Last Updated on October 22, 2020

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 how 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 to this method, including for adult education.

    First, self-directed learning includes taking the initiative for our own learning. One study noted that when this happens, people uncover and grow their grit, 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.

    Thirdly, people who take up self-directed learning develop other helpful skills. They’ll have an easier time setting goals and finding 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 need be. They work better in a team dynamic because of this.

    A Greater Sense of Responsibility

    It’s obviously important to look after ourselves, but we often 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.

    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. Now, how can you become a self-directed learner?

    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 are not unpleasant. They 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.

    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 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.

    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 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 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.

    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. Such a 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.

    More About Learning

    Featured photo credit: Amy Tran via


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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Published on January 19, 2021

    What Is Learning by Doing And Why Is It Effective?

    What Is Learning by Doing And Why Is It Effective?

    The list of teaching techniques is ever-expanding as there are multiple ways for us to gain knowledge. As a result, there are multiple techniques out there that leverage those particular skills. One such technique I want to share with you is learning by doing.

    This technique has been around for a long time, and it’s a surprisingly effective one thanks to the various perks that come with it. Also called experiential learning, I’ll be sharing with you my knowledge on the subject, what it is deep down, and why it’s such an effective learning tool.

    What Is Learning by Doing?

    Learning by doing is the simple idea that we are capable of learning more about something when we perform the action.

    For example, say you’re looking to play a musical instrument and were wondering how all of them sound and mix. In most other techniques, you’d be playing the instrument all by yourself in a studio. Learning by doing instead gives you a basic understanding of how to play the instrument and puts you up on a stage to play an improvised piece with other musicians.

    Another way to think about this is by taking a more active approach to something as opposed to you passively learning about it. The argument is that active engagement provides deeper learning and that it’s okay if you make mistakes as you learn from those as well. This mentality brought forth a new name for this technique: experiential learning.

    What Are Its Benefits?

    Experimental learning has been around for eons now. It was Aristotle who wrote that “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”


    Over the years, that way of thinking changed and developed and for a time was lost once computers were integrated into schools. It’s only been in recent years where schools have adopted this technique again. It’s clear why teachers are encouraging this as it offers five big benefits.

    1. It’s More Engaging and More Memorable

    The first benefit is that it’s more engaging and memorable. Since this requires action on your part, you’re not going to be able to weaken your performance. This is big since, traditionally, you’d learn from lectures, books, or articles, and learners could easily read—or not read—the text and walk away with no knowledge at all from it.

    When you are forced into a situation where you have to do what you need to learn, it’s easier to remember those things. Every action provides personalized learning experiences, and it’s where motivation is built. That motivation connects to what is learned and felt. It teaches that learning is relevant and meaningful.

    Beyond that, this experience allows the opportunity for learners to go through the learning cycle that involves extended effort, mistakes, and reflection, followed by refinement of strategies.

    2. It Is More Personal

    Stemming from the reason mentioned above, learning by doing offers a personal experience. Referring back to the cycle of effort, mistakes, reflection, and refinement, this cycle is only possible through personal emotions—the motivation and realization of knowledge of a particular topic tying into your values and ideals.

    This connection is powerful and thus, offers a richer experience than reading from a book or articles such as this one. That personal connection is more important as it encourages exploration and curiosity from learners.


    If you’ve always wanted to bake a cake or cook a unique dish, you could read up on it or watch a video. Or you could get the ingredients and start going through it all yourself. Even if you make mistakes now, you have a better grasp of what to do for the next time you try it out. You’re also more invested in that since that’s food that you made with the intention of you having it.

    3. It Is Community-Connected

    Learning by doing involves the world at large rather than sitting alone in your room or a library stuck in a book. Since the whole city is your classroom technically, you’re able to leverage all kinds of things. You’re able to gather local assets and partners and connect local issues to larger global themes.

    This leans more into the personal aspect that this technique encourages. You are part of a community, and this form of learning allows you to interact more and make a connection with it—not necessarily with the residents but certainly the environment around it.

    4. It’s More Integrated Into People’s Lives

    This form of learning is deeply integrated into our lives as well. Deep learning occurs best when learners can apply what they’ve learned in a classroom setting to answer questions around them that they care about.

    Even though there is a lot of information out there, people are still always asking “what’s in it for me?” Even when it comes to learning, people will be more interested if they know that what they are learning is vital to their very way of life in some fashion. It’s forgettable if they’re unable to tie knowledge in with personal aspects of their lives. Thus, experiential learning makes the application of knowledge simpler.

    5. It Builds Success Skills

    The final benefit of learning by doing is that it builds up your skills for success. Learning by doing encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, discover something new, and try things out for the first time. You’re bound to make a mistake or two, but this technique doesn’t shame you for it.


    As a result, learning by doing can build your initiative for new things as well as persistence towards growth and development in a field. This could also lead to team management and collaboration skill growth. These are all vital things in personal growth as we move towards the future.

    How to Get Started

    While all these perks are helpful for you, how are you going to start? Well, there are several different approaches that you can take with this. Here are some of them that come to mind.

    1. Low-Stakes Quizzes

    In classroom settings, one way to introduce this technique is to have many low-stakes quizzes. These quizzes aren’t based on assessing one’s performance. Instead, these quizzes are designed to have learners engage with the content and to generate the learned information themselves.

    Research shows that this method is an effective learning technique.[1] It allows students to improve their understanding and recall and promotes the “transfer” of knowledge to other settings.

    2. Type of Mental Doing

    Another approach is one that Psychologist Rich Mayer put together. According to him, learning is a generative activity.[2] His knowledge and the research done in his lab at Santa Barbara have repeatedly shown that we gain expertise by doing an action, but the action is based on what we already know.

    For example, say you want to learn more about the Soviet dictator Stalin. All you need to do is link what you do know—that Stalin was a dictator—and link it to what you want to learn and retain. Stalin grew up in Georgia, killed millions of people, centralized power in Russia, and assisted in the victory of World War 2. This technique even applies to the most simple of memory tasks as our brain learns and relearns.


    3. Other Mental Activities

    The final method I’ll share with you is taking the literal approach—getting out there and getting your hands dirty so to speak. But how you go about that is up to you. You could try reading an article and then going out and applying it immediately—like you could with this article. Or maybe you could find further engagement through puzzles or making a game out of the activity that you’re doing.

    For example, if you wanted to learn about animal behavior patterns, you can read about them, go out to watch animals, and see if they perform the specific behaviors that you read about.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning by doing encourages active engagement with available materials and forces you to work harder to remember the material. It’s an effective technique because it helps ingrain knowledge into your memory. After all, you have a deeper personal connection to that knowledge, and you’ll be more motivated to use it in the future.

    With that in mind, I encourage you to take what you’ve learned from reading this article and apply that in the real world. It’s only going to benefit you as you grow.

    Featured photo credit: Van Tay Media via


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