Importance of self-directed learning

When learning moves from being teacher-centric to learner-centric, it contributes positively to the curiosity, creativity, motivation and satisfaction of students.

Updated - July 06, 2024 02:58 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2024 02:51 pm IST

Research has shown that SDL is positively associated with academic efficiency and performance, and contributes to learners’ curiosity, creativity, independent learning, motivation, and life satisfaction.

Research has shown that SDL is positively associated with academic efficiency and performance, and contributes to learners’ curiosity, creativity, independent learning, motivation, and life satisfaction. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Self-directed learning (SDL), also known as ‘active learning’ or ‘deep learning’, is a learning methodology where learners take primary responsibility for planning, implementing, and evaluating the effort. Even though SDL supports one’s continuous growth and development, it is largely misconceived, and badly administered by academia and students resulting in the latter not taking the fullest advantage of selecting, managing, and assessing their learning activities.

The Indian education system is largely obsessed with regular classes stuffed with more lectures and fewer practice sessions resulting in no room for students to reflect and handle things independently. There is no doubt that regular lectures help learners to become informed and knowledgeable but learning without deep understanding and self-construction of ideas may go in vain. Regular lectures are a teacher-centric approach leading to spoon-feeding that, in the long run, teaches the student nothing.

What is SDL?

The best educators design and develop their courses and methods to effectively prepare students for future careers, often by using various active and proactive learning techniques. SDL is one active learning technique that shows great promise in preparing students for their lives and careers. Further, students develop new insights by interacting with and transmuting received information to own it and make it personally meaningful.

While designing and developing the curriculum, educators must allocate a significant number of credits to SDL in addition to lectures and practicals. The course plan should depict the units and topics where and when SDL methodology may be used.

Educational research has shown that SDL is positively associated with academic efficiency, performance, and productivity and, above all, will significantly contribute to learners’ curiosity, creativity, independent learning, intrinsic motivation, and life satisfaction. Research also shows that curiosity, creativity, and intrinsic motivation have a positive effect on creative and innovative performance. That’s because when students are innately motivated, they feel a sense of ownership over their assigned tasks and learning, deep-dive into its metaphysical meaning, brush up on relevant skills that will make them more competent, and feel confident in their assignments.

SDL also contributes immensely to the readiness of students for their jobs and careers, irrespective of their education. It is highly emphasised even in medical education, primarily to produce learners who can manage their learning in their careers. There is an increase in the adoption of problem-based learning (PBL) that underscores SDL. It is because health professionals need to be self-directed to enhance goal orientation, motivation, self-discipline in practice, independence, timeliness, and continual methodical learning owing to the knowledge explosion, medical advancement and new procedures.

There is a lack of understanding as to how SDL can be used. Many think that SDL should be initiated by teachers while others assume that students should take complete ownership of the learning process. SDL becomes more effective when teachers and students are together involved in achieving the expected level of learning.

How to use it

Teachers should be facilitators where they explain a topic and promote collaborative sessions in class by asking questions, and students should read intensively to bridge the knowledge gap identified. This may induce the student to study beyond class hours to complete the task or solve the given problem.

Teachers should create curiosity among students by sustaining interest in topics, explaining the importance of solutions, and adequately questioning them during discussion hours. This is how learning may be stretched outside classrooms and can be converted from teacher-centric to learner-centric, where students make use of the outside classroom hours for their learning.

What deters SDL is that students are assessment-oriented. Unless SDL is subject to assessment, the student shows no interest. Hence, the formative assessment, which is part of the overall assessment, needs to consider the performance of students in assignments and tasks given under SDL.

SDL is a powerful approach to nurture growth and life-long learning in a rapidly changing world but it is neither widespread nor popular in the Indian education system. It is time that academia, both school and higher education, adopts self-directed learning as the major methodology, and provides an environment coupled with adequate orientation to both teachers and students. The existing teaching-and-learning practices may need to be re-examined and re-tailored. Faculty development and student orientation play important roles in implementing such changes. Are we ready for embrace it for the real benefit of education?

The writer is Professor and Principal, Faculty of Management Sciences, Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research (Deemed to be University), Chennai.

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