What is self-directed learning and what are its benefits?

April 1, 2024 By Kit Germeroth

If you’ve ever read a non-fiction book, watched a how-to video on YouTube, or researched a topic online, you’ve done some self-directed learning.

This learning style can be applied to all learning environments, whether that’s school, college, or the workplace, and it benefits both teachers and students.

In this article, we answer the question, “What is self-directed learning?” We’ll also look at a few self-directed learning examples. Let’s go!

What is self-directed learning?

Self-directed learning is an approach to education that empowers learners to lead their own learning journey.

A learner identifies their own learning goals, the resources they need, and the strategies they want to adopt. They then set about gaining new knowledge or skills and, later, evaluate the outcome.

In settings where a tutor is present, they’re there to facilitate rather than to teach. They may set a learning goal, but they then let students lead the way, only guiding learners toward resources or offering support when learners get stuck.

Self-directed learning is something that often occurs organically in everyday life, but we can also apply it to any kind of learning environment, including K-12 education, higher education, and corporate settings.

The benefits of self-directed learning

So why should we encourage students to take up self-directed learning? What’s in it for them and for you as an educator? Here are a few of the main benefits.

Offers flexibility

Self-directed learning can happen at a time and place that best suits the learner. 

Maybe your students work best in the evening, or they like to study during their commute. Taking learning beyond the classroom and giving learners access to the resources they need makes learning more flexible.

Learners don’t have to stick to a set schedule or a fixed location. So, they tend to find learning more convenient.

Helps learners identify their personal learning style

Every learner is different and trying to learn via a teaching style that doesn’t suit you can be frustrating.

In self-directed learning, learners get to identify their personal learning style. They also get to learn using the methods that suit them best, whether that’s reading text, watching videos, or engaging with interactive content.

This more personalized learning experience is more enjoyable and more effective for learners.

Improves critical thinking skills

Self-directed learners aren’t spoon-fed information. Without the constant support of a tutor, they have to work a little harder to find resources and process information.

This means self-directed learners aren’t just learning about a particular subject matter. They’re also developing critical thinking skills that will serve them well in both personal and professional settings.

They develop skills in:

  • Research
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Self-motivation
  • Resilience
  • Time management

Promotes lifelong learning

Self-directed learning helps turn students into lifelong learners. They learn skills that they can apply to any learning situation and develop an intrinsic drive to fill knowledge gaps and pick up new skills.

Lifelong learners enjoy the process of learning, which is great for their personal and professional growth.

Improves motivation for learning

Ultimately, self-directed learning helps improve student motivation by giving learners more control, allowing them to personalize the learning experience, and making learning more flexible and convenient. Students are much more likely to enjoy the process of learning.

This has benefits for educators, too. Motivated learners are much easier to teach, retain more information, and actively participate in their learning journey.

4 self-directed learning examples

Self-directed learning can be applied to any environment and to any group of students, from kindergarteners to seasoned employees.

Here are a few self-directed learning examples. 

Short online courses

Short online courses are an excellent example of self-directed learning. Tutors design the content of the course, and learners are then free to complete it at their own pace and in their own learning style.

This type of course is common within universities and corporate environments. Sometimes, short online courses complement traditional learning methods, but they can be used as a standalone learning method, too.

Learning libraries

Just like a regular library, a learning library is a place where students can go to read about their chosen topic. However, unlike a regular library, a learning library is a database that students access online.

Here, they can independently search for resources, learn about topics and techniques, and answer any questions they have. This type of self-directed learning resource is easy to create with the help of a good learning management system (LMS).


Microlearning is a type of self-directed learning that takes place in short bursts. Lessons cover a topic and can be completed in a matter of minutes. 

Microlearning is often associated with the gamification of learning, which combines competition, rewards, and levels to motivate and engage students. 

Whatever form microlearning takes, these short, bite-size lessons are a convenient way for employees or students to learn new skills or improve existing ones.

Independent research projects

Independent research projects are a great form of self-directed learning for school-aged learners. Teachers set a broad assignment and then act as facilitators, supporting and encouraging students as required.

Students get to interpret the assignment however they want and then spend time learning about and exploring a subject they’re interested in before presenting their research project to the class.

Help empower self-directed learners with Moodle

So there you have it — self-directed learning is any type of learning that students take responsibility for. For teachers, it’s a great way to widen topic knowledge and develop learning skills in their students. For learners, it’s a way to take control of the learning journey, using the learning methods and pursuing the subjects they find most interesting.

We hope these self-directed learning examples and benefits have inspired you to try it out in your own learning environment.

Start your organization’s self-directed learning journey

Moodle is a learning management system that allows you to provide personalized, self-directed learning opportunities that engage students and produce great results. Get in touch with our team to learn more.