What is Self-Directed Learning?

If you google “Self-directed learning” you will get many different definitions- enough to make your mind swirl. As a learning community, we’ve settled on this definition, as we feel it encompasses our why and mission at TVS the best:

When learners—in the context of an interdependent community of peers, trained educators, and caring adults—choose the process, content, skills, learning pathways, and/or outcomes of learning, with the guidance, accountability, and support of others, in service of finding a calling that will change their communities and the world.

Institute of Self-Directed Learning (From “Self-Directed Learning: A Landscape Analysis“)

There’s a lot packed in this definition. It’s a good one. But what does it really mean? Does it get us any closer to understanding all that self-directed education is? All that it promises? What it actually looks like in practice?

Maybe. But, I think to really understand self-directed learning we have to ask the learners. Earlier this week, as we kicked off a new session of learning and a new year in Discovery Studio, this is exactly what we did. First, we asked: What does it mean to be a self-directed learner?

Then, they were asked: What is the best part of being a self-directed learner?

Finally, learners were asked: What is the hardest part of being a self-directed learner?

I don’t know about you, but seeing self-directed learning through the eyes and minds of the young people who are experiencing it directly, does make me feel closer to understanding what it actually is, what it looks like, and what it feels like.

In regard to what self-directed learning promises, I think their answers speak volumes. In their responses (in addition to what I see every day in the studios), I see and hear young people who exude confidence, self-awareness, a strong sense of personal responsibility and agency, passion, and curiosity- among many other things.

I also see an awareness that the very best things about being a self-directed learner are also the hardest. Freedom and choice are wonderful things, but wonderful things are often found on the flip side of easy. As they say, with great freedom, comes great responsibility.

But of course, just dig a little deeper and our learners could have told you that.

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