Adult Self-Directed Learning

Through time, self-directed learning has been observed as a rather distinct form of learning that has been in existence in the development of children up to the adult years. In the past, it has been known that the practice of self-directed learning has become the practice where formal instruction is not available before the establishment of schools (Merriam & Brockett, 2007).

It requires a greater focus on the ability of the learning to become the source of initiatives when it comes to acquiring information and the reliance on their self without guidance from the traditional perspectives contained in the classroom setting. More so, it emphasized on a lesser restrictive foundation of learning and allows for the adult learners to depend on their own capabilities and discipline (Edwards, Hanson, & Raggatt, 1996).

Aside from the learner, there is a perspective from the field of education which points towards the fact that adult learners are able to gain knowledge in self-directed learning through dialogue, too (Borkman, 1999). Nonetheless, there is much more emphasis on autonomy and the assumption of ownership when it comes to learning (Knowles, Golton, & Swanson, 2005).

Upon review of the literature mentioned above, it has been shown that adult self-directed learning has existed through time, focuses on autonomy and ownership in learning, acquisition of information through independence, and the use of dialogue in learning.

These are essential and basic elements within the concept of self-directed learning but the ability of the adults to engage in self-directed learning, in consideration of the characteristics and perspectives they have in terms of learning, is worth discussing.

Moreover, the long existence of self-directed learning leads to the question of whether it can be really institutionalized or formalized through the inclusion in the academe or should remain as what it has been before, which is that learning rests on the initiative of the learner and occurs just about anywhere.

It has been considered that the adults are able to conceptualize and reflect on their own better than the other age groups because of their current stage in cognitive development. Inherently, they have the capability to analyze and critically assess situations before them because of the sense of maturity attached to their age group.

With this characteristic, adults can engage in self-directed learning better than high school students would do, as an example. However, this particular ability, brought about by their level of cognition, raises the question of whether adults are indeed able to learn by themselves or would need to communicate with a particular mentor or peer, which is posited in the element of “dialogue” for self-directed learners.

The autonomy and independence is especially raised in the case of self-directed adult learners because of the discipline they have but nonetheless, there remains the need for them to have an authority in their activities when it comes to learning. There remains the constant need for inquiry and honing of ideas and the adult learner should be able to engage with someone who can ask questions in order to engage the learner into deeper thinking.

While cognitive development may be a factor that makes the adult capable of engaging in self-directed learning, there remains the need for them to engage in dialogues in order to assure that what they gain in terms of their autonomous and independent are continuously refined. Thus, there remains the need for a mentor or outsider interaction that turns the mentor into a facilitator of learning instead of an agent through which learning primarily rests on.

Moreover, this makes the autonomy and independence of a learner vary in terms of the set-up where self-directed learning occurs. There are differences that have to be accepted when it comes to the learning styles and behavior of the adult learners which makes room for flexibility in the framework of self-directed learning.

There are adults who are able to devote their time practically on learning by themselves and there are also those who need constant dialogue for them to learn. In terms of learning styles, there is much room left for flexibility in this method of learning and makes people appreciate the fact that it puts the learner at the center of every activity.

This deviates and puts much difference as compared to the traditional classroom setting because of the restrictive nature of learning and expression of individual learning habits. It now becomes important to emphasize that learning is deemed to be a rather enriching and fruitful experience when the learner is able to express and do it in his/her own way and will because of the satisfaction this brings.

More so, a person would rather act more cooperatively when he/she has a sense of control over the choices that has to be made, which is the essential and a root function in self-directed learning. Thus, the question of whether adult self-directed learning rests on the level of cognitive development of the learner has to take into consideration the personal learning habits and degree of autonomy required by each learner. More so, evaluation of progress has to be based on the different requirements of each learner.

In terms of formalization, there are current ways through which self-directed learning has been formed to become a part of the academe. The fact that it has been used as a method of instruction in the universities, which is partially a hybrid form in the case of distance learning, shows that it is recognized as an acceptable and effective means of acquiring knowledge.

However, there remains the question of whether institutionalization of this form of learning creates any difference or not. The existence of self-directed learning practices in universities gives the formal setting for learning to occur. It does, in fact, take into consideration the different needs of the learner and the experience is enhanced through three different elements of the concept.

These three elements are the advancement in technology, the training for teachers, and the convenience and accessibility of the learners to engage in self-directed learning.

There advancements in technology have now provided self-directed learning to occur at a more effective manner for both the students and the teachers. The existence of internet has made it possible for learners, and teachers alike, to engage in dialogue and transfer of information across boundaries without barriers of geographical distances and costs. Learning could now occur online where different people in different parts of the world are able to communicate in real time.

Moreover, there is a far wider reach for adult learners to be able to seek the advice or opinion of experts or other professionals when it comes to acquiring information for their subjects. However, this poses problems and disadvantages for those who are not abreast with the changes in terms of technology for this particular method of learning.

Moreover, there are adult learners who are not familiar or are not willing to use new technologies. Thus, it limits the effective and new tools of self-directed learning to those who can use them and have access to such.

Aside from technology, teachers or mentors, who serve as facilitators, have also undergone changes as they developed their selves to adopt with the requirements of self-directed learning. It is assumed that there are still adult learners who wish to learn under the tenets of self-direction but requires guidance or dialogue.

This situation gives rise to the hybrid mix where a mentor is present in order to fulfill the roles expected by the learner. Through time, educators have made their selves available for training on how to handle communication for adult self-directed learners, motivation, and manner of facilitation. It is apparent that there are differences with that of the traditional classroom setting and this makes the teachers wear a relatively different shoe.

This is where they realize that dictation and feeding everything into the student does not work. Rather, they only have to stimulate the students to critically think and analyze their situation and create an atmosphere which enables learning to occur.

Lastly, access and convenience remains a great factor for the adults to choose self-directed learning today. The present conditions of the adults who engage in learning have made this a practical and popular choice nowadays. Adult learners are usually engaged in learning because of their need to go up the professional ladder, which can only be done through education.

In this set-up, they are given the chance to commit to their work and still be able to attend classes wherever they may be. Self-directed learning, thus, enhances the chances and opportunities provide for adults to acquire knowledge without any inconvenience.

 Upon visiting one of the online websites dedicated to self-directed learning,, there are information provided for the purpose of both the learners and the teachers. The site convinces people that they could engage in self-directed learning through steps and also provides the teachers with information regarding some aspects of this particular form of learning.

However, it is not a site which is purely devoted to providing information but mixes it with commercial purposes and makes offers of different materials for those who visit the site. Thus, it makes the readers question whether the information provided is intended to give credible information or simply support the commercial purposes of the website.

Thus, it has been shown that self-directed learning for adults have several elements. It is seen that it could occur in practically any place with varying degrees of formality. Moreover, there are considerations given for the preferences and personal habits of the adults when it comes to learning as brought about by their present situation and needs.

There are other aspects which affect the ability of mentors and students to come together for the purpose of engaging in self-directed learning where the learner still serves as the primary focus of the process and the teacher serves as the facilitator.


Borkman, T. (1999). Understanding self-help/mutual aid: Experiential learning in the commons. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Edwards, R., Hanson, A., & Raggatt, P. (1996). Boundaries of adult learning. London: Routledge.

Knwoles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (2005). The adult learner: The definite classic in adult education and human resource development. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Merriam, S. & Brockett, R. (2007). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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