When we think of education, we often think about reading, writing and arithmetic, but there are other skills, life skills, that many believe are equally valuable. Life skills are usually more tacit than explicit and, therefore, are more difficult to assess than academic skills. Nevertheless, they are still essential and deserve to be taken seriously. In this and the next few posts, I will describe each of nine such skills beginning with Skill #1 Self-Directed Learning.
Self-Directed Learning is the ability to learn independently and quickly outside of a traditional classroom, and in my opinion, is the most valuable life skill. It is this ability that enables someone to learn anytime and anywhere thereby dramatically increasing their learning opportunities. It inherently encourages students to determine what questions need to be answered and how to find the answers. The result is a learning process tailored specifically to their needs, interests, talents and resources.
Lesson plans generated by a self-directed student can address related aspects including career possibilities, current trends, economics, related subjects and more. Integration with other activities is another benefit of self-directed education. The growing use of multiplayer games for education, problem solving and research is but one example.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of self-directed education is that the student usually has a longer-term perspective than students in a traditional classroom. Research has shown that students with a long-term perspective learn as much as four times faster than students with a short-term mindset. Additionally, self-directed learners have the opportunity to study indefinitely without restrictions of semesters, summer breaks, class availability, etc. Continued study and practice over a long time is a common characteristic of experts in every field.
Another advantage of self-directed learning is that it promotes innovation by allowing learners to go in a new direction extemporaneously, which in traditional education would be called going off on a tangent, but for an innovator, it is a way to explore new ideas and viewpoints. Establishing boundaries for these off-track excursions is one of the disciplines that self-directed learners must master.
Of all the resources learners have, people are perhaps the most important. The identification and cultivation of mentors, role models and peers with the same or complementary interests are an essential aspect of self-directed learning.