Ten Ways to Build your Learning Organization through Self-Directed Learning

Guest Blogger: Juergen Juffa

Learning organization
Self-directed learners are the critical mass of today’s successful learning organizations.  Compared to traditional training, self-directed learning has more focus, higher flexibility, lower cost and a greater rate of translating learning into performance.  Considering rapidly changing business environments, dwindling half-lives of knowledge and reduced training budgets, these attributes become even more relevant.

Here are ten ways to increase self-directed learning in your organization:

1)     Build your team with self-directed learners.  Use one of the established testing methods, such as the self-directed learning readiness scale (SDLRS) to ensure additions to the team have self-directed learning skills. Make sure you probe for self-directed training when interviewing. Keep in mind that degrees are the starting point of career learning, rather than the end.

2)     Make employees aware of self-directed learning.  Stress the necessity of self-directed learning for every high-performance organization. Communicate methods for self-directed learning. Encourage employees to share self-directed learning experiences. Create awareness that learning results can be facilitated by different learning styles. Have employees with different levels of self-directed learning experience connect formally or informally.

3)     Create space and time for learning. Allow your employees to read work-related literature during work hours. Provide spaces where employees are free from distractions and interruptions to learning. Supply books, trade magazines, internet access, and multimedia equipment for a learning center. Permit your employees to work from home when engaging in a learning project.

4)     Encourage employees to become active members of trade and industry organizations.  Let them attend chapter meetings on company time. Arrange for a fair split of dues between the company and personal funds. Encourage your employee to tap into online resources such as forums and list servers.

5)     Increase the level of professional certification among your team. Encourage employees to leverage studying for their certification as an opportunity to survey their field and discover additional learning opportunities.

6)     Create acceptance for mistakes as learning opportunities. Deal constructively with failures and communicate lessons learned.

7)     Use learning contracts to agree on specific learning initiatives with your employees. Make learning projects an integral part of the annual review process. Establish learning as a part of every job description.

8)     Create a culture where willingness to share is encouraged. Reward employees that exemplify self-directed learning behavior. Allow learners to collaborate. Stress that self-directed learning is not the same as learning in isolation.

9)     Transform your training department from a provider of training solutions to a resource for learning opportunities.  Have your training department teach employees how to identify their learning needs and use learning resources. Publish learning guides. Transform trainers into learning coaches.

10) Leverage technology. Encourage the use of computer-based training, knowledge databases, wikis and intranets as tools for self-directed learning.

What are your organization’s approaches to promoting self-directed learning among employees? What successes and failures have resulted from those methods?


  • I am a graduate student here at Roosevelt University in the HPI program. I cannot agree more with the use of self-directed learning. Most organizations I have been with use web based training and training discs. With the current economy, including financial stress on organization budgets etc, I believe self-directed learning will continue to grow in use. However, I believe number 3 (creating space and time for learning) may prove to be one of the hardest for organizations to do. Everything is so fast-paced and with strict time constraints it can be difficult to complete the above. However, with true dedication, making it a priority and encouragement from all levels of the organization it can be done successfully.

    • Tammi,

      you are right, “creating time and space for learning” is indeed a challenge. Who doesn’t feel odd when the boss walks into the office or the cubicle and you are on the internet or reading a magazine. Even when you are really researching or reading something business related. For that reason, I often catch myself conducting work-related SDL-activities after hours rather than during work hours. This just shows how massive the change in mindset needs to be that must take place before we all will feel comfortable with self-directed learning spaces in our work environments.

      Juergen Juffa

      • I just had a conversation with a coworker about self-directed learning. I am definitely on board with this, but companies must have the necessary resources for this to be successfully implemented. My company just instituted time at the beginning of the day for us to read through updates. So this will help us as employees perform our jobs well, however, there are times in which the employee may interpret the information in an inaccurate context. There are a lot of “gray areas”. As long as the staff has support from training or management to provide additional answers as needed, this could prove to be helpful and beneficial.

  • I work for a large pharmaceutical company in the Learning Organization for one of the divisions in the company. I will be graduating from the HPI program in December. I do agree that self directed learning is an approach that makes the most sense and should be encouraged within any learning organization. With a recent downsize in our organization yet no “downsize” in the workload flowing into our organization, the odds of realizing a self-directed learning model becomes slim. However, I think that with the proper execution of points 8 & 9 above, we may be able to decrease the demands of our clients on our department. One of the biggest challenges we face is the ever changing landscape of our business and self-directed learning can help to properly position my organization for success. Now the challenge is taking the theory and executing.

    • Michelle,
      the transition to an SDL-philosophy is indeed a challenging one because the idea that “training is *given* to the employee” is solidly engrained in the fabric of too many organizations. However, I do believe that limited T&D resources in times of economic downturn may indeed serve as a catalyst to promote a culture of SDL. I agree that this will lead to increased workload in the short-run. But it will also provide an opportunity for “just-in-time learning”, focusing training on exactly what is needed, making training resources more effective and efficient.

  • Hello,

    I am a graduate student here at RU in the TRDV program. I do like all the top ten suggestion to build your Learning Organization through Self-Directed Learning. The top two suggestions that stood out to me the most were:

    Create a space and time for learning
    Encourage employees to become active members of trade and industry organizations.

    Creating a space and time for learning in my opinion is essential for professional development. Moreover, this allows an employee to really focus on ways to grow professionally and develop new innovative ideas. This can in turn benefit the company because their workers are becoming better prepared in their particular field.

    Encouraging employees to become active members of trade and industry organization is also great. It is a great way for an employee to also grow professionally as well as develop new networking skills or techniques. Moreover, this is also a great way for the employer to really highlight their employees in a cost effective way.

    • Mauricio,

      you are absolutely right. It will take many different tactics to promote SDL in organizations, with managers picking and choosing their approaches as opportunities and challenges arise.

      Juergen Juffa

  • I think that managers and supervisors will play a key role in SDL initiatives–they must be on board to teach, encourage, and reward self directed learning strategies. “Train the trainer” initiatives are no longer enough–they are outdated and focus narrowly on learning strategies. We need to develop leaders and supervisors that are self directed learning champions.


    • Kathy, thank you for your comments. I could not agree more with you. SDL “comes from within”, with the organization and thus the supervisors providing a supporting framework that will enable and encourage employees to become SDL. This will also mean that managers and supervisors need to become role models in self-directed learning. Combining both, management will be instrumental in changing to the mindset that is necessary to reap the full rewards of self-directed learning.

  • This should all be non-negotiable for organisations. If the theory of the Learning Organisation holds true, time must be taken to set up a learning-centric environment. Otherwise, the organisation will be vulnerable to change and will not be able to innovate and compete—and given the current economic climate—it may even perish. The question is: Are firms paying attention?

    • Hi Alison,

      I think you are at the core of the issue: a change in mindset, both for management and employees. I agree with you, from my point of view this is indeed “non-negotiable”, but I think many organizations are still asleep at the wheel. And I sometimes wonder whether the training departments are catalysts or inhibitors of this necessary development as they are concerned what it will mean for their role.

      Juergen Juffa

      • That’s hard to say because I think the leadership is what should be driving a lot of this shift (as change models go) so it becomes impossible to integrate into the culture. That said, in my experience it doesn’t seem as though many T&D depts have recognised this as part of their role either.

      • I should have clarified that it’s impossible to integrate learning organisation practices into an organisation when it is not supported and consistently reinforced by the leadership team.

  • My name is Darryl Person. I am a graduate student in Training and Development at Roosevelt University. Your article was very informative. One of the things that resonated with me is the suggestion that it is vital to create acceptance for mistakes as learning opportunities. This is often a difficult task when the organization is the U.S. military. Our culture is not to forgiving or understanding when it comes to mistakes and errors. Careers can definitely be affected and in some cases lives are lost. I do think however that there has to be a way to incorporate this in a military environment so that the small unit can be enhanced.

  • Hello,
    I agree to your article because learning for your self is everyday. We learn about something new everyday so self-direct can be good way to others.

  • Self directed learning is a concept that shows you need to take ownership of your learning. In order to grow your knowledge you need to drive your own learning. Having the encouragement by your organization is important to help encourage knowledge growth.

    I read the article several times and my initial feeling was my organization does not do this because of item number ” 9) Transform your training department from a provider of training solutions to a resource for learning opportunities.” Out of the ten options this is something my organization does not encourage.

    When I went back to analyze the other options I saw that we do the majority of the items. As an organization we have built these into our environment. I initially thought we did not because I was looking at them in the perspective of the ‘training team’. The training team was not involved in the creation of the features, technology and other items. They were actually created either by our HR team or our technology teams. So I guess my question would be does this make the organization self-directed learning if the learning team is not directly involved?

  • Hello and thank you for spearheading this important conversation about self-directed learning. Many organizations could stand to re-energize their training and learning culture with many if not all of the ideas listed above. Training, development, and learning is so much more than completing a traditional course or e-learning, reading a single book, participating in a workshop. Though all of these are elements of learning, creating an environment that encourages and supports daily self-directed learning certainly has the potential to advance personal growth, organizational growth, as well as advance industry growth. I will continue to do my part to promote this culture. Thank you again for drawing attention to our need to further develop self-directed learning and its role in our daily lives.

Please post a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s