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Increased motivation in your company through self-directed eLearning

How self-directed learning makes training more inspirational


Although digital solutions often mean more freedom and greater effectiveness, they can often present challenges. With eLearning, it is often also the case that, even though companies offer their employees high-quality and interactive online courses, employees do not seem particularly motivated to learn. Often they do not even complete courses, which sometimes lie untouched for weeks on the learning platform. But how can you rekindle employees’ motivation in these circumstances?

We know from experience that it’s not just design and teaching approaches that motivate people to learn! An important and unfortunately often underestimated factor in the learning process is self-determination. Ask yourself when would you be more motivated to learn: If you were forced to stock up on knowledge, whether you needed it or not, or if your learning were tailored to your individual goals and perhaps even accessible precisely when the new knowledge would help you solve a specific problem?

This is the basis of what is known as self-directed learning. We show you how this method can inject new momentum into your digital training and even save valuable resources!


What does “self-directed learning” mean?

Self-directed learning—also known as self-determined learning—is a form of learning in which learners shape and direct their own learning within a framework that leaves room for maneuver. Depending on how much use learners make of this flexibility, learning outcomes are increasingly their own responsibility. There are a number options for passing control to learners. These include the ability to choose when and where they learn, the ability to influence their learning processes (e.g., the order in which they will take courses), and the ability to select a range of different methods and tools. In addition, employees can even enrich their development with optional content that is not directly related to their everyday work. The more of these options they exercise, the more self-determined learning will be.

Externally directed learning is usually deployed where learning outcomes are not the actual goal but merely means to an end, for instance in the case of data protection training prescribed by legislation.

Conversely, this approach means any learning objectives that are more than just means to an end can also be easily controlled by the learners. The benefits to you as a company and to your learners are enormous!

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

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Self-directed learning ≠ self-organized learning

The two terms are often used synonymously, although they refer to two different learning strategies. Whereas, with self-directed learning, learners determine their own learning objectives and content, self-organized learning refers to a learning process that is completely free, in which learners also determine their own goals and assessment processes. This is only useful where companies are looking for new solutions to problems they may not even be aware of yet. If the problem is familiar, however, learning objectives can also be derived from it, and these then provide the framework for self-directed learning.


The benefits of self-directed learning for companies and learners

The most important benefit of self-directed learning is probably increased intrinsic motivation. This becomes clear if you take the learner’s perspective and look at the 70–20–10 model. This states that 10% of learning takes place in training sessions, 20% in exchanges with others, and 70% in the course of day-to-day work.

But what exactly does employees’ day-to-day work actually look like? When do they deal with which problem? When and where do employees most want to learn? The answers to these questions are as individual as your employees themselves. They indicate that employees are most motivated to learn when they feel the need to do so—either because they have the time and the inclination or because they have a specific problem to which they are seeking a solution. So why not make use of precisely this intrinsic motivation and let your employees decide for themselves what, when, where, and for how long they will learn?


Positive, long-term learning outcomes through intrinsic motivation

Employees’ cognitive abilities are strongest when their motivation to learn comes from within rather than being externally (extrinsically) determined. Newly learned knowledge is retained for longer and can be retrieved over a significantly longer period than where learning is extrinsically motivated.


Effectiveness through learning when knowledge is needed

Imagine how much time you would save if you had the right solution to every problem at your fingertips. Instead of requiring your employees to stock up on knowledge, you can save a lot of resources by making existing knowledge fully accessible—this is the essence of self-directed learning. It allows employees to access knowledge whenever they actually need it and to consolidate it immediately through practical application.


Ideal for use with eLearning

Self-directed learning is also particularly compatible with eLearning—and particularly effective—either in addition to face-to-face events (blended learning) or on its own. Professional learning management systems and authoring software enable you to design individual learning paths and to divide complex courses into small microlearning units. Gamification tools provide employees with additional opportunities to consolidate their knowledge in a self-directed way.


Increased company loyalty through lifelong learning

Self-directed learning can also mean supplementing mandatory knowledge with optional training, for instance in foreign languages or soft-skills. This enables you to meet your employees’ needs for lifelong learning in the workplace and thus promote long-term company loyalty.


Greater satisfaction through self-determination

Self-determination is what drives any form of independent activity—and thus also promotes the approach most companies want their employees to adopt to their work: independent and intrinsically motivated. At the same time, self-determination—in contrast to constraints— also promotes employee satisfaction. Leading to a win–win situation for everyone involved.




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Basic features of successful self-directed learning

Every positive learning experience is based on an intuitive learning environment. The key thing is therefore to have a manageable learning platform that is easy to use and does not require additional explanations. Having to pore over platform instructions before starting learning will quickly lead people to lose motivation.

It’s only logical: If you succeed in a task, you’ll be even more motivated to attempt similar tasks in the future. So it’s essential to have an appropriate scheme of work, especially when it comes to self-directed learning—the aim here, after all, is to encourage the right amount of learning without overwhelming learners. You can use what are known as “pre-tests”, for example, to determine individual learners’ current knowledge levels, to enable you to deliver the appropriate content: Basic courses and detailed introductions for employees with less knowledge, shortened courses for more advanced students. Interim tests, gamification, multimedia content and interactivity ensure that learners complete courses successfully and enjoy their learning. 

There are, of course, a number of other ways to create a positive learning experience. The eLearning experts at chemmedia AG will be happy to help you design your courses.

The more relevant an online course, the better the learning outcomes! So, make sure you always use examples to impart knowledge. Where learners identify with a course, they will have increased intrinsic motivation, which—as we know—will in turn increase their cognitive abilities. If several departments are taking the same online course, professional software such as Knowledgeworker Create enables you to vary the course by switching out individual elements.

The more free-form your learning process is, the more important it will be for learners to compare notes with colleagues. “How did you get on with the task?” So social interaction plays an important role. It is also essential to have a contact person who is permanently available to answer questions or help organize the learning process. In digital training, social interaction can take place through forums, chats, or verbal exchanges on the content itself or more formal discussions on specific topics, via video conferences, for example.


Practical tips for promoting self-directed learning in your company

If you have only recently introduced eLearning, or if your learning processes have previously tended to be externally controlled, your employees will probably need support at first to develop the skills required for self-directed learning. Whatever your circumstances, you will need a corporate culture that promotes independent learning. This includes regular feedback, which allows for questions and mistakes, communication of appreciation and the necessary trust in the employees.


Learning platforms

Learning platforms—also known as learning management systems—are the technology on which all self-directed learning processes are based. They allow online courses to be provided in the way that best suits individual employees’ needs. They also provide an overview of progress and—if desired—enable learners to communicate with other employees and supervisors.

Personal development plans

Personal development plans lay out individual goals and gives your employees guidance on how to achieve them. They thus also provide valuable support for self-directed learning.


Learning diaries

A learning diary provides an overview of progress and helps learners to reflect on their learning. Professional learning platforms include digital diaries, so there is no need for any additional tools or even analog notebooks.


Coaching sessions are the ideal way to support individuals’ development and thus self-directed learning. Coaches help learners to reflect on their learning experiences, be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and draw practical conclusions about how to approach their learning in future. Nowadays, coaching can also be delivered on a completely digital basis.



As explained above, motivation to learn is above all generated when knowledge is made available exactly when it is needed. Microlearning—the subdivision of complex courses into small nuggets—supports learners by making knowledge quicker and easier to access. So, instead of having to work through a whole course, learners can access information directly in small, individual segments. The benefits: Knowledge acquired through microlearning is easier to remember and retrieve. As a learning method, it is also ideal for integration into busy schedules. Lessons can even be fitted into a 10-minute train ride.



Features that incorporate play, such as digital quizzes, flashcards or digital behavioral trainers, are useful and above all popular ways to promote self-directed learning. Instead of offering learning solely through complex courses, they take a playful approach to testing and deepen knowledge in a relaxed and informal manner.


The bottom line

Of course, when you’re in a position of responsibility, it’s never easy to relinquish control. But the positive potential of freedom and the associated self-determination has been completely underestimated: Companies and employees both benefit from reductions in time spent learning and more effective application of knowledge that has been acquired. At the same time, self-determination ensures greater learner satisfaction. Each of the effects leads to an increase in intrinsic motivation to learn, and to learning being perceived less as occupational therapy and much more as a meaningful complement to everyday work.

Magda Lehnert | Blogger
Magda Lehnert

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