Adults want to be viewed as being capable of making their own decisions. This includes making decisions about learning. As the need arises, adults take it upon themselves to seek methods in which to learn a new skill or increase our knowledge. Adults learn through a variety of channels common in their everyday lives. They deliberately seek information from their colleagues, family, community, or place of work. This information can lead to new knowledge or the acquisition of a new skill. On the other hand, because learning is embedded in their lives, they are often unaware that learning takes place all around them.
Factors Driving Adults to Learn
Today’s changing demographics, globalization, and technology are three main factors that are driving adults to learn new skills and acquire new information (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 1999). Much of this learning is sought by the learner for personal reasons, which can include career development and personal growth.
What Is Self-Directed Learning?
To term a learner as “self-directed” means that the learner commences the learning, decides what learning experience will occur, and decides upon the method in which the learning experience will take place. The learning experience can take place in formal, non-formal, and informal settings. In other words, self-directed learning is learning in which the learner is primarily responsible for its planning and implementing. Learners become self-directed as they mature, having had exposure to a myriad of contexts where learning is sought and acquired.
Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace
Self-directed learning is a natural occurrence in the workplace. Self-directed learning is embedded in the everyday lives of workers. Self-directed learning in the workplace can be as simple as researching a topic via the internet to learn factual information or a complex endeavor that takes weeks, months, or even years to complete. The assessment of self-directed learning has received attention from scholars to the extent that scales were developed to determine the qualities that constitute one’s readiness for self-directed learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 1999). Assessment of self-directed learning is based on its outcome, or what is produced.
Implications of Self-Directed Learning for the HRD Professional
Self-directed learning certainly accommodates the learner’s individual learning styles and objectives. This learning can be passed down or taught throughout the organization providing the right Human Resource Development (HRD) program is in place to capture knowledge gained through self-directed learning activities. An HRD professional can develop the necessary tools to assess the learner’s current performance and to evaluate the expected performance. To ensure that a learning organization is created, knowledge sharing opportunities can be promoted and maintained.
As adults mature, they naturally move toward being self-directed learners as they become independent. Self-directed learning primarily occurs outside of formal institutional settings, is embedded in our everyday lives, and many adults can learn very effectively without the assistance of educators. Assessing self-directed learning may be based on a variety of aspects including personality, on-the-job learning, and personal responsibility (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 1999).
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (1999). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A. Human Resource Development