Self-Directed Learning: Definition & Strategies

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  • 0:04 What Is SDL?
  • 1:01 Components of SDL
  • 2:24 Teaching Strategies in SDL
  • 3:12 Benefits of SDL
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

Self-directed learning is a type of instructional strategy where students take charge of their learning process. This lesson will discuss components, benefits, and teaching strategies of self-directed learning.

What Is Self-Directed Learning?

Self-directed learning (SDL) is an instructional strategy where the students, with guidance from the teacher, decide what and how they will learn. It can be done individually or with group learning, but the overall concept is that students take ownership of their learning.

For example, a teacher may give a general learning goal, such as to learn about a geographical area. Students would then work with the teacher to decide the scope of the project, length of time, and the end result that would demonstrate their learning. One student may decide to learn all of South America and create an educational website. Another student may choose to research the deforestation effects of Borneo and write a report for the government. Another student may choose a specific city and focus on the historical significance, creating a video vignette from personal interviews. By allowing students to choose different learning objectives and outcomes, it allows students to choose based on their personal interests and strengths.

Components of SDL

There are quite a few components involved in self-directed learning. We'll now take a look at each of them in detail.

Management and Monitoring

The first component is management and monitoring. With guidance from the teacher, students define the learning goals they wish to accomplish as well as negotiate a time frame for completion. Once they are established, students identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as any obstacles to achieving their goals. The teacher takes on a supporting and advising role while students manage their own learning process and monitor their own progress.

Assessing Learning Needs

The second component is assessing learning needs. Students assess their needs as they progress through the learning process. They will need to find out what resources they need, either materials, help from the teacher, or a combination of both. Teachers will then provide support to help them obtain those resources.


Collaboration is the third component. Ironic as this component may sound, it is a very important part of the students' learning process in self-directed learning. Students collaborate with other students in their class, students in other grades, or even adults out in the community to gain knowledge and experience and reach their learning objectives.


The final component is self-evaluation. After students have gone through the process and have finished the assignment, students should reflect and evaluate their results. Students should get input from other students as well as the teacher to find areas that may need improvement.

Teaching Strategies in SDL

While the student is responsible for most of the SDL process, teachers still have a role to play in this learning environment. Before students become self-directed learners, teachers must do several things. They first must assess whether or not students are ready to undertake self-directed learning. They also need to find out students' daily needs and interests, and design lesson plans and assignments that relate to those aspects of students' lives, therefore making learning relevant and enjoyable for the students. They should encourage students to become independent and take responsibility for their learning, while remaining available to help and support the students. They should also ensure students understand the importance of reflection and the self-evaluation process. Finally teachers should be available to discuss the end results with students, either individually or as a class-wide discussion.

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