How To Be a Successful Self-Directed Learner

One of the amazing things about the internet these days is that you can learn practically anything online. Whether you are interested in perfecting your coding skills, learning how to knit a hat, baking the perfect apple pie, or becoming an excellent English speaker, you can likely find a website, a video, a program or a tutorial somewhere out in cyberspace that can help you.

One of the key factors in all of these online learning possibilities is YOU. You must be the one to actually follow the programs – do what the teacher, the coach, the presenter or the instructor tells you to do. You must do the math problems, purchase the necessary equipment (e.g. knitting needles and yarn) and follow the pattern or the instructions. The information, the methods and the help is available, but the most essential ingredient is YOUR ACTIVE PARTICIPATION AND ENGAGEMENT with those materials.

Being a self-directed learner means that you take responsibility for your own learning process.

In school, we learned to rely on teachers to guide us in our learning process. They told us what to read, what to write, what to learn, how, when and where. These days, young people and adults everywhere can direct their own learning. You can make the decisions about what to learn, how to learn it, when and where, and with whom.

Here are some tips for how to make sure you are a successful self-directed learner, so that you can take advantage of learning in this new way, without relying on others to tell you what, when or how to do everything.

You can now take charge of your own learning!

Try these things:

1. Figure out what type of learner you are. Do you learn well by reading, by watching videos, by listening to people talk, or by interacting with people in person? Do you like to be active, learning by doing?

2. Think about your goals. Spend some time thinking about why you are learning or doing something. Do you need to improve your English for your job, for example? Are you learning to knit so you can knit sweaters for your new baby? Do you want to learn computer programming so you can build your own website or create an app? Knowing WHY you are doing something as well as the RESULT you want can help guide you on your learning journey.

3. Use the best methods (for you). Once you know what type of learner you are and why you are learning something, and what you want to achieve, research the various ways you could learn your chosen subject in order to find the best methods. There are many online programs to teach you English, for example, but some methods are better than others, they get the type of results you want more quickly and efficiently. You may need to try a variety of products, programs, classes, tutorials, or methods in order to find what really works for you. (Of course, I hope you will include Success with Stories and the English Fluency Now podcasts in your collection of materials, because I do think they are very effective.)

4. Do the work. Even if you are using a great product with a great method, the only way that it will help you achieve your goals, is if you actually use it. Many people spend lots of time and money trying to find the secret to success or the magic pill, a method or program that will guarantee your success with as little effort as possible. That is quite impossible, in fact. You must put in time and effort when learning anything. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult, boring or painful. In fact, the more you enjoy it, the more you will use it, and the better you will become.


5. Continue to work on it. Once you get past the beginning stages of learning something, you will need to continue learning. At this stage, you may need to move on to other programs, new methods, new teachers, but it will still be up to you to challenge yourself, to do the work it takes to get better. Depending on what your goal is, you may continue learning a certain topic (like English) your entire life, but for other things, you may be happy reaching a certain level of proficiency. For example, you may learn to play the guitar, but all you really want to do is be able to play some easy sing-along songs at parties; you aren’t considering trying to become a professional musician.

6. Schedule dedicated learning time. The main things you need to learn something new are time and energy. As adults, our free time is already limited due to work and family commitments, so finding time to learn something new can be tricky. It can be helpful to schedule time each day to work on your chosen topic. For learning English, I recommend at least one hour per day, but I am also a realist. I know some people may only have 30 minutes per day or less. The point is to make the time for it, if it is important to you. Take a moment to review your week, and find some time that you can dedicate to learning.

7. Have fun! Let’s face it, if something is too boring, tedious or painful, you are really going to have a hard time learning it. To be successful as a self-directed learner, you need to find your own motivation, you’ll need to inspire yourself. In order to keep yourself interested and engaged, it must be fun. It doesn’t necessarily need to be fun every single minute of each lesson, but overall, it should be an enjoyable experience. That way you’ll want to do it, and you will.

8. Get a coach or a mentor. Even though you can learn all kinds of things on your own, using programs, products, tutorials, videos, articles, and other online (or offline) materials, if you really want to master a specific skill, at some point it becomes necessary to work with an expert. All great athletes, business leaders, and highly successful and professional people utilize coaches.

A coach is someone who can help guide you in your learning. A coach can’t make you learn or do the heavy lifting for you, but she (or he) can make sure you are doing the right things. Why waste your time reinventing the wheel when others who have gone before you can lead the way?

A mentor, like a coach, can give you ideas, ask critical questions, challenge you in ways that you might not be able to challenge yourself. If you are trying to master something, whether it is related to business or for personal development or pleasure, a coach or mentor can be a great asset in helping you use your time and energy more efficiently and to greater success.

Being a self-directed learner is both liberating and at the same time it can be a big responsibility.

It’s a great time to be a self-directed learner!

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