Self-Directed Learning


Self-Determined Learning


Individuals assuming responsibility for their own learning

Principal Metaphors

Most versions of Self-Directed Learning are not explicit about or aligned with any specific theory of learning – and, consequently, direct references to learning are frequently suggestive of Folk Theories, especially the Acquisition Metaphor and the Attainment Metaphor. The following cluster works across the literature on Self-Directed Learning that we reviewed:
  • Knowledge is … material; objectified facts; pre-determined goal
  • Knowing is … accumulation (of previous learnings); progress
  • Learner is … an accumulator (individual); progressor
  • Learning is … acquiring/attaining
  • Teaching is … supporting


1100s as a general idea; 1990s as a modern theory


As its name suggests, Self-Directed Learning is about individuals taking responsibility for their own educations – which entails some level of control over selecting topics of study, structuring inquiries, organizing resources, managing time, and so on. In a formal educational setting, these decisions are made in collaboration with a teacher, whose main role shifts from administering a curriculum to supporting the development of skills, processes, and mindsets to ensure success and to enable the learner to assume more and more autonomy.


Self-Directed Learning is most commonly seen as an adult aspiration in western cultures – and so, with regard to schooling, it might be better framed as a developmental sequence than an alternative to teacher- or institution-directed education.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Self-Directed Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Self-Directed Learning is a perspective on influencing learning – one that comes with a specific and prescriptive conception of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Self-Directed Learning is an ideal, not a scientific theory. While there is evidence that individuals who achieve a high level of autonomy in the their own educations are, in general, more content and most successful, it is not at all clear how Self-Directed Learning might be effectively nurtured. Nor is clear how much influence that teachers and schools can have in supporting its development.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Self-Directed Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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