What is Self-Directed Learning and Its Importance in Online Training

SDL provides flexible schedule               SDL aligns with natural learning style

Adult learners are generally self-directed. We don't typically want to be spoon-fed; we want to be our boss. We want to set our own goals, control our tasks, and accomplish them at our own pace. In other words, the decision to learn or not to learn is also ours. That's when Self Directed learning comes in.

The trend of SDL in eLearning is increasingly on the rise. Research states that learning is becoming progressively self-directed, accessible, and informal.

In the "new normal" workplace, most employees/workers are in work from home setup. This setup makes training even more challenging to organize and implement in the workplace. That's why L&D professionals, eLearning developers, course creators, and instructional designers want to promote this strategy at the workplace because it facilitates the creation of a robust and sustainable learning culture in the organization. 

According to research, the future of eLearning predicts “more user-autonomy” and “fewer mandated learning paths,” allowing for “more integrated, searchable, cataloged systems.”

SDL is an essential trend in advancing the online learning environment due to its unique characteristics in separating physical and social experiences.

This post will define Self Directed Learning and its importance, share some tips on how it's used in eLearning courses, specifically online training, and provide best practices in getting started with SDL in instructional design.

What is Self-Directed Learning (SDL)?

Self-directed learning - a process in which students take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes.

SDL includes knowing what you need to learn, how to learn it, and being able to judge if you’ve learnt it. It assumes that learners have a role in selecting those learning tasks that fit their learning needs. (Loyens, Magda, & Rikers, 2008).

In a corporate environment, self-directed learning often involves giving learners, employees, partners, or customers access to webinars, videos, slideshows, or policy and procedure documents on specific topics through a learning management system (LMS). 

Why is Self-Directed Learning (SDL) Important?

Adult learners are mature, responsible individuals who want to take charge of their own learning. This is a natural psychological and cognitive development as human beings mature intellectually.




  • SDL gives adult learners the flexibility to schedule and learns whenever convenient. Adults claim that they learn more effectively when they analyze and internalize knowledge on their own by switching between viewpoints, referring to case studies, and looking up other resources within the virtual space. This will also allow instructional designers to create courses accessible anytime, anywhere, to fit the learners' flexible schedule.


  • SDL aligns perfectly with the natural learning style of adult learners who don’t want to be spoon-fed and enjoy studying when it’s most convenient for them. This synchronicity removes resistance and motivates adult learners to seek out the learning. eLearning courses designed for adult learners should include activities that will encourage them. Instructional designers should use varied activities to engage learners to finish the course.


There are many motivational factors for SDL in the eLearning environment. This may be one reason eLearning is gaining popularity among today’s learners. 
It is suggested that traditional learning environments might disallow learners to enjoy their learning, while informal learning is more self-motivating.
Three key motivational factors have been found as they relate to SDL:
  • Freedom and Choice
  • Control
  • Interest and Engagement 
In addition, when designing an eLearning course, instructional designers need to keep in mind the ease of the technology connections to learning outcomes, design features, and online support structures.
Though SDL goes hand-in-hand with eLearning, the value of using ePortfolios is an empowering approach for enhancing SDL skills for personal and professional development.


The use of e-Portfolios plays a significant role in effectively assessing meaningful SDL practices and managing performance and progress. They also aid in learner reflection, allowing them to take ownership of their learning process.
In addition, e-Portfolios promote self-management skills. Learners can take part in their learning by preparing specific learning goals and short-term objectives.
We can expect to see many trends in the future of eLearning. Instructional designers need to pay attention to all the considerations suggested when designing their eLearning courses to stay abreast with eLearning.
Read this: How to Use Portfolio as a tool in Learning to learn more about the use of a portfolio.

Tips on how eLearning developers, course creators, and Instructional designers can support self-directed learners:

  • Allowing learners to choose their projects
  • Planning eLearning modules in such a way that learners can choose where they want to start
  • Giving learners multiple opportunities to complete tasks
  • Permitting learners to set their deadlines for projects

Instructional designers and course creators should also consider the culture of SDL in creating online training courses. eLearning course creators also need to ensure their material is presented in a format that promotes an efficient self-directed learning process.

Self-directed learning is much more than just an approach to adult learning; instead, this is the new way of developing skills in the workplace.

In the eLearning and Instructional Design for Beginners Mastermind, You will learn how to apply Self-directed learning in your courses and experience self-directed learning. The Mastermind offers you courses and training that you can learn at your own pace, at your most convenient time.
The eLearning & ID for Beginners Mastermind has everything you need to start, grow, and advance a career in instructional design and create online courses!
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What is Self-Directed Learning and Its Importance in Online Training