms of self-direction.

Students experience three basic stages as they regulate their own learning: planning, performance, and reflection. These steps are not necessarily sequential and in that order. Students can experience many cycles during learning.

the man is studying
  • During the planning phase, the student sets goals and standards for himself. The student should be able to complete these during a specific task, session, or course. This step includes the student’s perception of the learning environment.
  • During the performance phase, the student demonstrates their commitment to the learning experience. At this point, he oversees his own learning. He can compare his progress to the standards he set at the design stage.
  • During the reflection phase, the student thinks and evaluates his or her learning experience. This includes reflecting on feedback and mentally storing thoughts and concepts for future study.

Teachers and self-directed learning

Given the importance of self-directed learning, it is essential that teachers clearly teach these skills. They also need to provide strategies to help students apply them during the learning process. This teaching process should include:

  • Explaining the usefulness and importance of self-directed learning skills.
  • Teaching self-directed learning strategies openly.
  • Helping students identify when and how they can use these self-directed learning skills.

In 2012, Diagnath-van Ewijk and Van Der Werf conducted a study focusing on teachers ’beliefs and behaviors about self-directed learning, and this study showed that teachers believe in the transmission of these skills. The research findings highlighted how teacher education could provide them with these skills and knowledge to promote self-directed learning.

We should develop strategies to enable teachers to teach these skills to students. This would mean the tools, sources, and strategies they can use in the classroom.

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