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Motivation Module 5:

Self-Directed Learning


Background Information

Self-directed learning involves one taking the initiative and responsibility for their personal learning. It involves the processes of:

  • diagnosing learning strengths and weaknesses,

  • identifying and selecting learning goals,

  • reaching out to teachers and/or mentors for help,

  • choosing and implementing pedagogical approaches, and

  • assessing attainment of pre-selected goals.

Westphal (in conversation) described the unschooling/self-directed environment as Independent Meaningful Learning. This depiction captures several related concepts that this book encapsulates; namely, i. the autonomy portion of Ryan and Deci’s theory described in Motivation Module 10.4 entitled Self-Determination Theory, ii. meaningfulness that underlies the MeaningSphere ( ) philosophy and the Mosaic perspective - We Are Born to Learn –( that emphasizes intrinsic learning approaches that honor the whole child and create a pathway to thrive, and iii. attention to the learner’s needs.


Malcolm Knowles (1975) focused on individuals taking the initiative, with or without the help of others. His definition of self-directed learning includes the following five steps (Brandt, 2020; Knowles, 1975):

  • diagnosing ones learning needs,

  • formulating appropriate learning goals,

  • identifying both human and material resources for learning, 

  • choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies,

  • evaluating learning outcomes


Self-directed learning involves the following (Brandt, 2020; Dweck, 2006; Eisenberg et al., 2010):


  • is planning, directing, and controlling one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during a learning task.

  • is the desire to participate in an activity anticipating the intrinsic pleasure resulting from the activity or a feeling of responsibility to perform a task. A growth mindset plays a significant role in influencing motivation, as it involves the belief that intelligence, personality, and capabilities can evolve and adapt over time through experience.

  • Personal Responsibility (also called initiative or ownership) taking full responsibility for one’s actions.

Autonomy is recognizing available choices, taking charge of one’s learning, and controlling choices through ongoing reflection and evaluation



Math Examples

Following are some examples of how mathematics can be embedded within a learner’s interest and thus be a motivator to learn both the subject and the career competencies.


i. What type of math is used in photography?

Photography involves numbers and math. The number on the apertures, i.e., 2.8, 4, 5.6, etc., are all fractions. These numbers are known as f-numbers, the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter.

ii. How do photographers use algebra?

Photographers use algebra to calculate everything from shooting the photo to developing the print. Photography involves math by many camera parts and how to use them, like shutter speed, aperture openings, the inverse square law, the “Rule of Thirds,” and more.


iii.Focal Length

In photography, focal length refers to the length of the lens and is used to calculate the distance between you and your subject. Focal length is measured in millimeters.

iv.Photographers use chemicals to develop film and photographs.

Math is needed to determine the amount of each chemical used and how much water is to be added to each step of the developing process.

v. Shutter Speed

Each change of shutter speed indicates a halving or doubling of time the shutter remains open (in full stops.)-If a photo is underexposed by a certain number of f/stops you'll need to know how to calculate the proper aperture or shutter speed to make a perfect exposure. (The f-stop on a camera refers to its aperture setting. Aperture is one of the two exposure controls on a camera, the other being shutter speed. Aperture controls the diameter of the lens' diaphragm that lets light into the camera.)

Support autonomy in the classroom

Providing students with opportunities to help make decisions fosters student autonomy and empowerment.

  • Give students choices

  • Establish deadlines for assignments but allow for early submissions

  • Collaborate with students to set their own learning goals

  • Poll the students to make class decisions concerning learning

  • Get learners to take risks.

  • Give learners options.

  • Use learner-generated content.

  • Give students opportunities to s

  • Develop strategies for independent learning

Encourage relatedness in the classroom

To feel motivated, a student must feel a sense of belonging and feel connected to their teacher and their peers.

  • Learn the students’ names and use them often

  • Speak to each student individually at least once a week.

  • Facilitate group projects and active learning assignments.

  • Give individualized and personal feedback.

  • Accept feedback from your students.

  • Use an online discussion board to continue communication outside of class.

  • Provide opportunities for learners to work collaboratively.

Cultivate competence in the classroom.

When a student feels able and effective in their learning environment, they will experience higher levels of motivation.

  • Avoid micromanaging and allow students to make their own mistakes.

  • Equip students with learning strategies early on such, as note-taking techniques or reading strategies.

  • Give specific advice on how to succeed in the class.

  • Present content in multiple formats so different types of learners can feel comfortable with learning.

  • Encourage students to participate and contribute to their own learning.

  • Divide students into groups and ask different groups to work together to complete a task.

  • Praise and encourage students as often they like their accomplishments to be

How to teach Reading in SDL environment.

Provide a glossary of content-related terms in the reading selection. Use visual or audio support to help the student understand written materials in the text. Give step-by-step directions and read written instructions out loud. Simplify directions using key words for the most important ideas. Highlight key words and ideas on worksheets for the student to read first.


Research demonstrates that students who possess strong SDL skills exhibit considerably better reading outcomes, measured by the number of books completed and days spent reading, compared to those with weaker SDL abilities. Additionally, the high SDL ability students demonstrated a greater tendency to engage in planning behaviors, which were significantly linked to better reading outcomes, than the low SDL ability students (Huiyong et al., 2021).

Self-directed language learning essentially means that students direct all the main aspects of their study, such as the objectives, methods, materials, and evaluation. That way, students can tailor their studies to their own needs (Huiyong et al., 2021).



Record observations of students displaying autonomous behavior and this list becomes the template for identifying the meaning of autonomous behavior.

Discuss with a colleague steps you now take to encourage relatedness that becomes the basis for instruction.

List new pedagogy you now use to cultivate competence in student behavior.

Develop an assessment checklist like a Self-Directed Learning Assessment that the teacher and student can complete together and discuss.

1. Diagnosing my learning needs

2. Stating my learning goals

3. Identifying resources for learning

4. Identifying learning coach/mentor

5. Evaluating learning outcomes

7. Organization of time and resources

8. Co-operation working with others

9. Self-motivating

10. Resourceful

11. Independent

12. Ability to find information

13. Interpreting data e.g., charts, tables, graphs, etc.

14. Awareness of task demands

15. Self-knowledge of learning preferences

16. Ability to develop strategies for meeting learning sequentially

17. needs ability to carry out a plan systematically

18. Ability to formulate relevant questions

19. Ability to engage in self-evaluation

20. Ability to analyze and organize information

21. Ability to select and use most effective means of acquiring information

22. Ability to select most relevant and reliable information sources

23. Ability to communicate clearly through writing and speaking

24. Ability to communicate clearly through speaking

25. Ability to accept constructive feedback from others

25. Ability to collect evidence of accomplishments and have it evaluated

26. Ability to elaborate in writing

27. Ability to elaborate in speaking

28. Ability to generate unique original ideas

29. Ability to tolerate ambiguity

30. Ability to resist premature closure

31. Ability to generate many ideas

32. Ability to generate any categories of ideas

33. Ability to engage in divergent thinking e.g., brainstorming

34. Ability to engage in convergent thinking e.g., coming to closure, making a decision

35. Prefer getting a reward for hard work, e.g., extrinsic motivation

36. Work hard for task related enjoyment, e.g., intrinsic motivation

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