Saturday, May 31, 2008

Carter McNamara: Strong Value of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace:

Strong Value of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace:

How Supervisors and Learners Gain Leaps in Learning

Written by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Copyright 1997-2008.

Sections of this document include

What is Self-Directed Learning?
Most Adult Learning is Informal and Self-Directed in Nature
Self-Directed Learning is Ideal for the Workplace
How Supervisors Can Help Employees Learn in the Workplace
Some Online Articles About Self-Directed Learning

What is Self-Directed Learning?

Self-directed training includes the learner initiating the learning, making the decisions about what training and development experiences will occur, and how. The learner selects and carries out their own learning goals, objectives, methods and means to verifying that the goals were met.

Probably the most important skill for today's rapidly changing workforce is skills in self-reflection. The highly motivated, self-directed learner with skills in self-reflection can approach the workplace as a continual classroom from which to learn.

Supervisors and employees who work together to accomplish formal, self-directed learning in the workplace also accomplish continuous learning for continued productivity and learning.

Most Learning is Informal and Self-Directed in Nature

We buy a book and think about the writer's viewpoint. We attend a presentation given at a local school. We take some time at the end of the day to think about our day and what we learned from it. These are all informal forms of self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning becomes even more powerful when it's systematic, that is, when we decide:

  1. What areas of knowledge and skills we need to gain in order to get something done (our learning needs and goals)
  2. How we will gain the areas of knowledge and skills (our learning objectives and activities)
  3. How we will know that we've gained the areas of knowledge and skills (learning evaluation)

Self-Directed Learning is Ideal for the Workplace

Self-directed learning programs hold numerous advantages over traditional forms of classroom instruction for employees in the workplace, whether they be leaders, managers, or individual contributors. Bouchard (Self-directed Learning in Organizational Settings (working paper), Concordia University, Montreal, Canada) explains, “Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that traditional approaches to program design and delivery in the workplace and in associative organizations present some important weaknesses. Problem areas include: coping with the short life span of useful knowledge; passing down acquired competencies to succeeding cohorts; accommodating the demands of productivity while providing for a continuity of learning; [and!] enabling learners to pursue activities that correspond to their learning styles and needs” (p. 1).

After many years of reflection about learning, eminent psychologist, Carl Rogers, founder of self-directed therapy, asserted that “anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior” (On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, Houghton Mifflin, 1961, p. 276). He adds, “The only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning” (p. 276).

Self-directed learning programs

  • Are more effective in development because learning accommodates employees’ learning styles and objectives
  • Save substantial training costs because learners learn to help themselves and each other with practical and timely materials
  • Achieve increased employee effectiveness in their jobs as they learn to learn from their own work experiences and actually apply their learning in their places of work

How Supervisors Can Help Employees Learn in the Workplace

The supervisor's attitude and knowledge about learning has a tremendous impact on the development of employees (thus, the major reason the Free Management Library was developed). Thomas D. Fisher, in Self-Directedness in the Workplace: A Re-Examination, cites numerous suggestions (from Lowry) in order to better enable self-directed learning in the workplace. Some of those suggestions are listed below, and are wonderful ways for supervisors and learners to turn the workplace into a classroom (pp. 4-5):
  1. Help the learner identify the starting point for a learning project and discern relevant [ways!] of examination and reporting.
  2. Encourage adult learners to view knowledge and truth as contextual ... and that they can act on their world individually or collectively to transform it
  3. Create a partnership with the learner by negotiating a learning contract for goals, strategies and evaluation criteria
  4. Be a manager of the learning experience rather than an information provider
  5. Teach inquiry skills, decision making, personal development, and self-evaluation of work
  6. Help learners develop positive attitudes and feelings of independence relative to learning
  7. Recognize learners' personality types and learning styles
  8. Use techniques such as field experience and problem solving that take advantage of adults' rich experience base
  9. Encourage critical thinking skills by incorporating ... such activities as seminars
  10. Create an atmosphere of openness and trust to promote better performance
  11. Behave ethically, which includes not recommending a self-directed learning approach if it is not congruent with the learner's needs
  12. Obtain the necessary tools to assess learner's current performance and to evaluate their expected performance
  13. Provide opportunities for self-directed learners to reflect on what they're learning
  14. Promote learning networks, study circles, and learning exchanges, self-managed teams of self-directed learners)
  15. Provide staff training on self-directed learning and broaden the opportunities for its implementation

Fisher adds that "Self-directed learning is more than a form of education. It is a component in human development" (p. 7).

Also see Basic Requirements of Supervisors Who Have Employees in Training

Some Online Articles About Self-Directed Learning

What is Self-Directed Learning?
Self-Directed Learning Web Page another Self-Directed Learning Web page Introduction: Why self-directed learning?
Self-Directedness in Adult Vocational Education Students
Take Responsibility for Your Own Learning
Journaling -- What We Can Learn from Unschooling


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