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Implement Self-Directed Learning in Your Office

Performance is high on any manager's list of priorities. There isn't one right way to create motivated, high-performing employees, but there are some common ingredients. Self-directed learning (SDL) has been around for decades, but it is getting a fresh look in the workplace.

SDL enables employees to take control of their development. It can promote the continual training and improvement that are vital to an organization's success.

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) can help managers develop the skills and knowledge to successfully implement SDL. In addition to building a solid business foundation, for example, the online MBA program at Boise State University emphasizes manager-employee relations, including motivation, leadership and self-management.

What Is Self-Directed Learning?

Employee development is the bedrock of any business. It is as important for the company as it is for employees. What do employees need to know? What skills will help an employee grow? Where are the gaps? What is the best way to deliver that training?

When it comes to employee development, what works for one employee may not work for another. But self-directed learning can support every employee's professional development. And by its nature, it promotes continuous improvement in the organization.

Malcolm Knowles is frequently cited in discussions about SDL for his view that adults become increasingly self-directed in their learning as they mature. SDL involves the following:

  • Recognizing what a person knows
  • Identifying learning needs and goals
  • Identifying resources/tasks to meet learning goals
  • Monitoring and assessing outcomes

What Are Advantages of SDL?

SDL has a wide-ranging benefits, in addition to creating a culture of learning:

Reduce burnout: Studies show that burnout affects two-thirds of employees and negatively impacts productivity. These studies show that employers can reduce burnout by 43 percent simply by allowing employees some self-direction in what tasks they do, when they do the tasks, and how much time they spend on the tasks. SDL gives employees more ownership in their work. In turn, this may create a healthier workplace.

Increase retention: Millennials may get a bad rap for being job-hoppers, but nearly 90 percent would rather stay with their current employer. What keeps them from leaving might surprise most employers: According to Gallup, not even money is as important to Millennials as learning and growing. The Millennial generation is the largest generation in today's workforce. SDL can be a smart move when it comes to providing the continuous learning this generation demands.

Meet changing workplace needs: Employers and employees are dealing with rapid advances in technology, including the rise of artificial intelligence and automation. Self-directed learning can proactively prepare employees for new opportunities. In addition to developing the new skills their work may require, self-directed learning can be a confidence-booster.

Reduce training costs: SDL can reduce the expense of training that is either unnecessary or irrelevant. With SDL, everyone is not necessarily sitting through the same training. Learning happens by design — when it is needed, not simply because it is available. Plus, meaningful learning is more likely to stick.

What Are the Challenges of SDL?

While the advantages of SDL are compelling, it is important to be mindful of potential challenges:

  • SDL requires self-discipline. Employees will need to balance the demands of work and their identified learning goals.
  • The flexibility of SDL can lead to procrastination, causing employees to fall behind in their goals. Getting back on track is like exercise. It may help, for example, to create a schedule.
  • SDL requires that learners have access to reliable resources. There are many options, but employees may need guidance to identify them. The microlearning method is a popular choice, providing bite-size training for people on tight schedules who want to update their knowledge. YouTube videos are one example.

SDL reflects the way adults learn best, making it a natural fit for employee development. But the realities of a typical workday can get in the way. A Deloitte study found that employees can devote only 1 percent of the workweek to training and development. Managers can address that issue by dedicating time during the workday to focus on learning opportunities.

SDL may give the impression that managers are hands-off. However, studies show that employees who feel supported by their managers are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout. Simply put, employees want managers who are there to help them out. Although managers may provide less oversight with SDL, they still need to set expectations and be available for guidance and check-ins.

SDL can have sweeping benefits across an organization. Improved productivity and profitability are obvious examples. Most important, perhaps, SDL empowers employee engagement, which translates to a happier workforce.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.

Sources: Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning Pillars of Adult Learning Theory

Gallup: Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes

Gallup: Do You Offer As Much Flexibility As You Say You Do?

PR Newswire: Millennials Are Most Likely to Stay Loyal to Jobs With Development Opportunities

Gallup: Why Your Best Millennials Will Leave, and How to Keep Them

Pew Research Center: Millennials Are the Largest Generation in the U.S. Labor Force

Deloitte: Meet the Modern Learner

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