Whether it is brushing up on an old skill, studying in an online class, or learning something entirely new, the strategies used can make a huge difference in progress. Learning independently can prove to be quite challenging, for several different reasons. However, it is not impossible. Plus, knowing how to initiate self-directed study is an important and useful skill. In fact, it offers incredible benefits– imagine being able to work even more efficiently, on anything you want, with ease. Self-directed learning is important because it allows students to take learning into their own hands with ease. In my experience, the self-directed student is one that is excited by the material and completely absorbed by it.
Though perhaps not an entirely new concept, self-learning is when a student sets their goals, chooses a learning approach, and recognizes their own strong suits and weaknesses. Basically, self-learning is independent learning that is completely led by the individual. While this may sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, the idea of self-learning is that the student is motivated due to an internal or intrinsic factor. Malcolm Knowles, a well-known, brilliant adult educator is known for saying this, but he isn’t the only one. In fact, it is often said that if you want to truly learn something, don’t be afraid to make it your personality. Fully immerse yourself in the material, become intrigued with each aspect of it.
However, on a less poetic note, this type of learning requires initiative and goals in order to be successful. Self-learning is usually aimed at older students, but can be applicable towards students in K-12 as well. Methods and approaches can vary greatly across classrooms. Despite this, it should not be a discouragement.
The more a subject is personally intriguing to a student, the more likely it is that the student will be able to learn about the topic directly. It is important to mention, this doesn’t mean if a topic appears dull or difficult, that it is impossible. It only means that the student must find a reason or way for the topic to be appealing. For example, if a student hates mathematics, but wants to learn how to code because they love videogames and want to make their own, then that is a great incentive to learn coding. In other words, as long as there is interest in the subject or its problem-solving capabilities, then a student is likely to succeed.
Think about a time when you really, really wanted to be good at something. Maybe it was because it looked cool or it was a stepping stone to something better. Either way, having a personal stake in your learning leads to more involvement. In other words, being invested in your learning can promote learning progress.
Strategy 1: Organize Goals Properly
Self-directed learning demands responsibility. So, create a schedule and establish your goals ahead of time. Hold on though– how you make your goals is crucial to the process. One rule is to make sure your goals are clear. For example, a goal such as, “I am going to learn Spanish.” is a great long-term goal, but not very clear for the close future. However, a goal like, “By the end of this month, I am going to memorize and use the future conjugations for my vocabulary words.” is a much clearer short-term goal. There is a deadline, a measurable goal, and the subject is much more specific.
This goal method is called the SMART method. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. So, when setting up goals for a learning topic, ensure that they pass all five of these aspects. Here are some questions to help you figure out if your goal is clear.
Is the material too broad?
What exactly are you hoping to learn?
How are you going to mark your progress? (EX: practice tests, worksheets, speaking with a family member, teacher, or tutor to assess progress)
Is it a clear goal that can be tested in some way?
Is this goal given the right amount of time, support, and materials in order to be achieved?
Can it be done with your current resources, at your current starting point?
Are you being fair to yourself?
Why are you learning this information?
How will learning this help you in the future?
When is this due?
Is this a realistic amount of time to adequately study?
Will you be able to complete your goal with this schedule, even if you get sick or have a hiccup in the schedule?
If you can answer all of these questions with ease, then your goal should be manageable, valid, and super attainable! Framing goals in this way will help establish clearer paths towards achieving your long term goal.
Once short-term goals have been established, the next thing is finding general approaches. This can look wildly different depending on your learning style, but there are always good general starting points. For example, a famous starting point is almost always, “start with what you know”. Diving off the deep end might sound inspirational, but more often than not, lead to discouragement. Instead, start off from a familiar topic and find your way to the next area of it. In other words, challenge your understanding of a familiar topic.
If this can’t be done, then try to find the easiest jumping off point. It is completely ok to start a topic from scratch, just try to pick the most welcoming introductory topic possible!
Like stated previously, a line of logic that is often heard is this idea of fully embracing your subject. There are many ways one can go about this, but one that we recommend is to find a creative way to digest and share the information. For example, after breaking down the information, try teaching it to others. Now, this can be done in the form of writing a blog post, making a video, or telling a friend about a process, formula, or definition. Either way, finding a way to creatively share what you learned is a great way to remember the information in a personal way. In general, breaking concepts down into your own words will always be better than just plain memorization.
While self-guided learning may seem nerve-wracking, remember that it does not have to be. With online tutoring, videos, and study groups, the current day is more ready for virtual learning than ever before. There are plenty of tools and resources to flourish at self-directed learning. In fact, there are many more strategies to help with self-learning.
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