5 Steps to Designing a Successful Self-Directed Learning Program Blog Feature

5 Steps to Designing a Successful Self-Directed Learning Program

Self-directed learning is an independent learning experience driven by the learner. They choose how they’ll learn the content. They choose how fast they want to learn. And, ultimately, they take responsibility for their learning.

Without traditional exams or projects, self-directed learning programs can be hard to design. How will you know if your learner is succeeding? If the instructor doesn’t drive the learning process, how do you design anything at all? Will the program even work if learners can pick or choose what they want to learn? 

Successful self-directed learning programs overcome these challenges by planning for flexibility. You design the program once, but each learner experiences the program slightly differently by making choices within it. 

We developed 5 criteria to help you design a great self-directed learning program.  

1. Learner-driven 

Learner-driven design does not mean learners must perform their own research. Counterintuitively, learners need access to more material in a self-directed course, not less. Then, they choose what’s relevant to them. 

Adult learners are selective so they’ll only learn what they deem interesting or meaningful no matter the course design. Self-directed learning leans into this principle by offering multiple learning resources. 

Learners can also be given choice through multiple learning experiences like audio, text or video. Some learners may prefer to listen to podcasts, while others like reading. By giving your learners a choice, you give them control over their self-directed learning process. 


2. Goal-oriented 

Successful self-directed learning programs encourage learners to make goals because self-directed learners must take responsibility for their own learning. 

You can use whatever goal setting template you want, but encourage learners to connect goals to evidence or key performance indicators (KPIs). They could showcase a project, an assignment, a quiz, or a real-life work achievement. With a self-directed learning experience, evidence of learning doesn’t need to fit in the parameters of traditional assessment. They can upload a reflection on whatever they’re learning from any facet of their lives, as long as it meets their goals. 


3. Active Learning 

Reading a textbook often isn’t enough to solidify a skill. Our brains aren’t like taking a photograph. We eventually memorize information by creating a cognitive network of neurons. We need practice and spaced repetition to build this neural network. 

An active learning process encourages learners to not just memorize, but create their own knowledge by answering questions or solving problems. Successful self-directed learning programs will lead learners through a logical sequence of questions to help them come to their own conclusions or focus on solving real-world problems.

5_Steps_to_Designing_a_Successful_SelfDirected_Learning_Program_inlin_ 3

4. Deliberate Practice 

Psychologist Anders Ericsson defines deliberate practice as setting a stretch goal around one aspect of your performance and then trying to perfect it. A language learner may practice a certain sentence structure with a textbook, then practice by writing it, and then using the language in a conversation. 

Self-directed learners need opportunities for deliberate practice where they hone in on one particular aspect of the skill. Instructional designers can help by breaking down the skills in the course and aligning them with suggested activities for deliberate practice. They can also give learners assessments to give them feedback on where they need to improve. 


5. Self-selected Communities of Practice 

People tend to learn better when they have the chance to bounce ideas off of each other and receive feedback. Self-directed learning by nature is independent, but it doesn’t need to be done in isolation. 

Learners benefit from communities of practice where they can ask questions, share their learning, and find accountability buddies. They’re still directing their learning experience, but now they do so with a buddy. Plus, this community gives them a chance to problem-solve together and find innovative solutions. 


Putting it All Together

This blog went over five important criteria for successful self-directed learning programs:

1) Give learners choices in their learning materials

2) Ask learners to make goals

3) Build learner knowledge through problem-solving and discussion questions

4) Break the skills down for learners and align with practice activities

5) Foster communities of practice

When you put them together they can look a little daunting, but they don’t have to be. BenchPrep’s modern learning platform can help you check off all the boxes on this checklist. Our software allows you to create learning materials in different modalities and create discussion groups, while our instructional designers can help you break skills down into manageable chunks for your learners. 

Find out how BenchPrep’s eLearning platform helped CompTIA revamp their recertification program by making it easier and more efficient for learners to achieve their professional goals. 

Learn More