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Fiona Pollock

Zostera Ltd

Learning Consultant & Coach

Read more from Fiona Pollock

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Creating a Self-directed Learning Environment


In my last couple of posts, I've talked about the importance and benefit of learning become more self-directed and self-determined.  Even as I was writing those posts, I was thinking "that's all good and well in theory, but how do we do that"  (I also know, from my own experiences that there will be people thinking that this approach won't work for their people as they just aren't interested in L&D).

Well, in this post we're going to look at some of the ways you can start to move towards a self-directed/self-determined learning environment.

1.  Encourage an Adult-Adult Management Style

For individuals to become truly capable, they need to be managed by people who are capable themselves.  This means that manager's need to take an approach which empowers their teams, they need to freely share information and take a more supportive, coaching role rather than directive one.

2.  Encourage Trust

People are recruited to roles largely because they are believed competent to do the role.  Manger's should trust that their team members are able to do what is asked of them and ask for help when it's needed.  The same applies to us though - as Learning professionals, we need to start to trust that people are able to identify what they need to learn.

Of course, it's not always going to be  that straight forward.  We've all heard the phrase "you don't know what you don't know" and that is true, but by providing opportunities for people to explore issues and situations, they will usually be able to identify their own knowledge/skills gap.

3.  Implement a Significant Event Analysis (SEA) Process

There will also be occasions when people get it wrong.  mistakes are made.  When this happens, it is vital that a review of the mistake is undertaken.  Used widely and with much success across the NHS, this is a brilliant way to provide individuals to explore a situation, their role in it and how it can be avoided again.  This in itself is learning, but it also can identify knowledge/skill gaps.

4.  Involve learners in learning design and selection

Seems like an obvious one, doesn't it?  But we've all been in situations where a manager has said "xx needs training on Xx", and we've provided a solution.  That's not to say that the need doesn't exist, but taking some time to explore the need with the individual (or getting the manager to do this) can allow the learner to identify their own solution.  And if they are involved in the design stage, they are more likely to engage with the learning.

When I say "explore the need" I don't mean they should be given feedback, although that might be part of the picture.  I mean they should be given resources to help them better understand the topic/area and then perhaps a discussion to help them identify where they might benefit from learning more.

You could also look to implement a self-service system for online learning - you can read more about this here:

These are just a few ideas to get you started, it's a slow progress of course, as with everything that involves changing people's attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, but the benefits make it well worth the effort.

Author Profile Picture
Fiona Pollock

Learning Consultant & Coach

Read more from Fiona Pollock

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