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What is Self-Directed Learning?

The learner is at the heart of the process of self-directed learning.

And the learner’s heart drives the process.

Learners lead the process by determining what matters to them, their interests, curiosity and their goals, based on what is near and dear to their hearts. The heart must be full of trust that with questioning, hard work, and showing up learning is possible.

What do you mean when you say self-directed learning?


What are the steps in self-directed learning?

There are four main steps that are cyclical in nature. Learning is not linear.  The steps can be outlined as:

1.  Question: start with learner’s questions, curiosity, interests, goals


2. Learning Project: defined by learner can be many types of projects


3. Share: document learning, take learning into world, take action, connect


4. Self-evaluate: reflect, were my goals met, criteria, what next?

The learner designs the project, sets goals, determines criteria for mastery or completion, shares the learning, reflects and self-evaluates. The learner selects resources, and can choose to learn with others or ask for instruction or models.

The learner can also look for learning communities, online or in local groups. Self-directed learning does not mean learning in isolation or with no support.

So, if you are the learner, or the mentor, you will go through the self-directed learning cycle again and again. Things may not unfold as you foresee.  Be curious about how many different ways there are to learn something. Challenge yourself to find new methods.  Be willing to ask. Be open to multiple options and willing to change course.

Expect to encounter challenges, difficulties and confusion at times. Uncertainly and discomfort are part of the growing process. Things outside of your control will get in the way.  As in life,  sh*t happens when pursuing self-directed learning.

Even with challenges, trust that if you are honest, present, pay attention and listen you can figure out your next step. Apply the steps of the learning process to pretty much any problem you have to solve.

You can do it.

You can help your children go through the process by acting as a supporter and a facilitator.

Ask the questions to help them find their own solutions.

Model for them the steps to take.

Help them see how projects can be broken down into chunks.

Work with them, don’t do the work for them.

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself. Jean Piaget

Give your child as many opportunities to discover as possible.

The self-directed learning cycle can be repeated as needed. Learning can happen anywhere at any time. You can apply this process, and mindset, to any situation, in or out of school.


I wish you joy and confidence on your learning journey.

How do you approach self-directed learning?

 What helps make it work for you or your family?  

What is it that holds you back? I’d love to hear from you email me at or find me @lisanalbone on twitter.






6 thoughts on “What is Self-Directed Learning?”

  1. Hi Nicki,

    I would be happy to let you use the graphic if you cite me and where it came from. I would love to have more people find my posts and site. Thanks for getting in touch. I will email you. Lisa

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I stumbled on your post and graphic when searching about self-directed learning. I am at the end of an online course for educators called COETAIL and I am writing one of the final posts documenting the process of my learning and that of my students. I really appreciated your post and wondered if I could have permission to use the graphic or to recreate it for my blog post? It works so simply and clearly as it is. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much.

  3. Pingback: Help! How do we start unschooling? | Lisa Nalbone

  4. learning.all.the.time

    Thanks for your comment. It is easier and more exciting, in some ways, to get started than to figure out how to navigate the rough spots, since they are so individual. I will work on some posts for this area. The first thing we can do is to reassure them and let them know that it is normal to face uncertainty, confusion and difficulty and a large part of what we learn is how to face challenges. We will all face challenges in learning and life, just not the same ones. We have to trust that we can figure it out if we try. I will work on some posts in this area. Good luck!

  5. It is a great chart for visualizing the process of self-directed learning. I think it would be helpful to find out ways support learners to deal effectively when faced with uncertainty, confusion, difficulties as she continues to learn.

  6. Pingback: How do you keep going? | Lisa Nalbone

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