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Published on October 21, 2019

13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster

13 Ways to Develop Self-Directed Learning and Learn Faster

Learning all alone is not a simple task. It takes trying out new study methods, knowing how you learn, and the motivation to keep doing that.

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 how school learning wasn’t the most optimal.

Take self-directed learning for example, there are so many ways to develop it and it’s one of the many effective learning methods around.

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.

In fact, there is one school in the US that can attest to that, Brisbane Independent School or BIS. Because the school wasn’t restricted by Federal Curriculums – which are lacklustre 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 on seven characteristics:

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

From those seven characteristics, Haynes noted:

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“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.”

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 research papers have emerged over the years showing all kinds of positive side-effects to this method.

First, self-directed learning allows us to take the initiative of our own learning. One study noted that when this happens, people uncover and grow their grit, perseverance, and improve their intrinsic motivation and integrity.[1]

Second, students feel more empowered through self-learning. With programs moving to the internet,[2] we can see this as a form of self-directed learning. After all, you need to pace yourself when it comes to online courses.

Thirdly, people who take up self-directed learning develop other helpful skills. They’ll have an easier time setting goals and finding their own motivations. 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:

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  • 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.
  • Self-efficient – From effective learning to effective motivation, these individuals become more efficient with their learning. This behavior can translate to other parts of their lives as they learn methods and strategies to better manage their lives, work, and more.
  • Supportive – 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 need be. They work better in a team dynamic now because of this.
  • A higher sense of responsibility – It’s obviously important to look after ourselves but often, we associate that with the physical side of things. This type of learning focuses on the mental side which is just as crucial. All in all, it helps us realize that we need to manage both sides of ourselves and we become more conscious of what we are putting in our heads.
  • More inquisitive – This teaching method encourages us to ask the question “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. So how to become a self-directed learner?

How To Develop Self-Directed Learning

Well, 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.

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.

3. Find Challenges

Challenges are not unpleasant. They can be exciting and rewarding. Provided that the challenge is on a problem you care about solving.

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.

5. Understand Your Learning Approach

There are tons of resources to help 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. My other article can help you: How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

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6. Uncover the Background of a Topic

Get to know the topic you are learning by checking the background of the topic. Read various articles, or check the Wikipedia page on the topic.

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 planning on sharing what you learned with others.

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.

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. Do you go to the gym? Why not listen to a podcast or listen to an audiobook during the session?

10. Create a Topic List

Think of it as a to-do 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 towards them 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. But when you want to actively learn, focus more on the stimulation of learning over your actual performance.

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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.

13. Build a Network of Learning Colleagues

Have a group of people that you can collaborate with 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 us having a more enriched learning experience. While everyone’s taste for learning has been diminished, it is due to an old and ineffective system — a system that doesn’t encourage deeper learning and doesn’t support students to learn more or set higher learning goals they care about. Such system focuses on the grades and performance of students which isn’t the point of learning.

Self-directed learning is so 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. After all, there is so much information at our fingertips that it’s worth exploring.

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Featured photo credit: Amy Tran via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You? 5 Characteristics of a Kinesthetic Learner How Motor Learning Helps You Learn Effectively How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster How to Use Visual Learning to Learn Effectively

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1 How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You? 2 5 Characteristics of a Kinesthetic Learner 3 How Motor Learning Helps You Learn Effectively 4 How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster 5 How to Use Visual Learning to Learn Effectively

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

We all learn through repetition.

No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

Visual Learning

A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

Verbal Learning

Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

Logical Learning

Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

Auditory Learning

Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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Social Learning

Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

Intrapersonal Learning

The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

Physical Learning

Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

Naturalistic Learning

The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

Which one(s) are best for you?

As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

VARK Model

Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

  • Visual – those who learn from sight.
  • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
  • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

But why use this particular model?

This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

“VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

Ask These Questions

One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

  • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
  • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
  • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
  • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
[2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
[3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
[4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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