How to Enable Self-directed Learning in the Workplace?

Imagine an organisation where employees would proactively learn the things they need to perform and take charge of upskilling themselves for the future. Sounds like every L&D professional’s dream, doesn’t it? In fact, more and more organisations are exploring for ways to achieve some of that, even if with limited scope. On one hand, we’ve realised that the traditional organisation of L&D activities is not agile enough to respond to the rapidly transforming business environment. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of of talk about 21st century employees having to take charge of their own learning and development. This type of self-directed learning is certainly not a new thing for individuals. However, organisations still have a fair bit to learn in facilitating it.

So, let’s explore self-directed workplace learning in a bit more detail. Here are a few key pieces we think need to be in place for this individual-led approach to be successful.

Organisations need to allow time for learning

This may sound overly self-evident, but in fact is a fundamental consideration. While an added benefit of self-directed learning is the flexibility it provides, organisations can’t expect their employees to learn on their own time. Some employees of course likely will do that, but a large part of them won’t. Thus, it’s important to make it clear that learning is part of the work of every employee, and to allow time within the “office hours” for it. If the whole organisation doesn’t support the approach and promote a self-learning culture, the impact will be very limited.

Managers’ commitment is crucial in facilitating self-directed learning

One of the key stakeholders in enabling a self-directed workplace learning culture are the managers. As previously mentioned, the managers need to firstly commit to the fact that their employees will be spending some of their time learning. But that’s not quite enough. The managers need to also take an active approach in following up with the learners who are having difficulties or are not engaging. They should also take an active role in identifying challenges and guiding people towards the right resources. Some employees will likely require more elaborate coaching on what self-directed learning is, and how they should be going about it. After all, the approach doesn’t necessarily come naturally for everyone.

Organisations should offer employees resources and tools

One key part of a feasible self-directer learning strategy is the resources and tools that employees can use. Sure, Google, YouTube and similar platforms exist. However, expecting employees to search for information, assess its value and relevance is likely too much to ask. Especially if you’re only beginning the journey and people are not used to self-directed learning. Thus, it’s important to offer employees resources and tools to take charge of their own learning. These can be a variety of things. Many organisations nowadays choose to curate learning resources, rather than designing everything from scratch. With this, employees get access to material that has been already vetted, and they no longer need to spend time evaluating it.

Increasingly many organisations also offer their employees collaborative and social platforms, where employees can interact with each other. These can provide a valuable informal learning resource. Often, it might make more sense to just ask someone, rather than find videos or other material on how to complete a particular task.

Never try to force people to learn, but encourage them

Finally, this one is a major issue we regularly notice with organisations who attempt to execute self-directed learning. For some reason, organisations expect that they can become self-directed, while they still “direct” people by forcing learning. For instance, this can be requiring employees to complete learning activities, set deadlines or impose other kinds of rules. This is what many L&D departments are used to, but it simply doesn’t work if you want to develop a self-directed learning culture. We cannot force people to learn.

However, that doesn’t remove the importance of encouraging employees to learn. In fact, some studies indicate considerable performance improvements pertaining to self-directed learning. But only in cases where the learning is voluntary. As we’ve mentioned before, organisations should make their absolute best efforts in promoting that culture and committing to it. People won’t take up on it unless they see their superiors and the people around them showing commitment to it.

Final words

All in all, building a self-directed workplace learning culture is by no means easy. It requires L&D to relinquish some control and accept the fact that everything cannot be strictly administered. For many organisations, this sort of change likely represents total cultural transformation. However, if you want to become a truly agile and effective organisation, we see this as a necessary step along the way. If you’d like to explore ways of facilitating self-directed learning in your organisation, don’t hesitate to drop us a note. We can’t promise quick wins or guaranteed success, but we can certainly help you learn about what might work and what might not.

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