Are you an educator struggling to have more learning freedom in your space?

Or maybe you are a parent wanting to help your kids as they embark on a self-directed learning journey?

Self-directed education is a way of life and creates an environment rich in learning, inquiry, and independence. It is a way of seeing and thinking about the world and one we should be encouraging whenever possible.

Many people think that self-directed learning is difficult and prescriptive when really it is the opposite.

Self-directed education is for everyone!

Regardless of age, every adult or child can think critically and engage in learning that sparks joy and curiosity.

It doesn't require a specific space, location, or person. Instead, it is an approach that relies on open-mindedness, critical thinking, and genuine interest.

Self-directed education is a mindset that can be cultivated and applied by anyone, anywhere!

Why is Self-Directed Education Important?

Can you think of a time that you had an interest that you wanted to learn more about?

Can you remember how it felt to immerse yourself in a topic, learn more about it or master a new skill?

When we are self-motivated, learning happens naturally and joyfully.

When we give children the space to explore their interests and discover new information for themselves, they not only learn more about the subject, but they learn about their ability to persevere and puzzle things out.

Learning should be a meaningful personal journey rather than a prescriptive set of checkboxes.

For that to happen, kids need to be intrinsically motivated and feel empowered to find the resources they need.

A self-directed approach to education is often seen in democratic schools, Sudbury Valley models, and unschooling, but it can be implemented anywhere.

The traditional system can be more learner-centered, with the teacher being a guide and facilitator, equipping students with the tools they need.

Self-directed education has two outcomes that make it the best choice for our kids:

1. Developing a love of learning

2. Becoming lifelong learners

These are qualities that children will need in the future to grow and thrive in a world that is constantly changing.

Three Methods You Can Use to Introduce Self-Directed Education in Your Learning Environment

1. Talk About Your Experience With Failure

It is easy for kids to think that we have it all figured out and have all the answers. This can make them feel pressured to perform and inadequate when they don't get it right.

But we don’t always get it right either!

Being an adult means that we have experienced our fair share of failure, and being open about those experiences will help our kids and students understand that failure is a part of learning and growing.

Offering up our failure as a form of comic relief can be beneficial for learners navigating the ups and downs of their own learning journey.

By talking about your own experiences with failure, students can see how failure can be overcome and that it is a normal part of reaching your goals.

Putting it into practice:

Just because you are an educator doesn’t mean you were a straight-A student. There will be at least one instance of failure your students could relate to, even if you were.

That’s just being human!

Share an example of how your failures in school helped you try harder and learn a new method or way of achieving your goals.

Maybe your parents were disappointed by a test score you brought home? What did you do to turn that failure into a success?

Being open and honest with your students about your experiences will help them develop their own coping strategies and ways of seeing failure as a learning tool.

2. Be a Partner in Learning

As parents and educators, we are there to help facilitate learning.

We need to talk to children as capable and knowledgeable individuals who have their own thoughts and opinions.

By getting on their level and treating them with respect, we can provide them with the tools they need to discover learning for themselves.

Learning is so much more than consuming content. It should be an interest-driven and child-led exploration filled with wonder and excitement.

We can encourage critical thinking by meeting kids where they're at, which is vital to the learning process.

When children can explore the world around them and discover their place in it, they are open to new ideas and opinions. They can build on their knowledge and make informed decisions based on information that they have discovered for themselves.

By equipping learners with the skills they need to discover resources and information on their own, we empower them to take control of their learning.

Putting it into practice:

Teacher training today usually models the teacher at the front of the classroom, literally talking down to their students. This can be intimidating and creates a power dynamic in the classroom that has the student at a disadvantage.

Why not get on their level?

Sit on the floor together or sit next to the learner. This will help them feel that you are working with them rather than talking down to them.

Too often, adults treat kids as if they are less than or unable to understand. Unfortunately, we as adults often miss that kids are more intuitive and capable than we give them credit for.

Rather than seeing ourselves as the giver of information, we should treat learners as we would want to be treated.

We should treat them as their own unique person with valuable thoughts, ideas, and strengths.

3. Learn Together

Learning is a collaborative process, and as adults, we are there to work with our kids and learners.

Learning is an ongoing process, and adults don't always have all the answers.

We need to be open and honest with learners, allowing them to see that learning is for everyone, regardless of their age.

Not only can we learn from technology, books, and classes, but the people we interact with are an immense source of knowledge.

How empowering for a child to know that they could teach us something new?

Learning happens naturally when kids interact with people of different ages, and self-directed learning is not age-specific.

Like at Galileo, clubs are of mixed ages, and learning happens at different levels based on each child's learning journey.

Putting it into practice:

We don’t need to give our students the answers. In fact, it would be harmful to do that. Instead, we should learn alongside them, helping them develop the skills they need to learn for themselves.

Take animal facts, for example. Did you know otters sleep holding hands, so they don’t drift apart? Why is this the case?

Why not learn together?

Take some fun facts and explore the why and how behind it. Show students how your discovery process is done with the same learning resources (the internet, books) that they are using.

You could even watch some on-demand Nanos on design thinking and create your own innovative designs together.

Learning is for all ages, and watching you learn will inspire your students always to be curious and open.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset in Self-Directed Education

Along with these three methods you could introduce in your learning environment, understanding the importance of a growth mindset is vital for learning.

Carol S. Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is an invaluable tool for helping to understand the critical role our mindset plays in our ability to learn and thrive.

A growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed rather than a fixed mindset thinking that intelligence is static.

If we can help learners have a growth mindset, they will have a desire to learn and embrace challenges and overcome setbacks while understanding that effort is required for the desired outcome.

When they have a positive self-belief in their ability to learn, they can accept and learn from criticism and take inspiration from others who have succeeded.

As parents and educators, praising hard work and effort will help kids develop a growth mindset.

Carol S. Dweck says in her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,’ “Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people...change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support”.

However, by praising intelligence, we promote a fixed mindset because their self-worth will be based on their ability to perform rather than their ability to persist.

A fixed mindset is the desire to look smart which means learners avoid challenges, give up quickly, and are less likely to put in the effort. They can also feel threatened by the success of others and tend to ignore all criticism.

This way of thinking doesn’t allow students to pursue their dreams as the fear of failure and feelings of self-doubt are prominent.

This mindset stifles creativity and the ability to adapt and learn freely.

Dweck writes, “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail-or if you’re not the best-it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful”.

Self-directed education empowers learners and allows them to develop the skills they need to take control of their learning. By being independent learners, confident in their ability to discover information on their own, they can develop a growth mindset that results in increased motivation and achievement.

Self-directed Education is for Everyone, Regardless of the Learning Environment

Education is for everyone, and the world is shifting towards a more inclusive and equitable way of looking at learning.

Children are curious, capable, and enthusiastic learners when allowed to explore the world around them and form their own opinions.

By allowing learners to have the freedom to structure their learning journey, we are equipping them with the skills and knowledge they will need to confidently immerse themselves in the world and all it offers.

We need to trust our students to discover who they are and what their passions are.

But more importantly, we need to put aside our fears, our preconceived ideas about what learning looks like, and dive into a child-centered way of learning.

It might surprise you how much you learn in the process.

If this has resonated with you, then share this with someone who is feeling stuck and needs the inspiration -continue exploring learning models and another way of thinking about learning.

Enjoying this article? Get the best straight to your inbox!