What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and I have in common?
We’re all self-directed learners. I’ve proudly been a self-directed learner since 1994, when I realised that no employer of mine was ever going to provide me with the training and development that I needed to make a success of my fledgeling career. After thirty years of self-directed learning, I feel I’ve succeeded in evolving myself for the future and have done so through self-employment, where I didn’t officially have a training budget.
It’s worked for me and will work for all future learners in the workplace; gone are the days when students gorged on company training programmes. The future is for those that make it happen.
gone are the days when students gorged on company training programmes.
Here are ten traits you need to master to become a self-directed learner in no particular order.
The first trait is initiative. If your learner has set themselves a goal to learn something, they have the ambition and capability to find suitable learning. They are adept at searching the internet for reading materials as well as audio and video and can also venture offline as well. They seem to find what they’re looking for. Care your “Great Wall of China” doesn’t block anything of use value – most corporate IT departments block useful sites because they don’t trust people.
Independence comes next. With their learning goals in tow, self-directed learners don’t need permission to learn; they feel empowered to do so. Some companies even provide a budget to further their independence. My employed position in 1997 awarded me a training budget of £1,000 a year, and I was trusted and empowered to use this to buy training. I used it to part-fund my early NLP training.
They network well. Possibly members of various associations and unions that provide relevant learning and development. Networking with fellow members and others offers ample learning opportunities, sometimes over a coffee or fireside chat. Learning doesn’t have to be formal. My best ideas and insights have come from random discussions with people in my network. My superior education events have come from membership in three associations – PSA, SPA and AAISP. Google them.
They embrace responsibility for their learning. The buck stops with them; no one else will help them develop; it’s something they’re accountable for.
- Plan Own Development
Self-directed learners plan their own development time. I devote a day a week to personal development, not every week, but on average. Only with this amount of time investment can I achieve my learning goals.
They’re curious to learn things. A goal can lead anywhere. In 2012, I committed to mastering how to create videos for my business, and boy was this a giant learning curve for me. Seven years later, I’m producing some half-decent videos, but my curiosity took me to other areas beyond video production.
I’m currently exploring and using live streaming, so my video work streams live to YouTube and Vimeo. My curiosity also took me to Research and Development grants and tax advantages, which saved me a packet over the years.
- Learning As You Go
Self-learners don’t mind starting something at 80% ready. Too many people start projects or activities when they believe they are 100% prepared to go. Self-learners believe in learning as you go, and this often requires that you create something and learn/improve as you progress.
That’s the modern way. I watch some of my early incarnations of videos that are still on YouTube compared to my current videos, which are pretty awful. But they were new and exciting at the time and achieved my objectives.
- Aware of Learning Style
Self-directed learners are good at erudition and can adopt basic study skills. I’m aware of my learning style acutely. I know that reading works for me, and listening to podcasts allows me to learn where I want. I know I have to make notes when I learn; I use mindmaps (a technique I learned in the nineties by reading some books).
I work well at conferences and can listen to an outstanding speaker for hours. Incidentally, I don’t do group learning activities – that’s not my cup of tea. I’m very aware of how I learn.
Self-directed learners understand the unlearning process. When you learn something new, you have to unlearn the old first. Otherwise, you’re just piling on new on top of ageing, and you will struggle to see new ideas and innovations. Before you decide to learn something new, you unlearn the old.
For example, when I was learning about trainer video, I had to unlearn all the presentation skills I learnt when performing in front of a group – interaction, questioning, eye contact, movement, and gestures. Suppose I do these things when videoed; it’ll all go wrong. On video, you look at the lens, keep your gestures minimal, preferably nil and maximise your facial expressions and voice.
- They Enjoy Learning
Finally, I enjoy learning. It can be hard work, tiring and prone to errors and mistakes, but this gives me the benefits I seek. There’s always a point, a scary moment when you don’t understand what it is you’re learning. This can cause stress, and you feel vulnerable. You have to drive yourself through this because, with a tenacious attitude, you will understand it.
With your people committed to self-directing and controlling their learning, the next step is to re-organise your learning and development offering to fit this learner. That’ll come later once you’ve first influenced the culture of your workforce.