Self-directed learning is any process or system that allows individual learners to direct their own learning, depending on their individual needs and interests. Self-directed learning can include tools for learners to discover their learning needs, set goals, find content to meet those goals, get feedback, and discover new topics.
So why on earth would a company want to allow self-directed learning for its own corporate training?
For some companies, the answer might be obvious. But for many, it is not. In my years of talking to companies of about eLearning and Learning Management Systems, I have found that many training departments want control over the training process. They want to ensure that employees are getting the training they need (especially when it comes to compliance and job-specific training) and not getting “bogged down” in learning extra material meant for other departments or roles.
In the end, this choice depends largely on learning culture. Still, there are reasons why your company should give self-directed learning a second look.
(How does learning culture affect the choice to use self-directed learning? Great question. We have identified four distinct types of learning cultures in companies, and each approaches training in different ways. For example, self-directed learning would be the accepted norm in a free-form learning culture but might be a little more of an organizational challenge for a traditional learning culture.)
Self-Directed Learning: Just in Time
For some roles, the amount of knowledge an employee could ever possibly need is enough to fill a library. Teaching all of that material all at once is as ineffective as it is tedious—especially for special topics that might not arise every day.
Then again, sometimes an issue comes up and your employee needs to know something, and needs to know it now. That employee can’t wait for the next training session to come around.
If your employees have access to all the topics they might need, they can get the training they need the moment they need it. In fact, one survey by eLearning provider Elucidat found that, when companies allow self-directed learning, 52% of employees accessed content right at the point of need. Thus, there is real demand for just-in-time training materials, and providing those can greatly improve employee productivity.
Greater Accommodation of Individual Learning Styles
Few topics have caused experts in education more anxiety than the concept of learning styles. Are there such things as “auditory” learners and “visual” learners? Do some learners work better with language, while some work better with images? Do some learn better by doing, as opposed to watching? What about different learning speeds?
The great thing about self-directed learning is that many of these questions simply don’t matter as much. Employees can engage and re-engage with content as fits their own learning style, whatever that happens to be.
Faster Professional Development
Self-directed learning allows employees to pursue their own professional development. For example, a worker in your warehouse might be interested in what it takes to become a floor manager. That employee can take the initiative and start exploring topics in management so that, when the opportunity arises, he or she can be ready to step into that role.
A More Flexible Learning Schedule
Most training programs have to make the best of limited instructional resources. This means, too often, that training is infrequent and scheduled in a way that disrupts work schedules. Getting employees to make time for learning and development is a huge hurdle to overcome — in one survey by LinkedIn Learning, 46% of L&D professionals identified it as their #1 challenge.
This makes sense - who wants to take out time for training when right in the middle of a major project? But give employees access to the training they need, and put it in a format that’s easy to digest, like short-form video, and they will find the time to learn.
Flexible training schedules are not just about time, but also opportunity. For example, when given around-the clock access to training materials, 47% of employees will access them at home and over the weekend, and 27% will access them to and from work (on a train, bus, or subway). In other words, employees will access training materials in their spare moments (provided they are accessible on their devices), increasing their overall exposure to the content.
Better Teamwork and Communication Across Silos
From experience, I can tell you that one of the most common complaints in sales and marketing is that the two departments speak different languages. The same happens when you have any two given silos: Marketing and IT, sales and engineering, HR and legal…I could go on.
While specialized departments won’t be going away anytime soon—the idea is too entrenched in the business world—there is a critical need in today’s workplace to be able to communicate across silos and in teams with diverse talents and backgrounds.
When you give your employees the opportunity to explore more topics, even those (especially those!) not tied to their specific roles, they learn how to “talk the talk” of those other departments, making them better team members overall.
Better ROI for Training
One study done by Accenture showed that for every dollar invested in training, companies received $4.53 in return. That’s a 353% ROI. Not too shabby!
With a return like that, it makes sense that an organization would want to train its employees as often as possible, using high-quality instruction and content.
You Can Keep More Traditional Training, Too
Using self-directed learning tools does not mean you have to get rid of more traditional types of corporate training. In fact, both work better when they are used hand-in-hand. (And self-directed learning also works very well with traditional mentoring relationships, too.)
For example, your company could have a formal training regimen for compliance and role-specific training, with traditional lectures, job shadowing, and so on. Then you can make short training courses on specific topics available to your employees to handle the contingencies they meet on the job (see “just in time” above), or just reinforce the information they learned through the formal training. The result will be better retention of information and better chances that it will actually be used on the job.
OK, But When?
Given these benefits of self-directed learning, the right question to ask might not be “if” self-directed learning is right for your organization, but “when” it is right.
Of course, if you can introduce your learning tools from the beginning, that would be ideal. But assuming that you are on the fence and trying to figure out when to add a self-directed component to existing training, I would tell you to look for these signs:
- Are your employees asking about requirements or training for promotions?
- Are newer employees constantly asking their managers and trainers questions related to their job? Does this continue even after they have been with you for several months?
- Are on-the-job seminars and corporate learning retreats eating into your training budget?
- Does it seem like your training is taking forever to pay off?
These are all signs that it is time to give self-directed learning a try. ej4 can help you find the right tools to make this happen, including short-form videos and an easy-to-use LMS that is mobile friendly. If you would like to discuss these options, or just talk about your needs in general, feel free to contact me. You can also sample some of the microlearning videos ej4 provide to clients for their own self-directed learning programs or sign up for a free, full-featured trial of our full library.
- 6 Benefits of Self-Paced Learning for Employees
- Elements of a Whole-Person Approach to Employee Training
- 8 Staff Training Ideas to Spice Up Your Learning