Last Updated on January 29, 2021

13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster

13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster

Learning alone with self-directed learning is not a simple task. It takes trying out new study methods, knowing how you learn, and the motivation to keep going.

While this all sounds simple on paper, it’s important to note people’s overall mood towards learning. For many people, it’s been years since they last picked up a book, let alone a textbook. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people stopped learning seriously after university or college.

It’s good now that you are focusing on your learning anew, because once you delve into what learning is, you’ll realize that school learning wasn’t the most optimal.

Self-directed learning can be a great tool to help you continue your lifelong learning. We’ll discuss what it is and some tips to help you. 

What Is Self-Directed Learning?

Self-directed learning, at its core, is taking learning into your own hands and growing from it. It’s a technique that’s drastically different from what’s taught in most schools. In other words, it’s a highly effective technique that anyone can use and would be great in a school setting.

Here’s Tanmay Vora’s 3L’s of self-directed learning:[1]

Self-Directed Learning

    In fact, there is one school in the US that can attest to that through theory and practice: Brisbane Independent School or BIS. Because the school wasn’t restricted by Federal Curriculums—which are lackluster at best—they could adopt this form of learning.

    This push for self-directed learning came from Jennifer Haynes, who started teaching at BIS in the 1990s. From there, the buzzword at the time evolved into a curriculum program that emphasizes seven characteristics:

    • Playfulness
    • Autonomy
    • Internalized Evaluation
    • Openness to Experience
    • Intrinsic Motivation
    • Self Acceptance
    • Flexibility

    From those seven characteristics, Haynes noted:


    “These characteristics are planned into our curriculum and each student is tracked on a continuum of development. It is wonderful to see how a student can go from needing a teacher to help them even come up with an idea for a project and then observe them in their final years developing planning and implementing a project…They learn how great it feels to develop their own idea and most importantly how to complete the task without anyone standing over them to get it done.”[2]

    Characteristics of a Self-Directed Learner

    The students at BIS give a birds-eye view of some of the characteristics of a self-directed learner. Exploring further, we’ll find more, especially when we consider the methods I mentioned above as ways of improving this learning style.

    From those methods, many papers in education research have emerged over the years showing all kinds of positive side-effects of this method, including for adult education.

    First, self-directed learning includes people taking the initiative when diagnosing their learning and building from there. One study noted that when this happens, people uncover and grow their grit and perseverance, and improve their intrinsic motivation and integrity.[3]

    Second, students feel more empowered through self-learning. With programs moving to the internet,[4] we can see this as a form of self-directed learning. After all, you need to pace yourself when it comes to online courses and problem-based learning.

    Thirdly, people who take up self-directed learning develop other helpful skills. They’ll have an easier time formulating learning goals and identifying their own intrinsic motivation. After all, these sorts of skills can apply to other areas outside of learning.

    For example, we all need to set goals if we want to grow and enrich our business, career, and life. Learning how to set meaningful goals that we are excited to achieve means more than the act of setting a goal we don’t care about.

    Some other characteristics of these learners are:

    Highly Reflective

    It takes a lot to know your interests and how to motivate yourself. As a result, many of these learners spend time in their heads evaluating and reflecting.


    From effective learning to effective motivation, these individuals become more efficient with their learning.



    Being this type of learner means you need to value collaboration and teamwork. This teaches you to seek help and guidance and to offer help when needed. They work better in a team dynamic because of this.

    A Greater Sense of Responsibility

    Ultimately, in self-directed learning, individuals take the initiative and decide when, how, and what to learn. This sense of responsibility is especially important in the 21st century, when education seems to have stalled in its progress.

    More Inquisitive

    This teaching method encourages us to ask why and to not settle with “I don’t know” as the answer. As a result, we learn to ask the more important and impactful questions that spark discussion, discovery, and learning.

    What’s amazing about self-directed learning is that we can adopt it in our own lives.

    How to Develop Self-Directed Learning

    Developing this strategy isn’t that hard. For most people, it needs to be taught explicitly, but the following ways will help in growing and learning this strategy.

    1. Identify Learning Goals

    You can never achieve anything unless you’ve envisioned it. Identify what you wish to learn first. Set specific learning goals that you will be able to measure over time.

    2. Question the Significance

    Make a habit of not taking everything at face value. Always have a cat-like curiosity and ask questions that make you care about the answer. Dive past obvious answers with “why” and “how” questions, and devote yourself to finding the answers.

    3. Find Challenges

    Challenges, while uncomfortable at first, can be exciting and rewarding. Find a challenge related to a problem you care about solving. Overcoming it will then feel meaningful and will push you to continue learning.

    For example, if you want to learn a new language, challenge yourself to read one book in that language each month and watch how it becomes easier over time.

    You can learn more about how to train yourself to crave learning in this video:


    4. Check Your Learning Process

    Learning is better when you’ve set your own learning standards. Regardless of grades, measure your progress against personal learning goals. Schools teach us to use grades. You’ll have to come up with a more meaningful way to measure your learning[5].

    5. Understand Your Learning Approach

    There are tons of resources to help you identify learning styles, but do you really know what your style is?

    Take a moment to look at the format and medium of your learning approach and change it around from time to time as you engage in self-directed learning. Most people are strong in several learning styles, and they can often further develop those they’re weakest in. Experiment to see what works in the long term.

    6. Uncover the Background of a Topic

    Get to know the topic you are learning by checking the background of the topic. Read articles you find interesting, or watch TED Talks related to topics on your learning list.

    7. Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation

    Intrinsic motivation is motivation driven from internal rewards. It seems like a simple concept, but many people struggle with it. Fortunately, it can be learned. One form of it is sharing what you learned with others.

    Try to avoid being hard on yourself if you’re looking to cultivate intrinsic motivation. Too much self-criticism will put you off from continuing your learning journey. Keep it as positive as possible and cultivate gratitude and appreciation for all the effort you’re putting into your education.

    8. Making Something out of What You Learned

    A song, a journal entry, a picture…These are examples of things that you can create from what you learned. Not only does this help solidify what you learn, but it gives you something to look forward to. This is also great for kinesthetic learners!

    9. Leverage Time

    Sometimes we get busy and don’t have time to learn, but that lack of time is more of a reason to leverage the time we do have.

    Take your thirty-minute lunch breaks to eat and squeeze in a learning session. If you go to the gym, listen to a podcast or an audiobook while you’re on the treadmill.

    10. Create a Topic List

    Think of a topic list as a bucket list of things you want to learn about. These can be broad topics or narrow ones. These lists can help you in creating goals and working to achieve them.


    11. Value Your Progress Over Your Performance

    We never truly stop learning. There will always be tiny bits of information or views we are exposed to every day. However, when you want to actively learn, focus more on the stimulation of learning over your actual performance.

    12. Have Realistic Learning Goals

    Self-directed learning is built on a system that we create. To ensure the system is sound, you want to make sure everything is set within your own limits. The last thing you want is to feel discouraged from learning.

    Try to start small and work your way up. For example, if you want to learn how to code, don’t expect to be able to build a fully functioning website in a month. Plan to learn enough to alter text and colors in the first month as a more realistic goal.

    13. Build a Network of Learning Colleagues

    Have a group of people that you can collaborate and connect with. This group of people will push you to learn more and can give you an outlet for when you want to talk about what you’ve learned. Best of all, this group can be either offline or online.

    Final Thoughts

    Self-directed learning is the key to having a more enriching learning experience. While everyone’s taste for learning seems to have diminished, it is due to an old and ineffective system—a system that doesn’t encourage deeper learning or support students to set higher learning goals they care about.

    Self-directed learning is important because it teaches people to be more independent and responsible individuals. They develop skills to be internally motivated, self-sufficient, to ask meaningful and impactful questions, and more.

    Now is the best time to get into self-directed learning and to fall in love with learning again.

    More Tips on Learning

    Featured photo credit: Amy Tran via


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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on August 11, 2021

    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

    Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

    1. Coursera

    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

    2. Khan Academy

    Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

    Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

    3. Open Culture Online Courses

    If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

    The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

    Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

    4. Udemy 

    Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.


    Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

    5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

    Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

    In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

    These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

    6. Academic Earth

    Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

    Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

    7. edX

    Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

    8. Alison

    Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

    It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

    9. iTunesU Free Courses

    A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.


    Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

    Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

    iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

    10. Stanford Online

    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

    Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

    11. Open Yale Courses

    Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

    12. UC Berkeley Class Central

    Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

    13. MIT OpenCourseWare

    Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

    14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

    Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

    15. Codecademy

    Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.


    The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

    16. Code

    Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

    In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

    Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

    17. University of Oxford Podcasts

    The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

    The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

    18. BBC Podcasts

    For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

    Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

    19. TED-Ed

    Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

    Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.


    20. LessonPaths

    LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

    21. Memrise

    Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

    Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

    22. National Geographic Kids

    The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

    National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

    23. Fun Brain

    Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

    Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

    The Bottom Line

    With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via

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