Becoming a Self-Directed Learner

Have you learned something new lately?

Who’s in charge of your growth and learning?

Would you describe yourself as self-taught?

When it comes to personal development, you are the best person for the job. God has graciously loaned us many talents and skills–and a capacity for life-long learning.

Understanding the obstacles that impede development is a key starting point. This post will cover some ways self-directed learners overcome those hurdles. And how they think and operate.

Lately, the Johnson house has been experiencing excitement, mixed with a dash of nervous anxiety. A big change faces us just around the corner. I spent Monday and Tuesday with my son at his required college orientation. He will be attending Georgia Southern this coming August.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. So, I’ll do both.

One of the orientation speakers used the helpful analogy of a two-seater bicycle. If you’ve ever ridden a tandem bike, you know that the person in the front seat does all the steering and usually most of the pedaling. The second person makes a contribution, but they’re basically along for the ride.

This illustrates the transition that a college student makes in life. No longer will I (or my wife) be driving my son’s development. Caleb will be driving his own learning. And not just book learning. He will be charting an ocean of new life experiences. For the next four years, we’ll be swapping seats. Yes, I will still be there paying the bills, whispering encouraging words in his ear and following-up as a loyal parent.

However, this analogy doesn’t apply to just college students.

Don’t we all engage in this practice along life’s way? A student becomes a working adult. A supervisor transitions to a manager role. The patient takes on the title of doctor. A single person adapts to the married life. A new believer develops into a faithful disciple and leader.

So how do we become self-directed learners? How do we move into the driver’s seat of personal development?

Here are a few ways we can plow through the barriers and take control of our personal growth:

Step out of the comfort zone.

Move into some new or different environments.

Follow your dream–not someone else’s.

Read a book you normally wouldn’t read.

Attend a course that stretches you.

Expect to invest money in your education.

Volunteer for the unpopular assignment.

Accept that lateral job position.

Put on that critical-thinking hat.

Challenge what you’ve always taken for granted.

Seek the help of new mentors.

Improve on strengths, and discover new ones.

Try a different experience. And then another.

Stop waiting for perfection.

Do something with all that feedback.

Apply what you already know.

Become the teacher; become the expert.

The self-directed learner understands that there is always unassigned homework.

There’s always the book he’s not required to read. The course she’s not being forced to take. The relationship no one told him to build. The artwork no one asked her to draw.

The successful learner realizes that he must graduate–over and over and over. Meat follows the milk. Great leaders emerge from devoted followers. A Timothy soon functions as a Paul. A son becomes a father. A father becomes a grandfather.

And don’t forget–there’s always someone riding in the back seat. We don’t get anywhere alone. I want to personally thank everyone who has been–and still is–helping me pedal through life. I feel your strength and encouragement behind me.

Thank you God for the life-long privilege of learning, experiencing, and receiving the help of others.

Please suggest other ways we can become self-directed learners?

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6 Responses to Becoming a Self-Directed Learner

  1. This is a great blog. I love to learn, and you presented a great list of ways we can continue to grow. I plan on implementing many of them. Thank you.

  2. Susan says:

    I listen to podcasts both in my area(s) of interest and those that are slightly “out there.”

    I also just finished a year-long leadership cohort with people way above me which really stretched me.

    Finally, I’m thinking about starting a blog . . . the verdict is still out.

    “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
    ― Henry Ford

    • Awesome, Susan! I’m excited you are thinking about starting a blog. I’ve found it to be a nice way to express my creativity and share ideas that burn in my heart.

      BTW, I just bought Gladwell’s Outliers on CD and will begin listening this week while I commute to work. Thanks for recommending him.

  3. Great post, Scott! Learning has always been like breathing to me. I’m driven to expand my knowledge. My biggest hurdles have come in the areas of moving out of my comfort zone and waiting for perfection. So, blogging was a way for me to step out, stop waiting on perfection, and start teaching. Even though I’m teaching through writing, I’ve discovered that writing provides a fantastic learning opportunity.

    • Thanks for the comments, Chris–and the shout out on Twitter. I agree. Anytime we take on a teaching role whether it be a discipleship leader, subject matter teacher, writer or blogger, we learn so much. And not just the facts and figures but also relationship skills we so greatly need.

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