3 Key Elements of Self-Directed Learning

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Collaborating for Learning Conference (May 15 & 16, 2013) at the University of Calgary.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Gary Poole, from the University of British Columbia, gave a talk on a self-directed learning program at UBC.

Dr. Poole highlighted three key elements of self-directed learning that differentiate it from traditional learning:

  1. The learner identifies the goals of their project and their learning process.
  2. The learner designs the means for attaining those goals.
  3. The learner defines the criteria to determine if the goals were met.

In order for learning to be truly self-directed, teachers and advisors must surrender the need to control the learning process, program design and even the assessment. Faculty and program coordinators become guides, helping students find their way if they get lost, helping them to cultivate self-managment and self-monitoring skills and — at all costs — resisting the urge to prescribe how learning should happen.

Self-directed learning teaches students to take control of their own path and then take full responsiblity for their own success or failure, being reflective and aware every step of the way.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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