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Self Directed Learning Challenges: How To Address These In The Workplace

Posted: 3rd August 2016

With information readily available, we have unwittingly become a nation of self-directed learners. The growth in self-directed learning has arguably reshaped the learning environment. Our demand for, and absorption of, information at the time, the place and format we want, are pushing the boundaries of learning.

We are aware of the advantages to the learner but how do companies benefit from self-directed learning and what can they do to encourage it?

Benefits Of Self Directed Learning To The Organisation

Organisations can reap many benefits from encouraging a workforce of self-directed learners:
•This style of learning does not require days out of the office for formal training. Learning happens on job and at the time and speed desired by the learner. As a result, it is a cost effective way of ensuring continual employee development.
•Self-directed learning fosters creativity and innovation. With the learning journey being defined by the learner themselves, employees feel more empowered. Benefits from this manifest in the form of increased employee engagement and retention rates, to more effective team working.
•Learning happens when it is needed, not just when it is offered. Learning at point of need and in context means it is more likely to be remembered as it will be used soon after learning.

How Can Organisations Encourage Self Directed Learning

The self-directed learning approach can present challenges for the learner. Organisations need to address these issues if they want to be successful in developing a learning culture.

Challenge 1 – Discipline For Learning

Many employees like the thought of self-directed learning but when it comes down to it they find it hard to put it into practice.

This style of learning requires a significant amount of discipline, and day to day working life priorities can often take over. With little or no steering from a trainer, learners can potentially get “lost” and fail to make any progression.


Companies can help alleviate this problem by allocating a time and space for learning which is away from their normal work area. The learner can both physically and mentally remove themselves from their regular work environment and engage fully in their learning, being aware that this is their “learning space”.

Providing coaching can help reassure staff that they are taking on the new challenge in the right way.

Challenge 2 – Providing Trusted Sources of Reference

Learners may find their own way to the answers they require at their own speed and often using resources which are external to the company. Therefore there is a real danger that the information obtained is misleading or inaccurate.


Organisation can enhance their relevance by curating content or referencing the best sources of information within their LMS.

As Towards Maturity reports, there is a demand from the user to be able to easily and quickly retrieve the information required. Often companies feel that they are in direct competition with Google in this area with it almost being second nature for users to turn to the search engine giant to provide the answers which can be deemed as an unfair playing field.

Fostering a culture of trust in internal systems can go some way towards persuading users to seek the information they require initially within the LMS, by ensuring that the data contained within the system is accurate and up to date. Alongside this having the internal system organised in a way that makes it easy to discover information will make it a more friendly reference point.

Challenge 3 – Formal Training

Most people come with preconceptions of what training is and what it means. Many are familiar with formal training courses and therefore adapting to self-directed learning can prove challenging.


Organisations may benefit from hosting an introductory session at the beginning of the learning journey where outstanding concerns could be addressed and the company could provide guidelines and expectations for learning progression.

Scheduled review/coaching sessions could also be beneficial for both the learner and the employer and could be used as a “check-in” session to discuss any issues which have emerged.

By applying a self-directed approach to learning, people learn “how to learn” rather than just being passive recipients. All companies want a proactive workforce who are creative and innovative. Fostering a learning environment of learner autonomy can have far reaching benefits for the employee and the company.

eCom can help support self-directed learning in your organisation. With our flexible learning platforms and expertise in learning content we can develop a solution fully customised to your business needs.

Call us today on 01383 630032 to explore your options.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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