by Susan Jeffery
13 Aug 2020
4 Benefits of Self-Directed Learning
Putting employees in control of their own learning and development is the best way you can help them achieve their professional goals and objectives
No one can deny the importance of learning and development. Ever since childhood we’ve been taught that growing in our personal—and eventually, professional—lives requires receiving the proper education and training to succeed. It’s a constant journey.
This is just one reason why so many organizations today have implemented robust learning and development programs for their employees. After all, smart companies (and their HR teams) know that investing in their employees’ professional growth is a great way to boost employee retention, improve employee happiness, and drive greater organizational productivity.
Learning in organizations can be deployed in different ways. Some companies opt for a more “top down” approach, where curriculum and training is assigned to employees for completion. This works well for organization-wide compliance training or job-related skills development. However, given that this approach is focused primarily on employees reaching certain milestones or, more simply put, crossing tasks off their to-do list, it can feel like a more transactional approach to learning and development as a whole.
That’s why many companies have recently implemented self-directed learning (SDL) initiatives to complement the required coursework and training prescribed. Think of it like putting education, across a range of topics that go beyond job-related knowledge, in the hands of employees at all times. Whether they want to improve their soft skills, become an expert project manager, or even learn a new language, this kind of self-directed coursework gives employees more opportunities to embrace new learning challenges at work.
At Cornerstone, we are big believers in the value of self-directed learning. When done right, it can add a new dimension to the employee experience that not only demonstrates to employees that you’re invested in their long-term growth and development but also motivates them to become life-long learners. Here are four benefits of self-directed learning to consider:
1. Self-directed learning eliminates the “pressure” of learning
As is the case for pretty much every living and breathing human on this Earth, someone who is genuinely interested in or committed to a task at hand is much more likely to follow through on it. The same applies to learning within organizations. As opposed to required learning and training, which some employees will eventually—and, perhaps, begrudgingly—do just because they have to, self-directed learning puts learning and development into their own hands. Not only do they get access to a wide range of topics that can add value to their own personal or professional development, but they’ll also be able to tackle it at their own pace. This takes all the pressure out of the equation. Because employees ultimately opt-in to self-directed learning—and are free to complete their coursework on their own schedule—the common barriers to adoption and follow through of learning can quickly fade away.
2. Self-directed learning shows you care about employees
When you position learning as a benefit—and not a mandatory chore—you change the entire dynamic around how employees see learning and development within organizations. This doesn’t mean “once you build it, they will come” will play out naturally in your organization. You’ll certainly want to promote new coursework regularly and give employees a nudge from time to time to take advantage of the self-directed learning offering. Otherwise, it’s very likely this benefit will become “out of sight, out of mind” in the midst of a busy work schedule. That being said—and this is especially important in precarious times like these—putting learning and development up, front, and center with employees, positioning it as a way to help them overcome their own challenges and thrive like never before, is a way you can show them that their welfare and happiness if your number one priority. By investing in their future now, you show them that you are dedicated to their success for the long-term.
3. Self-directed learning doesn’t require learner profiles
Again, there are two sides to the learning and development coin within organizations. On one hand, there’s the training—in the form of learning “playlists”—assigned by HR teams or managers based on specific job roles or compliance requirements. Consider this table stakes as there will always be a need for this type of “mandatory” coursework. On the other hand, however, there’s self-directed learning, which empowers your employees to leverage all the goodness of your content library. For this you don’t need to create specific learning profiles or build out detailed learning playlists; all you need to do is make that additional content available to employees at all times so they can take advantage of it whenever they feel up for a challenge. This is a great way to let employees amplify their learning and development experience on their own in ways that HR teams or managers may have missed.
4. Self-directed learning can scale to address future skills needs
You’ve likely heard this on replay many times before, but the only thing that’s constant today is change—and this reality isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Having a clear understanding of what skills are needed now as well as what skills will be critical for various job roles or leaders in the future is essentially a moving target. This is even more the case at times like these when so much of the world as we once knew it is being turned upside down. Organizations cannot always adapt their learning and development programs to rapid change in real-time. However, by making self-directed learning available to employees, organizations make it possible for employees to access the tools and resources they need in the here and now, so they are better positioned to succeed in the future.
Bring self-directed learning to your employees
Whether you’ve already got a robust learning and development program in place or you’re just scratching the surface, it’s never too late to bring self-directed learning to your employees. However, to do so, you must have a few critical components in place:
- An effective learning management system (LMS) that can be accessed across any device (desktop, tablet, mobile). Today’s workforce is increasingly mobile and more connected than ever before. How you provide learning opportunities to your employees must mirror how people use technology today and be able to keep up as technology, platforms, and devices continue to evolve in the future.
- A robust content offering that actually piques employee interest. The content in your library needs to be a comprehensive blend of relevant skills development coursework coupled with a wide variety of non-job-specific topics. This doesn’t mean just a handful of “useful” courses that your employees can quickly work through either. To get employees truly engaged in their own learning and development, you need to give them a lot of choice and create as many opportunities as possible to spark curiosity. Remember, not all learning modules will appeal to all employees; the more you offer, the better chance you’ll have at getting more employees to join in the fun.
- An engaged group of managers who are dedicated to building and nurturing a culture of learning within your organization. Managers must be the biggest advocates for self-directed learning, not only by suggesting it to their employees (regularly) but also by giving their teams the space and time to pursue learning. Remember, self-directed learning is a benefit to employees; however, if they are too bombarded with work, they’ll never be able to take advantage of it. That’s why it’s so important for managers—and other leaders within organizations—to be the biggest champions of learning and development. If they don’t make it a priority, all of the time and effort you put into building out your content library may well be all for show.
- An array of incentives or a rewards program that encourage employees to put learning and development into their own hands. This may seem counterintuitive to self-directed learning at its very core but, let’s face it, when we’re in the midst of our busy work days, the last thing we’re probably thinking about is adding something else onto our plates. So, to make sure this benefit doesn’t slip off of your employees’ radars, be sure to provide ongoing reminders about new coursework and clearly explain what “rewards” employees can gain by taking advantage of your learning content. While we’d like to believe that employees will automatically do this on their own, we also know all too well that a little incentivizing can go a long way towards improving adoption and making learning feel fun and rewarding for all.
The good news for you: Cornerstone provides all of the essential tools and resources to make self-directed learning a success within your organization. If you’re ready to offer the benefit of extended learning and development to your employees, our team is ready to help.