Self-Directed Learning (SDL)



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Here is a great article that does a fantastic job in describing self-directed learning, characteristics of educating, learning process, associated research methodologies/tools and the trends and themes that are associated with self-directed learning. I thought this article was an easy read. Here is the link to the article:

Here is the article:


The concept of Self-Directed learning (SDL) has been a topic of interest in the field of adult education and the literature continues to expand.  Donaghy (2005) points out that “self-directed learning has been one of the most widely studied topics within the field of adult education over the past three decades. It has gone from being a revelation for some to a topic heavily criticized by others” (p. vii).

This wiki will look briefly at the key people that have contributed to the development of SDL, thephilosophical foundation that SDL is built upon, the historical timeline of SDL, emerging trends and themes relative to SDL, and a variety of multimedia related to SDL. In addition to the references for the quotes and claims in this wiki, there are additional resources (e.g., literature, websites, etc.) provided that are useful for learning about SDL.

What is Self Directed Learning (SDL)?

Many have tried to define what SDL means and Brookfield (1986) claims that it has “been skewed by those who choose to define it as they wish” (p. 18).  Owen (2002) attributes the distortion of the definition to “haphazard nomenclature” (pg. 1). Self-direction in adult learning has been labeled as self-teaching, self-planned learning, inquiry method, independent learning, self-education, self-instruction, self-study, self-initiated learning, and autonomous learning (Owen, 2002).  All of these labels give the impression of learning in isolation, whereas Knowles (1975) pointed out that SDL usually takes place in association with various types of helpers such as teachers, tutors, mentors, and peers. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) believe “it is crucial to recognize the social milieu in which such activity takes place” (p. 32).

How some have defined:

  • Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) claim that, “self-direction in learning refers to both the external characteristics of an instructional process and the internal characteristics of the learner, where the individual assumes primary responsibility for a learning experience” (p. 24).
  • Gibbons (2002) stated that “SDL is any increase in knowledge, skill, accomplishment, or personal development that an individual selects and brings about by his or her own efforts using any method in any circumstances at any time” (p. 2).
  • Kasworm (1983) stated that self-directed learning can be viewed as a “set of generic, finite behaviors; as a belief system reflecting and evolving from a process of self-initiated learning activity; or as an ideal state of the mature self-actualized learner” (p. 1).
  • Knowles (1975) described Self-Directed Learning (SDL) broadly as “a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or with out the help of other, to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes” (p. 18).

Misconceptions and Myths concerning SDL

We humans adopt methods and approaches that are most effective for our use. Then we often assume that if it works for us then it must be the best approach. However, as with any idea or concept (especially in education), one must not be quick to proclaim a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Conversely, some are resistant to adopt a good method because they do not fully understand the benefits.

  • Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) point out that ” it is a misconception to assume that learners necessarily enter a learning experience with a high level of self-direction already intact. Self-direction is not a panacea for all problems associated with adult learning. Nor is it always necessary for one to be highly self-directed in order to be a successful learner. However, if being able to assume greater control for one’s destiny is a desirable goal of adult education (and we believe it is!), then a role for educators of adults is to help learners become increasingly able to assume personal responsibility for their own learning” (p. 27).
  • One myth is ” that such learning takes place in isolation. In order to truly understand the impact of self-direction, both as an instructional method and as a personality characteristic, it is crucial to recognize the social milieu in which such activity transpires” (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991, p.32).
  • For more information about Myths and Misunderstandings in SDL.




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