You know you're near the zeitgeist when a noun becomes a verb. More and more, people call it "Googling" when they turn to the Internet's best-known search engine to teach themselves a few salient facts or a truckload of background on a topic that's caught their interest. But what they call Googling, the training industry calls self-directed learning.
It's an area of training that is somehow ubiquitous yet under-the-radar, obvious yet ill-defined. Like its cousin informal learning, self-directed learning (SDL) is greatly desired by some organizations and barely noticed by others. But make no mistake: The smarter and speedier the world gets, the more you'll wish that your learners had some of that self-directed mojo.
"Global competition is ramping up, and everything is changing almost before you can develop training related to what used to be the new knowledge," says Lucy Guglielmino, professor of adult education at Florida Atlantic University, which has campuses in Boca Raton, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie. "Only the learning organizations will survive, and you can't have a learning organization without self-directed learners."
Guglielmino's name is familiar to those who want learning driven by employee initiative as well as corporate mandate. Guglielmino and her husband Paul have conducted research and authored articles about SDL for decades. In 1977, drawing on the work of Malcolm Knowles, Allen Tough, and other thinkers in this area, Guglielmino created a handy tool called the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS). The scale tests for the presence or absence of characteristics shared by self-directed learners—creativity, independence, a positive attitude toward challenges and change, for instance—and evaluates whether someone is ready to take responsibility for their own learning.
The scale can predict whether learners are ready to motivate themselves to learn in unsupervised or unstructured ways, such as a self-paced online module. But it turns out the scale can predict for other qualities as well—like high performance, for example. "In some major studies in large organizations, the individuals who came out as highly self-directed on the SDLRS also were high performers," Guglielmino says. "The link was even stronger in jobs that had a high degree of change and that required more creativity and more problem-solving." That's a link that even organizations not interested in self-directed learning might find pretty compelling.
Seek And Ye Shall Find