Self-directed learning – an effective technique!

Learning is an ongoing process; as all things have evolved so has learning. To prepare the learners for the new world of work, the dynamics in the classroom need to be more reflective of the real world. The traditional classroom consisted of students categorized on the basis of their age, ability or subject discipline. It also comprised of teachers who are masters of direct instruction and use some technology to help students engage in the teaching learning process.

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The current scenario

The art of self-learning is a vital but neglected skill in the Indian education system. With rote learning and chalk and talk pedagogies defining school education, self-learning is seldom encouraged. Yet the art of self-learning i.e. self-study with the help of books, internet or through exploration etc. is imperative for effective learning and success later on in life. When children self-learn, they pace themselves and learn according to their own speed, aptitudes and tap into their innate curiosity and creativity to assume responsibility for their own learning and progress.

Today, we require teachers who can work beyond the four walls of the classroom with students who despite their common characteristics can involve in self-directed learning at their own pace, alongside one another, individually or in groups. To enable the mastery, we need to focus on providing teachers with requisite skills to teach self-directed learners.

What is Self-Directed Learning (SDL)?

It is an instructional strategy where the students with the guidance from the teacher decides what and how they will learn. It can be done individually or with group learning. But the overall concept is that the students take ownership of their learning.In SDL, the individual takes the initiative and the responsibility for what occurs. Individuals select manage and assess their own learning activities which can be pursued at any time in any place through any means at any age.

Components of SDL

There are quite a few components involved in self-directed learning. We’ll now take a look at each of them in detail.

Ownership of Learning

  • Students identify, determine and articulate their own learning goals.
  • Students identify learning tasks to archive the goals.
  • Students chart their learning process.
  • Students challenge themselves and set the standards for the achievement of their learning goals.

Management and Monitoring

  • Students identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as any obstacles towards achieving their goals.
  • Students self-plan and self-manage their time.
  • Students critically reflect on their learning and initiate gathering of feedback from the teachers and peers to achieve their learning goal.
  • The teacher takes on a supporting and advising role while students manage their own learning process and monitor their own progress.

Assessing Learning Needs

  • Students assess their needs as they progress through the learning process.
  • They will need to find out what resources they need, either materials, help from the teacher, or a combination of both.
  • Teachers will then provide support to help them obtain those resources.

Collaboration

  • It is a very important part of the students’ learning process in self-directed learning.
  • Students collaborate with other students in their class, students in other grades, or even adults out in the community to gain knowledge and experience and reach their learning objectives.

Self-Evaluation

  • The final component is self-evaluation. After students have gone through the process and have finished the assignment, students should reflect and evaluate their results.
  • Students should get input from other students as well as the teacher to find areas that may need improvement.
Role of a teacher: teacher to facilitator

Concepts should change from that of ‘teacher’ to that of ‘facilitator of learning’, ‘motivator’ and ‘designer of the learning situation’ and sometimes join the students honestly as a continuous co-learner.

Classroom standards for self-directed learning
  1. Promote, support and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness.
  2. Engage students in exploring real world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources.
  3. Develop technology enriched learning environment that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning and assessing their own progress.
  4. Address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.
  5. Evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning.
  6. Learners transform from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive.’
Methodology

The SDL program aims at providing a streamlined and need based learning experience to students and can also be dipped into for suggestions of what needs to be thought about at a particular stage of planning or designing a self-directed learning program. It aims to seek answers for the question:

  • What constitutes an effective SDL?
  • What forms of instructional strategies and activities can be implemented by the teachersto cater to the pace and varied learning styles of different students? This SDL program involves a series of steps that can be administered to a selective group of students to begin with. These include:
Step 1: Early identification and diagnostic test

Before planning an ideal Self-Directed Learning Program, it is essential that we have a good idea of the level at which each student is performing. A series of diagnostic tests in different subjects can be conducted, to identify the competencies and learning achievements of the students. Need for learning intervention and for a personalized learning treatment was also based on child’s previous achievements, teacher’s feedback and peer responses. The class performance, averages, medians, and modes were taken into account to assign for each child the expected learning outcomes. Baseline assessments can be conducted for each student in the beginning of an academic session in order to identify each student’s level of knowledge and skills. A combination of assessments for testing reading, writing, and comprehension levels was administered.

Step 2: Introductory session

A group of students can be shortlisted based on the result of the diagnostic tests. An introduction session should be conducted with these students acquainting them about the nuances of self-directed learning and how it will be beneficial for them to improve their performance. This session should consist of innovative self-exploratory activities which can help the students to identify their strengths and weaknesses and thereby be equipped to design their own study plan. At the end of the session, students should be asked to prepare their personal development plan with the help of the parents guided by the teachers.

Step 3: Personal Development Plan (PDP)

The students should then be encouraged to prepare their PDP’s on weekly and fortnightly basis. This plan should focus upon their immediate goal, their learning objectives, resources used to achieve the goals, learning strategies adopted, monitoring their progress, collection of the evidences of their accomplishments along with their target date of completion of the task. This will surely help them to achieve small targets further motivating them to work towards their broader learning goals.

Step 4: Self-evaluation

After the attainment of the spelled-out objectives laid in the personal development plan, the students should evaluate themselves based on the achievable and non-achievable targets. This will lead to self-introspection leading to a comprehensive detailing about the difficult topics they came across while preparing for their term examination.

Step 5: Student feedback

Feedback should be sought from the students based on which teacher led interventions can be planned to help students attain clarity of concepts and difficult topics identified during self-evaluation. Teachers should deploy varied instructional strategies and resources to meet the needs of the differential learners. They may also provide adequate feedback to the students and suggest the further plan of action to help students prepare the PDP for the next cycle.

On a concluding note
  • SDL can help the teachers to know the potential of their students.
  • It is the deep and permanent method of learning.
  • Students try to figure out their learning needs and reflect upon the learning processes.
  • It can be sighted as a way of transformative learning in which the students have ideas on how they can improve their learning on various pieces that they have learned.
  • Children become the custodians from their own learning.

We require teachers who can work beyond the four walls of the classroom with students who despite their common characteristics can involve in self-directed learning at their own pace, alongside one another, individually or in groups. To enable the mastery, we need to focus on providing teachers with requisite skills to teach self-directed learners.


The SDL program aims at providing a streamlined and need based learning experience to students and can also be dipped into for suggestions of what needs to be thought about at a particular stage of planning or designing a self-directed learning program.

Divya Kapoor is currently working as Headmistress in Prgayan School, Greater Noida. She is a progressive teacher with an experience of 13 years. She has been instrumental in creating engaging classrooms by introducing interdisciplinary approach, flipped classroom,integration of ICT and activities based on international dimension. Areas of her expertise include developing quality interventions in the teaching learning space, using instructional strategies, designing SDG based activities and flexible assessments. She has received the prestigious Global Teacher Award 2019 and CBSE National Award 2018 for her contributions in the field of education. She has also been conferred twice with the Life Empowerment Award for Life skills and Value Education by Expressions India in collaboration with CBSE.