Self-Directed or Guided Learning? That is the question

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Being too hands-on or too laissez-faire with your employee’s learning and development can be a major obstacle in the success of your company’s learning and business goals. As an L&D professional, it’s a crucial part of your job to find the right balance. But, how?

Get rid of false assumptions

Adopt an extremely prescriptive approach, and not only will you find that engagement drops, but you’ll also create a mountain of work for yourself in developing, administering and assessing learning. Some people call this guided learning. It’s not.

Give learners too much freedom, and either their personal development will get buried under their day-to-day work, or they’ll put in the hours but often pursuing knowledge unrelated to their role. Some people call this self-directed learning. It’s not.

Find the sweet spot between guidance and empowerment

Giving your employees independence and space to learn will make them happier, and a happy learner is more likely to engage in learning what they need to do their job better, but also to prepare for the future by exploring and developing new skills and interests.

You want to be in a situation where employees are independently motivated to seek out and learn things. The more they learn, the happier they are; the happier they are, the more engaged they are and the more engaged they are, the more they want to excel in their job. To be frank, that sounds like a win-win situation to us. 

Your role then is to identify, with the help of managers, what your employees need to learn to do their job better, what they need to progress in their career and grow in your organisation; and then provide the necessary tools, resources and programs to enable their professional development. That’s guided learning.

But your role doesn’t stop there. Employees are probably the ones who have the best understanding of what they need and they want to learn for now and for the future. It’s part of your role to provide them with the right environment, tools, resources and content so that they can take more control over their learning. That’s self-directed learning. 

The two are complementary. You can give your team guidance and mentorship to align learning to the business needs as well as trusting them and giving freedom for their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. 

When this balancing act is done well, the potential outcomes are invaluable. Higher retention, more engaged and productive staff, increased innovation and greater organisational agility positively impact the business as a whole, and this is reflected in the bottom line.

Leverage technology to make learning personal

We won’t tell you that to achieve this balance and see your employees flourish, you need to upload compliance courses to your LMS, scheduling some mandatory time for attending MOOCs or publishing a few useful links to your intranet. Of course not. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, precisely because one thing is clear: Learning has to be centred around your employees and social interactions. Mentoring, guiding, empathising, debating, assessing, praising – all these key ingredients require personal interventions.

However, using technology to support learning needs and social interactions, and to provide a framework within which they can occur is fundamental to making learning and development more accessible, more engaging and more efficient. A properly designed and implemented LMS can go a long way in supporting your team’s learning and development. Here are a few examples:

  • The LMS can serve as a jumping-off point, integrating with content providers such as GO1 or OpenSesame, which allow users to self-enrol on relevant courses.
  • It can foster collaboration and knowledge sharing, and create great opportunities for social learning.
  • It can provide a channel for communication between learners and managers, allowing for the exchange of ideas. 
  • It can enable managers to celebrate achievements and allow learners to obtain certificates
  • It can help managers to review progress with reporting and analysis and better understand the specific needs of individual learners and target their support accordingly.

Experiment, experiment and keep experimenting

Rather than looking at guided vs self-directed learning as two distinct strategies, it is important to combine them. However, don’t try to make it perfect right away, you and your managers also need to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

Our suggestion? Just get an online learning environment that gives you the flexibility to evolve and progress with your employees. And if you don’t feel confident enough to go by a staged approach, you can get support from organisations that have the right expertise to accompany you on the journey. 


With these new features, Moodle Workplace builds upon core Moodle to provide a powerful flexible solution to meet the training needs of the workplace. 

The platform is available through Premium Certified Moodle Partners, such as Titus Learning, who have been carefully vetted and approved by Moodle headquarters to support the product.

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