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 July 21, 2021

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.


    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.


    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:


    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

    Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.


    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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