The Miracle of Self-Directed Training

Allan Dodson
Posted: October 16, 2019

The first time someone called me an “autodidact,” I did a double take.  But then I decided to look it up.”

I discovered that an autodidact is simply a self-taught person. And I realized — hey, I am an autodidact! Most of what I know I’ve learned on my own through research, reading, and a bit of the school of hard knocks. In fact, by looking up the word, I was being an autodidact about… being an autodidact. Whoa.

Many people — particularly adults — are a lot like me. We want to learn, but we want to find out for ourselves. And we’re willing to do the work. According to adult learning theorists, a whopping 70% of adult learning is self-directed, and 90% of adults conduct at least one self-directed learning project in a year.

So are we doing everything wrong with our classes and webinars and online courses? Would they all rather just figure it out for themselves?

Before you give up your training job and decide to pursue a career in lion-taming (which might be easier), take heart! Self-directed training in an organization doesn’t happen by magic. It takes training expertise to provide the right resources and create a culture of learning. But if you’re not incorporating self-directed learning strategy into your curriculum, you’re missing an amazing opportunity.

Why Self-Directed Training?

The benefits of self-directed learning are legion. By incorporating self-directed learning theory at your organization, you allow workers to seek out the training they think they need — and who knows better? The self-paced nature also lets learners bend the training to their own learning styles and schedules. No more sending countless emails to line up enough people for a class! Workers train when they want to train (and you can spend your time creating more training!).

In other words, learners can get what they need, the way they want it, and when they need it — “just in time.” Isn’t that the magic formula we’re all looking for?

Finally, it’s human nature to take more pride in something we’ve done ourselves. By giving workers more responsibility and ownership, you’ll reap greater results. And those Millennials you’re struggling to keep engaged? They’re all about autonomy.

How Do I Get Started?

The first thing you’ll need to dive into the self-directed world is a user-friendly platform. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, all your self-directed learning resources will be for naught. Be sure your library is:

  • Easily searchable
  • Intuitive
  • Filled with timely suggestions for training

Now comes the fun part: You need content. And more content. And more content. The more often workers find what they need in your library, the more often they’ll come back. It seems a daunting task, but there are some relatively easy ways to generate a lot of content:

  • Adapt your current programsYou already have a lot of content, but it may not be in the right format. The best company-and industry-specific content is sitting on your hard drive right now.
  • Purchase content on general subjects. Advanced training on programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can benefit virtually any modern worker. And soft-skills training on management, leadership, diversity, etc. is always welcome for the self-directed learner. You can even offer certification programs as part of your curriculum.
  • Ask your workforce what they want. This is self-directed learning, right? So go to the source. Develop surveys and interviews to find out what they need now and what they think they’ll need in the future.

But Will They Really Train Themselves?

The next step is encouraging compliance — getting workers to participate in the training. While some will gravitate naturally to self-directed learning, others may need a little nudge. You can encourage them with:

  • Tracking systems: Give them a constant gauge of what they’ve done and what’s still available to them.
  • Certifications and badges: We all appreciate something physical (or virtual) to show for our efforts.
  • Gamification: Creating competition is a classic motivator.

Of course, if those incentives aren’t cutting it, you can also assign training when needed. When you mandate training every so often, you ensure that the necessary skills are covered — and drive workers to your site. You might even consider working with management to be sure learning hours are required and tied to evaluations.

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But Is It Really a “Miracle”? Come On. Seriously?

Yes! Self-directed training can be truly miraculous!

  • You’ll see better results because learners can get what they need when they need it and the way they want it.
  • You’ll have happier employees because they can self-pace their training and get training that’s specifically relevant to their jobs.

While all training can’t be self-directed, having a self-directed learning strategy in your arsenal will reap great rewards for the entire organization. Happy workers, happy management, happy you!

Now that’s a miracle!


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