How to Steer Yourself Toward Self-Directed Learning

Ginger Abbot

Sep 20, 2019

do you learn best? For many, the answer is self-directed learning. According to
experts, students can learn better when they control
the flow
the experience. How can you harness the power of self-directed learning and
accelerate your knowledge in nearly any subject?

about the last time you fully absorbed yourself in a task. Chances are, you
forgot the outside world and honed in like a laser on your goals. Through a
conscious process, you can steer yourself toward self-directed learning in any
discipline to maximize your efforts. Here’s how:

Step One: Assess Your Readiness

begin your journey, examine your
learning goals

— and your purpose. What do you want to learn, and why is it important? It’s
easier to commit to your learning path if you understand how mastering this
knowledge is meaningful.

Next, identify the gaps in your knowledge. For example, you may know that genes direct cell function, but not what a particular combination of genes controls. Write down questions you want to answer through your studies — this will guide you as you work on your goals.

Step Two: Explain What You Know

skill you hope to master, you need a starting point. Ask, “What do I know
about this subject already?” For example, if you want to learn about
software, you likely already understand a Windows or iOS operating system. You may
already use similar programs for other purposes.

To solidify what knowledge you already have, briefly explain what you know to a friend or family member. Alternately, write a brief paragraph describing what you know. Pay attention to any assertions you question the accuracy of and write down additional questions.

Step Three: Acquire New Knowledge

you’re ready to study new material. Determine how you learn best, and
incorporate a variety of modalities. For example, if you’re an auditory
learner, a tool like a text-to-speech app may help you understand books more
effectively than reading silently.

Break your studies into manageable chunks of time to avoid burnout. Ben Franklin left school at the age of 10, yet history considers him a brilliant writer, statesman and inventor. How did he master so much with little formal education? He dedicated one hour each day to reading or learning something new. Schedule your studies similarly, since it’s difficult to absorb new information through cramming.

Are you enrolled in a formal course of academic study? You can still locate outside resources to bolster your knowledge. For example, if you’re interested in learning a new language, explore alternate learning avenues such as smartphone apps and educational travel opportunities.

Step Four: Document Your Learning

you proceed through your journey, document what you’ve learned in various
formats. If you enjoy writing, take notes or compose a few paragraphs
explaining what you’ve uncovered. Create a mind map, a visual representation of
how interrelated concepts connect. If you’re a kinesthetic learner, try to
build a scale model.

the value of collaborative learning in mind throughout. For example, you may ask a trusted
mentor or friend
to serve as a learning accountability partner, someone to ask
questions about what you’ve learned. Alternately, you can seek out an online or
in-person study group — or even start one yourself!

Step Five: Assess, Identify Gaps, Repeat

you need to measure your new knowledge. If you’re still in school or enrolled
in a higher-educational program, you generally take exams or complete projects
to demonstrate mastery.

you’re learning independently, you’ll need to assess yourself. For example, if
your goal was to understand a new computer program, your assessment can consist
of using the software to complete a work task. If you wanted to learn how to
prep healthy snacks for the workweek, the proof is in your sugar-free,
fruit-filled pudding.

you assess your learning, take note of any remaining areas of deficiency.
Remember, education is a process. You’re not doing it to beat yourself up ⁠—
you’re doing it to build your knowledge. Identifying areas of misunderstanding
helps you clarify opportunities for further growth.

Self-Directed Learning Helps You Master Any Skill

Knowing how to engage in self-directed learning is the key to mastering any topic or skill — whatever your interests, education level or life stage. With motivation and the methods above, you’re on the path to lifelong learning.

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