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Self-Directed Learning and Training in the Not-For-Profit Sector

Self-Directed Learning and Training in the Not-For-Profit Sector

What Self-Directed Learning Can Do for Your Organization

Self-directed learning can be just as hard to define as it is to produce. The superficial definition is that it is learning that you do by yourself with little to no direction from others. True self-directed learning, however, is far more.

In its best form, self-directed learning involves individuals taking the initiative, to create self-directed pathways to specific goals that align with your association's goals. Instances of valuable self-directed learning often seek help and guidance from others. It is called self-directed, not self-completed.

Malcolm Knowles reminds us that self-directed learners are good at:


"...diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes." -- Knowles, 1975


In the context of technology and current eLearning principles, this means that the content's structure, how it is accessed, and how learners are rewarded is essential.


Self-Directed Learning is Not One Size Fits All

Is the self-directed approach right for your association? Five things to keep in mind:


Are Your Users Ready to Learn?

Identify the right people and ensure the learning outcomes are in line with their expectations. The learner needs to be motivated before taking the course. Do they have the self-awareness and self-confidence needed? You cannot create motivation from scratch, but you can use tools to help keep a motivated person engaged.


Are the Learning Outcomes Clear?

Make sure the user knows what's in it for them. Give them a clear reason to take the time to complete the self-directed learning.


Do We Have a Process?

Build a narrative to describe the learning pathway. Create branching paths the learner can choose in the order they feel is relevant to their understanding. Understand how different training elements will be assessed.


Are the Appropriate Rewards Built-In to the Training?

It is important to include more feedback than simply correct or incorrect. You want to encourage the learner to explore why an answer was unexpected. You can include layers of Gamification to keep the user engaged and returning to the content.


Is Co-Operation Involved?

Is the system built to guide the learner throughout the session, or are there components that require group work or a facilitator? Block a time on the calendar once every two weeks for a couple of hours when participants are expected to share their learning journey with colleagues, describing what they have learned and where they are going next.


Looking to Pursue Self-Directed Learning Opportunities?

Self-directed training through online learning sites, webinars, and interactive modules are generally more cost effective. They also open up the market to learners beyond your physical location. This type of education philosophy is difficult to ignore in today's technological age, particularly for associations and not-for-profits.

Take Junior Achievement Canada as an example. This organization on-boards new program administrators and volunteers through an online resource portal. They allow program volunteers to engage with the self-directed training at their own pace to receive various certifications required to run classes and student activities. As an organization with multiple chapters across Canada, this cohesive set of tools makes it easier for their very busy volunteer base to participate.

Measuring compliance with training is also made more formal in an online setting, where data reporting can show the who, what, where, and when of engagement within the various topics. It also permits incorporating other media like videos and games, to go along with the standard readings and quizzes.

Self-directed learning puts motivated people on your team in a position to grow and add new skills that they can then apply towards your association's goals.

Encourage your employees to spend one hour per week on one of these self-directed learning sites. Book a time for debriefing and sharing in a group:




New Self-Directed Learning opportunities for association executives are an important part of professional development. Have you considered pursuing your Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation? Have a look at the Canadian Society for Association Executives' (CSAE) CAE program to find out what it could do for you.




Education, CAE, Michael MacKay, Associations


Education, Guest Contributor, CAE Program



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