What is Self-Directed Learning?

Self-directed learning, as a concept, is well-established. Malcolm Knowles, the influential learning theorist, described it as a process "in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes."

Knowles spoke about this in the context of an individual maturing and leaving behind the scaffolding of the school system. As the guidance of our school teachers fade away, we find our own motivations to learn, define our own goals and identify learning resources for ourselves. This ability to direct our own growth is now less an academic theory and more a necessity for success in our careers.

Why does self-directed learning matter?

Digital transformation is now a reality, and our working lives have fundamentally changed.

A report published by Dell Technologies states that, due to rapid technological change and automation. 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet to be invented. That "the pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn 'in the moment'... The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself."

Deloitte's research indicates that the half-life of learned skills is now only five years. The courses and resources L&D teams are developing today will not have the long-term value they once did.

For employees, this means a constant reskilling. We must all learn to improve and adapt to remain relevant and useful in the new economy. Continuous upskilling is an essential skill, and self-directed learning underpins that activity.

Deloitte also states that employees now stay on average 4.5 years in each organisation. Employees will move on if they cannot find fulfilling learning opportunities in their workplace.


94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development "
(2018 Workplace LinkedIn Learning Report)

For employers, this rapid transformation of knowledge challenges traditional learning strategies.  As the range of individual needs grows ever more expansive across areas of expertise and also geographies and time zones, it becomes ever more difficult to create content and experiences to serve these needs. Real-time classroom training and many traditional online options become expensive to deliver and maintain.

When the organisation provides the right environment and works in concert with staff, employees thrive and the organisation flourishes.

High performing learning organisations, on average, are seeing a 24% increase in productivity and performance as a result of learning done well"
(Towards Maturity Report 2018)

How can you avoid the common pitfalls of self-directed learning?

As with any new approach, there are pitfalls to avoid. With care, these challenges can become opportunities.

There are two aspects to a successful strategy - the environment must provide the technology, content and tools that people need to manage their own learning and the leaders must provide the space and incentive for their staff to do so. It's about empowering staff with practical toolkits and sparking the motivation to use them.


Delivering Value: Making Learning work for both the Individual and the Business

Digital makes it easier than ever for individuals to find great knowledge to support their career growth. However, this needs to be balanced with the needs of the organisation.

A critical aspect of self-directed learning is personal motivation. Daniel Pink, the expert in human motivation, outlines three aspects to motivation- Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. The intrinsic desires to be good at what you do, for the freedom to find your own path, and for the certainty that what you are expending effort on has meaning.

The individual must see the value in the learning goal. If they find that goal for themselves, motivation comes naturally; if it is pushed out by the organisation, the value may not be clear. Common missteps here are that the employee is given free rein to choose goals that will not deliver value to the business or that the business sets goals without sufficiently explaining their worth.

The organisation needs to strike a balance between individual growth and business success. Learning & Development professionals can look for the synergies to set a purpose for employees and build a shared vision where personal goals and business goals are aligned.

Employees move from complying with courses to genuinely engaging in learning.

A learning organisation is a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capabilities to create results they really care about "
(Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline)

Making Time for Learning: Helping your Managers Help their Teams

Self-directed learning does not have to mean learning alone. While peers help motivate continuous learning and benchmark progress, it is the line manager that plays a vital role.

Employees will look to their manager for guidance and purpose. According to the 2018 Workplace LinkedIn Learning Report, 56% of employees say they would spend more time learning if their manager aided in setting specific learning goals.

Support your managers in becoming coaches who protect time for learning, encourage curiosity and work with their staff to set goals that reward both the individual and the organisation.

Managers who embed learning into conversations with their team can make this happen. In regular check-in's and formal reviews, managers can use online learning platforms to agree on goals and identify useful resources and learning opportunities.

It is through meaningful feedback and active collaboration on personal growth that an employee can find autonomy and take responsibility for their own development.

Expert Content: Ensuring your Learners are Learning the Right Things

Self-directed learners become experts at finding their own learning resources. They demonstrate genuine responsibility for their personal growth. Yet the business may be concerned regarding the validity of the content that employees have discovered for themselves. At best, articles and videos may simply be less relevant to your specific context; at worst, employees are dedicating their time and effort to learn from inaccurate and even dangerous sources.

Traditional Learning Management Systems are being replaced and enhanced by new technologies where ready-made content created and validated by experts is available on-demand across their organisation.

Staff learn where and when they need to and always from sources that you can rely on.

Time for Change

Employees expect better. This generation comes to the workplace looking for the same consumer-grade media experience that they enjoy at home.

Percipio is the intelligent learning platform that delivers an immersive learning experience. It leverages highly engaging content from videos to books to podcasts, curated into over 500 channels that are continuously updated to ensure your learners always have access to the latest knowledge. 

Percipio helps learners start learning, find answers quickly, and resume learning wherever and whenever they like while being guided through learning paths, and curated content. 

High-quality content is available in the flow of their work on any device, at any time.

L&D teams work with the business to curate channels specific to their needs and empower managers to become learning coaches. The time and effort freed up from delivering training on generic skills are re-deployed to focus what is unique to their business.

Your team becomes agile and responsive to the needs of the business.

Logicearth will work with you to curate this wealth of knowledge to deliver value to your organisation. We will support your people leaders to empower their teams. We are a partner with you as you transform your learning culture.


The demand for easy-to-use, digital learning programs is one of the biggest issues on the minds of employees and employers today "
(Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP)

recommended reading

How to get started with self-service eLearning

Many of our L&D clients talk to us about how best they can support their staff to learn and develop. Creating an effective L&D service that offers different options for learning is at the top of their list...


5 ways to increase employee engagement with continuous learning

Time to competence is the amount of time that it takes to get an employee performing to a certain level in a job. Competence includes knowledge, skills and the set of abilities needed to do a job...


Build new Learning and Development skills for the digital age

Learning and Development teams have been asked to provide better services and make a bigger impact on their businesses for the best part of 10 years now. Away from work, we have easy and (usually) free access to high quality digital content on the internet and from our smartphones...


Logicearth can provide you with a scalable, cost-effective and engaging solution.