Do you take the initiative with your learning? Can you work out what you need to learn, decide how you’re going to do it, and then judge how well your learning went?
Self-directed learners do all these things and more and their learning is all the better for it. So let’s look at seven ways you can become a self-directed learner.
First, find the time. When you’re busy, learning can feel like a luxury, but it’s important to create pockets of self-development time when you can. Some people find it’s best to set aside the same slot every week. For flexible workers, home days may provide opportunities for undisturbed learning. For others, the commute can be a great time to read research papers or industry blogs or to listen to a podcast. Find what works best for you.
Next, set some goals. This will help you commit to your learning and keep you motivated as you track your progress. Remember to make your goals SMART, in other words, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The bigger your learning goals, the more detailed they’ll need to be.
Think long term. You’ll naturally want to develop knowledge and skills to help in your current role, but think about your longer-term aspirations, too. What will you need to meet your next challenge or to move forward in your career? Look at the people who inspire you. What have they done that’s helped them get where they are today? And what about outside of work? Perhaps you could pursue one of your hobbies as a fun and challenging way to grow.
Set up your own “to-learn list.” Many of us keep a to-do list for our daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. Similarly, a to-learn list can help you manage your learning over time. Look at this list regularly, schedule your learning activities, and discuss them during one-on-ones with your manager. If you can, bundle activities together to make them more manageable.
Remember to share the load. Self-directed learning isn’t just about you. By sharing your development activities with others, you can get support with what you are doing now and ideas about where to go next. This is a great way to grow your personal learning network, too.
Reflect as you go. A good way to monitor and manage your learning is to use a reflective journal. Record observations, thoughts, and feelings about your learning. Reflective questions can be useful if you ever feel stuck. For example, what have you learned this week? What’s gone well and what hasn’t? What could you do differently next time?
Finally, become a lifelong learner. Learning isn’t just about meeting specific challenges in your career. The rapidly changing world of work requires all of us to be flexible, open-minded, and adaptable. And lifelong learning is as good for your health as your career. Studies show that being a self-directed learner can keep your brain fit and even boost your longevity. What’s more, regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone should keep you interested and challenged, as well as excited about what you could achieve next.