Self-Directed Learning

In this section, we will expand upon what operating as a self-directed learner means in your academic career.

Self-directed learning is defined as the “process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” [1]. This applies to learning how to ride a bike, play a musical instrument, rebuild an engine, cook, or developing any skill.

Now, think about that definition of self-directed learning in terms of yourself as an online college student as it pertains to the following statements.

  1. I am motivated, I have a desire or need to know or do something.
    In an online course, students are required to have a level of self-motivation in order to be successful. A self- motivated learner has the ability to complete assignments and coursework, even when challenging, and knows when and how to seek assistance when needed.
  2. I set goals and make plans for my learning, I know what I want to do and how I will schedule my time.
    To be a successful online student requires discipline, commitment, and organization. Online classes do not have specific meeting times. You need to take the initiative to access course materials and participate in course activities as often as is necessary to succeed. That will vary from student to student, and class to class, so you will need to regularly reflect on your own goals.
  3. I find and manage academic resources, knowing where to look and who to ask when I have questions or concerns.
    As an online student, there will be a variety of resources available to assist you with your classes. These resources include academic advisors, online tutoring, online library services, technology support, and accessibility services.
  4. I measure my academic progress by reviewing my goals and making adjustments as needed.
    As a self-directed learner, it is important to communicate and seek clarification when needed. Successful online students regularly check their campus email and course sites for important updates and information. You will be in charge of monitoring and improving your own progress. Your instructors and advisors are here to help.


Do you see how the previous statements apply to achieving success as an online student? If you answered yes, then you understand what it means to be a self-directed learner!

[1] Knowles, M.S. (1989). The making of an adult educator: an autobiographical journey (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Next: Online vs. Face-to-Face Learning