self-directed learning

Professional Development

Self-Directed Learning

“Children are born learners; they are naturally curious and seek to explore their environments and understand themselves and others.”

Wehmeyer & Zhao, 2020, p. 20

self-directed learning

What is self-directed learning?

The self-directed learner is an “actor in their own lives” and is self-motivated to seek learning opportunities to learn and to become actively engaged in those opportunities with a positive attitude. (Wehmeyer & Zhao, 2020)

Educators must teach students to teach themselves, to learn as independently as possible by creating a learning community that promotes student choice and emphasizes student direction in learning. (Wehmeyer & Zhao, 2020)

When teachers infuse choices into meaningful learning events, students are more motivated, interested and persistent in their learning. Having a choice (or choices) makes one feel a sense of ‘freedom’ to express their preferences for the direction they want to take their learning. (Wehmeyer & Zhao, 2020)

Students engage in goal setting and planning, as well as managing their learning, and monitoring their progress. Teachers support students by aligning instruction with students’ strengths and abilities, emphasizing mastery, providing supportive formative feedback through meaningful dialogue.

Engage KM Educational Consulting for your professional development needs!

Our mission is to provide K12 schools with customized and cost-effective consulting services and engaging research-based professional development. We offer expert guidance for administrators on long-term academic planning and strategic decision-making. We design customized faculty workshops to engage and inspire teachers to pursue best practices and innovative approaches.

The 5 Dimensions of Self-Direction

Self-AwarenessInitiative and OwnershipGoal Setting and PlanningEngaging and ManagingMonitoring and Adapting
“What kind of learner am I?”

“How can my personal interests help me in my learning?”

“How can I develop action steps to achieve my learning tasks?”

“What am I learning about finding resources, using my time wisely, and seeking help when I need it?”
“Am I able to see when something isn’t working well, then adjust, and learn from it?”

Reflecting on past experiences to evaluate one’s strengths, limitations, motivations, interests, and aspirations within different learning contexts.

Taking responsibility for learning, finding purposeful driving questions, shaping opportunities to fit personal interests and approach to learning and, and seeking input from others.

Developing long-term goals, establishing meaningful learning targets, identifying effective strategies, and planning out steps.

Seeking out relevant resources and information to support learning goals and refining strategies; maintaining effective pace, reaching short-term benchmarks and long-term goals.
Evaluating progress, adapting strategies, seizing failure in order to grow from mistakes, and attributing success to effort, persistence, access, opportunity, help, and time. (“Building Self-Direction”, n.d.)

A supportive learning environment for SDL

  • SDL is prioritized as a fundamental school-wide goal.
  • SDL key skills are mapped out across grade levels and explicitly taught and reinforced. (McTigue & Tucker, 2022)
  • Student active engagement and participation are maximized.
  • Learning resources are easily accessible.
  • Classroom space is structured for student exploration.
  • Students feel safe to explore and take risks. (Wehmeyer & Zhao, 2020)
  • Supports are provided for all students to participate following Universal Design for Learning guidelines.

We have a series of blog posts on self-directed learning! Check them all out to learn more!

Pictures from our immersive learning workshops:

Making Self-Directed Learning Visible

“Self-directed learning thrives in an environment where students can check in and reflect on their thoughts, observations, and feelings during a lesson.” (France & Almarode, 2022, p. 26) Teachers must cultivate a culture of noticing in their classrooms so the learners are tuned in to the learning experience. There are two ways teachers can cultivate this:

  1. by consistently offering opportunities for students to show what they have learned
  2. by providing tools that scaffold ‘noticing’ (France & Almarode, 2022).

The strategies used to make learning visible require students to plan, select, and organize their learning experience, as well as to integrate their thoughts and feelings into this experience. France & Almarode (2022) described four easy strategies to make learning visible:

SummarizingMappingImageryAsking extension questions
Students construct a paper-and-pencil or technology-enriched summary of their learning.Students create a concept map (T-chart, Venn diagram) to arrange, group, or link their thoughts and ideas.Teachers use a thought-provoking image to generate a conversation about a topic. Or students create images to reflect their thinking and learning.Teachers ask follow-up questions (What makes you say that? Tell me more!) so students reveal their thinking.
Building Essential Skills Today (BEST): Self-Direction Toolkit. (n.d)

France, P. E. & Almarode, J. (2022, November). Learning to Notice. Educational Leadership, 80(3), 26-32.

McTigue, J. & Tucker, C. (2022, November). Developing Self-Directed Learners by Design. Educational Leadership, 80(3), 58-65.

Wehmeyer, M. & Zhao, Y. (2020) Teaching Students to Become Self-Directed Learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
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