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What is Self-Directed Learning?

27th July 20

Self-directed learning – in the broadest sense – is the process through which an individual takes responsibility for their learning.

This is broken down into: assessing the needs and readiness for learning, identifying learning goals, engaging in the learning process and self-evaluation.

In short it is a comprehensive methodology designed to empower people to take ownership for their personal development. Rather than leaving it up to others.

Within the context of distance learning, it gives you the tools you need to identify the right course for you, based on your desired outcomes.

Moreover, it will help you to study in a structured way, ensuring that your study sessions are productive and positive.

You’ll also be able to objectively evaluate how your studies are going and identify where you can improve or need support.

And ultimately it helps you to achieve your qualifications, which is what is all about.

Learndirect - What is Self-Directed Learning - Readiness to Learn

Readiness to Learn

Before you embark on your studies, it is vital to ensure you are ready to learn. Self-directed learning encourages you to assess your situation to determine – were you to start studying today – how successful would you be.

You should look at family commitments, work/life balance, finances and any other factor that might help or hinder your ability to complete your course.

It’s not about putting you off but making sure you know what you’re committing to. That means making sure you have a place to study ready to go. It also means making sure you have the time to study and the discipline to plan out your study session before you start the course.

Rather than just winging it.

Another element of your readiness to learn is the ability to reflect on your past educational experiences. Honestly assess what you did well and what you didn’t and what you can do differently.

This will put you in a place where you can move forward positively as well as accept constructive feedback.

Learndirect - What is Self-Directed Learning - Identify Learning Goals

Identify Learning Goals

Deciding to study a course or courses with the aim of getting a qualification is a learning goal of sorts. However, it doesn’t relate to how it can benefit you.

Even if you’re taking a course because you’re interested in the subject matter, identifying that as your learning goal is important.

Equally, if you’re studying A Levels because you want to go to university, and then land a fantastic job, you need to make those your goals.

The reason for this is simple – by setting yourself goals it makes it easier to focus. It will help to drive you on those days you really don’t feel like studying.

It’s the ‘keep your eye on the prize’ mindset.

However, to make your learning experience as effective as possible, you also need to set smaller learning goals too.

For each of your modules you should work through the checklist like the one below to ensure that you’re completing your studies to a high standard:

  • What are your goals for the module of study (be specific)
  • Create a study structure around the assignment to cover all the material
  • Set a timeline for completion
  • Determine what resources you need to meet your learning goals
  • Allow time to review feedback and evaluate your learning goals
  • Identify areas of improvement

These personal contracts well help you to approach your studies in a structured and constructive way. By identifying the goals for each module, you can pick out the key areas of study to focus on.

This will make writing your assignments much easier.

Learndirect - What is Self-Directed Learning - Engage in the Learning Process

Engage in the Learning Process

This is essential. Through self-direct learning you must take full responsibility for your learning. Although you will have a personal tutor and the support of family members, the only person that is going to do the work is you.

By acknowledging that you are the learner and by identifying your desired outcomes, you can reflect on your approach to learning.

Distance learning affords you considerable freedom and flexibility in terms of how you study. However, it is beneficial for you to determine the conditions under which you are at your most productive. Whether that’s late at night or first thing in the morning you should structure your studies accordingly.

There are also three forms of study that most people fall into. It’s useful for you to understand which approach you favour as this can identify ways to improve your studying:

-The Deep Approach

The deep approach is about understanding ideas for yourself. You take the knowledge you have learned and apply it to different situations and examples to prove you understand the concept.

This approach can take learners beyond the requirements of the module but proves beneficial for assignments and exams. The deep approach is ideal for self-directed learning.

-The Surface Approach

The surface approach is learning what is required to pass the module and little more. You can repeat the examples given but struggle to give any of your own.

-The Strategic Approach

This approach is orientated around getting the highest mark possible. It requires organisation and focus. This approach is centred around learning what is required to pass exams, memorising keywords and information. You will also invest time on past papers or reading sample essays.

Your past school experiences will have likely taught you either the surface or strategic approach. And linked to your overall schooling experience.

Either way, neither approach will adequately get you to where you want to get to in terms of your studies. Whether you’re learning for the sake of it, working towards a job or plan on going to university.

Consider this – if you’re studying a course for the enjoyment, there is little enjoyment to be had from doing the bare minimum or just learning the stuff you need to pass.

Equally if you’re working towards a job or an undergraduate degree, you will be expected to have that deeper level of understanding. And a commitment to the subject matter in the case of applying to university.

The only way to truly succeed in your studies is to apply yourself to your studies and learn all you can.

Learndirect - What is Self-Directed Learning - Self Evaluation


To be truly successful with self-directed learning, you must be able to reflect and evaluate your learning as you complete each assignment.

The reason is simple: by looking at your efforts without ego getting in the way, you can honestly determine how well you are doing.

A bad mark can be difficult to swallow and even feel a little humiliating. But will it make any difference to your tutor if you get upset and decide they don’t know what they’re talking about?

It won’t change your mark, it won’t improve you learning experience and it won’t give you a better final grade.

If instead you look at where you went wrong and – if necessary – discuss it with your tutor you can improve.

Remember it’s a learning process. You’re studying a course which means you’re not meant to get it 100% correct every time. Otherwise what’s the point?

Through self-reflection you can ask yourself:

  • What have you learned?
  • How did you apply that knowledge?
  • Do you feel confident in your understanding?
  • Do you feel you’ve covered the material sufficiently?
  • Could you have done anything differently?


Self-directed learning is a highly effective way for you to gain your qualifications. It lends itself perfectly to distance learning as there is no teacher to keep you on task.

Once you’ve determined your readiness to learn, all you need to do is choose the course that’s right for you and enrol.

learndirect offers a wide range of online learning courses including fully accredited Access to Higher Education Diplomas and A Levels to help you realise your ambitions.

Check out our Access to Higher Education Diplomas today or contact a member of our sales team today to learn more and enrol.

Learndirect - What is Self-Directed Learning - Enrol Today

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