Self-Directed Learning

Posted by Clare Agostinelli on April 16, 2020

Reflecting on my days as a teacher, I remember that I’d plan my lesson instruction leaving space and freedom for students to practice self-directed learning. Witnessing students dive into their own cognitive thinking and personal interests and associations while exploring content is simply euphoric for a teacher. This is when you can let go for a bit, and sit back and watch the natural explorer in your students. We have the perfect opportunity to purposefully foster self-directed learning. We’ve pulled together some instructional tips for  incorporating self-directed learning into your students’ education.

  1. Personalized learning. Students are naturally motivated by an idea or concept they care about. Now is the time to support independence and creativity by assigning projects that allow students to choose content that interests them. Of course, you can still provide a list of topics, as this is better than assigning specific subject matter, which leaves little to no choice. There are plenty of additional ways to personalize learning beyond content—click here for some examples.  

  2. Model critical and exploratory thinking. It’s not easy for students to engage in self-directed learning if they haven’t learned how to think critically through authentic inquiry. A student must become aware of their own interests, open themselves to new ideas, learn to vet sources, and build upon their own knowledge and understanding. Here are some questions teachers can use to get their students thinking critically about content: “What do you think you need to know about this information?” or “What questions can be asked to uncover new information about this topic?” The more students practice figuring things out on their own, the more confidence they’ll develop. Here you will find a list of additional questions that promote student self-directed thinking. 
  3. Use real-world examples. By integrating personal experiences into their education, students can learn in a more meaningful way. For students to bring their own meaning of context to their learning in a self-directed way, the educator must provide real-world and relevant examples. This supports students in exploring the world around them, formulating investigative questions, and testing hypotheses. Students can do all this by making time for self discovery with objects and resources found in their homes or neighborhoods. For an excellent resource, check out our STEM At-Home Activity Pack  for K-5 learners, a great activity for students and their families!
  4. Reimagine the future of learning.  It’s  common for teachers to reflect on pedagogy and student learning outcomes, but it may be time to reimagine the future of learning as well. While the classroom is not going anywhere (and neither are teachers!), technology is becoming more advanced, and schools are changing pedagogical methods as they follow educational trends and learning models. Maybe it’s time we put aside any fears of technology and new methods. Instead, let’s embrace anything that fosters our students’ curiosity, so they can become independent learners and thinkers, tech savvy young adults, and better prepared for the world ahead of them.

“Self-directed learning destabilizes traditional models of learning and that can be scary. I teach my students that failure is an opportunity for growth and that they shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, but sometimes it’s hard to take my own advice.” - Why Self-Directed Learning Is Important for Struggling Students

One thing we need to remember is that while some students are naturally self-directed learners and may easily adapt to this new norm, others may not. Nonetheless, both groups will need time and space to transition from their traditional classroom to virtual self-directed learning.

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