Self-directed Learning – A behavior We Should Normalize

Many of us agree that 2020 should be marked in history as the year of disruptions. There has been disruption after disruption. Change after change. Change in the way we work, the way we shop, the way we greet each other and even in the way we treat each other. We are in the year of normalizing behaviours that were otherwise uncommon, not so long ago. Even the term normalize has been nomalised. I have come across countless memes and quotes lately of people advising their followers on positive behavior changes. So I was encouraged to write a piece on what I thought would be a great contributor to the improved normal we are crafting as the human race. It’s called self-directed learning. Let us normalize it. In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes (Knowles, 1975, p. 18).

A few weeks ago, my eight year old niece was brewing a cup of tea. She dislikes tea, in fact, like any average child, she is fussy about food. So you can imagine that this caught my attention. I asked her what she was doing. She responded, “I am making a cup of ginger tea”.  Curious and utterly shocked I asked her to explain. I could tell from the eagerness in her smile and twinkle in her eyes that she had more to say. She took me back to last year, when she had a sudden interest in performing gymnastic stunts. She started watching Youtube videos of other young girls about her age, doing cartwheels and the like. She told me about how her cartwheels got better and better with practice. In fact, she demonstrated how she came from frog like cartwheels, to something close to the real thing, and later to straight leg cartwheels. She added that she had now mastered her cartwheels, but the other ‘stuff’ she is trying learn requires more flexibility. She told me that she did some searching on what to eat in order to become more flexible, and in the process discovered that ginger was good for this. Please note, that the websites she browses are highly monitored. Following her findings, she managed to convince her (mom) to buy her some ginger tea. She told her mom what it was for, and how she came across the information. Fast forward three weeks later, I am not sure if the ginger is doing the job as intended, perhaps it will take some time, but I have observed her relentless daily practice. She seems to making good use of her time in lockdown.

There are several lessons I got from this little lady learning journey. If you are passionate about or interested in learning a new skill, you will find ways. She could have asked her mom to enroll her into a gymnastics class, but that is not what she wanted. She decided to find an (1) alternative way of learning. She then started learning (2) one stunt at a time, through (3) relentless practice. As she progressed, she realised that not every level is the same, and thus a different (4) methodology should by applied, a (5) change in lifestyle if you have to. You may have to come out of your (6) comfort zone. She conducted some (7) research. She (8) started by herself, but later (9) solicited the support of others. She uses her (10) free time to perfect her craft. It has become apparent to us that the pace at which change takes place has increased. When change happens, our norms are affected. Self-directed learning gives us the essential skills for life-long learning that keeps us agile amidst change. The key factor is that the direction of learning is determined by the learner and not an external authority. Self-directed learning is more than just a new approach to education and workplace development, it is a new way of living. Careers are evolving. The business ecosystem is shaping the expectations that organisations have of their employees. Self-directed learning signals a move to an entrepreneurial culture fueled by curiosity and a genuine desire to learn. It further reflects a belief that people have the right to live their own lives and follow their own paths—to “pursue happiness” in their own ways, as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others to do the same. Learning is more than acquiring a qualification. It is about the skillsets that make us confident, innovative, more desirable in the 5th industrial revolution, and more flexible in the era of disruptions. So, let us normalize self-directed learning.