The Ins and Outs of Self-Directed Learning in the Classroom

Part 1 of a two-part series on self-directed learning

February 28, 2017


In the Classroom, For Admins

The term “self-directed learning” has been flying around education circles, but what exactly is it and why is it important in the classroom? We tackle these questions and more below.


What is it?

At its most basic, self-directed learning is when students both decide what to learn and take responsibility for following through on that learning. The concept was initially developed by Malcolm Knowles, who defined it as follows:

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. (1975, p. 18)

Why should I do it?

Self-directed learning provides a number of benefits that help form students into lifelong learners. Here are a few of the biggest ones.

Nurture curiosity

Giving students the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions helps them enjoy learning for its own sake.

Increase student motivation and engagement

With increased agency, students are often more willing to tackle hard topics and to participate in the lesson.

Deepen understanding of new concepts

According to researchers Gureckis and Markant, when students actively decide what to focus on, they are better able to absorb information and retain it.

Develop grit, growth mindset, and career skills

Students will learn to persevere through difficulty, as well as develop college and career readiness with skills like time management, goal setting, strategic thinking, and problem solving.

Are you ready to get started with self-directed learning? Stay tuned for next week’s post on how to implement it in the classroom!

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