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Benefits Of Self-Directed Learning In The Workplace

If you have been conducting traditional training labs in your company, you may be wondering what the benefits of self-directed learning in the workplace are. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the continued advancement of technology, has caused an incredible shift to remote and self-directed learning and working. Many businesses have found that self-directed learning activities can be more effective and productive than traditional learning environments. But why is this? If you think back to your time in high school or college and you try to remember what you learned during those years of education, chances are you are more likely to remember the lessons, concepts, and skills that you had to learn and implement at home. The lesson plans you learned in class with your teacher or professor explaining the information to you likely haven’t stuck around. With self-paced or self-directed learning, skills are easier to learn and stay with you longer.

Studies show that learners typically retain as little as 5% of the information they “learn” through lectures and slideshow presentations. Conversely, learners can retain as much as 75% when they learn skills and concepts through hands-on activities and experiences. The importance of hands-on experience cannot be overlooked, but it can be challenging to offer interactive lessons that cater to everyone’s schedules and learning styles. This is where self-directed learning comes into the picture.

Your employees will likely need to learn numerous self-directed learning strategies and skills to ensure that they are getting the most out of your self-paced training labs, but allowing your employees to learn at their own pace with hands-on activities can help promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is because combining theory and practice is one of the primary goals of self-directed learning. This combination allows your learners to learn about a concept or skill and then solidify that knowledge with an interactive practice, which allows them to focus their attention more on learning the skill effectively than memorizing information and not understanding how to apply it to real-world situations.

Like any other type of learning, there are benefits and challenges to self-directed learning that you will need to consider when implementing this type of training into your business. Luckily, many of the challenges of this type of learning are due to not yet having the right technology to track or manage students’ learning effectively. This is an excellent challenge to have because technology is constantly evolving and changing, and as it progresses, this challenge becomes less and less relevant. For example, one of the initial challenges of self-directed learning was creating the interactive practices that your employees need to solidify their knowledge and practice their new skills. But today, with virtual lab solutions like Skytap, this is no longer an issue.

Examples Of Self-Direction In The Workplace

Transitioning from traditional learning methods to self-directed learning may sound intimidating, and you may wonder whether self-directed learning options are worth the transition. To best understand how implementing self-directed learning in your workplace can succeed, you may consider some initiative and self-direction examples. Before exploring an example, it is important to realize how closely initiative and self-directed learning are connected. Both rely on your employees to take the next steps of their learning, a project, or even a conversation into their own hands. Allowing more opportunities for self-direction helps to give your employees autonomy and allows them to be more confident in their skills and actions — which typically means that they will get more high-quality work completed.

As more businesses embrace the digital marketplace and more businesses allow hybrid or remote working arrangements, the importance of initiative and self-direction in 21st-century skills cannot be overstated. Think about it this way. If you offer hybrid working arrangements for your employees, but no one knows how to work, learn, or conduct their jobs on their own, you are not going to get the work you need to be done while your workers are not in the office. There are endless situations where employees need to take the initiative on a project or in a meeting to get what needs to be completed. Adopting training strategies that promote this skill and way of working is a great way to help your employees cultivate this much-needed initiative and self-sufficiency.

Now, let us explore an example of initiative and self-direction in the workplace. Say you have a project that must be completed by a certain date. Now, say some problems arise in the project that you do not know how to fix yet. What do you do? With the right resources available, you can take the time you need to learn what you need to know to fix the problem and get the project on its way. With good resources, you do not have to worry about remembering a training lab you took two years ago. Instead, you can find the information you need to quickly and effectively address the issue.

Self-Directed Learning Advantages And Disadvantages

Self-directed learning is like many other types of learning in that the effectiveness of self-directed learning depends heavily on how it is implemented and how your employees are supported throughout the learning process. Like any other learning method, there are both advantages and disadvantages of self-directed learning. Here, we will explore these advantages and disadvantages.

Positive Effects of Self-Directed Learning

Benefits of self-directed learning in the workplace include conducting your training labs so that it allows your employees to learn at their own pace and in their own method. There are many upsides to self-directed learning. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved confidence in skills – Because self-directed learning requires your employees to take their training into their own hands, learners typically feel more confident in their skills.
  • Better critical thinking and problem-solving skills – Learning through a lecture or slideshow without any other material to reference can make learning a new skill challenging. With self-directed learning, you can provide different resources and perspectives that your employees can use to solve problems. This allows them the space to think about the concept more critically than if they were just being lectured on it.
  • Facilitates “deep learning” – Rather than simply understanding a concept or skill on a surface level, self-directed learning allows your employees to gain a deeper understanding of the concept by learning and applying this concept.
  • Saves time on training – Creating extensive training labs and lessons that will be effective for all your employees can be extremely time-consuming and require extensive learner profiling. When you allow your employees to guide their learning with the materials you provide them, they can learn in the best way for them, and you do not have to spend all the time trying to individualize learning plans based on their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Improves flexibility – Not all of your employees have the same schedule. Some may have meetings daily, while others may be left to work on projects without a single meeting for a week. Having a single time and place to conduct training can dramatically alter your employee’s schedules, whereas simply allowing them to learn at their own pace allows them to work within their schedules.

Barriers to Self-Directed Learning

The disadvantages your company may face will depend on your employees. However, here are some of the most common barriers to self-directed learning that you may need to address in your business.

  • Motivation – One simple truth of any business is that your employees will have multiple personality types. Some may thrive in a self-directed learning environment, while others struggle to stay motivated. 
  • Knowing what to learn – If your employees are new to a subject of skill and are met with numerous lessons, documents, and other resources, they may not know where to begin. A structured but self-paced course can help combat this potential overwhelm and help your employees stay on track and learn effectively.
  • Too much freedom – Sometimes, too many options can be more harmful than helpful. Your employees may get overwhelmed and frustrated if your self-directed training offers too many different classes, resources, and documents.
  • Lack of time – Not having a mandatory training period can make it more likely that your employees will put off training to make space in their day for other tasks — such as projects with deadlines or meetings. 
  • Difficulty measuring progress – Without clear learning goals and benchmarks, it can be challenging for your employees to know how they are doing in their lessons. While they may feel like they are learning the skill or system in training, they may have missed something important or not quite grasped the concept, and it can be challenging to tell without feedback or assessments.
  • Lack of other perspectives – Self-directed learning does not facilitate discussion, new ideas, or promote different perspectives. While this can cut down on training time, it may increase the influence of biases and lessen the pool of perspectives in your team.

While there are many benefits of self-directed learning in the workplace, in many cases, the disadvantages can be addressed with the type of self-paced lessons. For example, Skytap Virtual IT Labs allows you to embed your content into interactive custom labs. With Skytap, you also get the tools you need to track and verify your employees’ progress in both instructor-led and self-paced training. These tools allow you to provide the right amount of support and structure without crowding or stifling your employees’ ability to learn in the most effective way for them. Learn more about Skytap Virtual IT Labs here.

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