Terms & Definitions Icon.jpgWelcome to the Self-Guided Learning Terms, Definitions and Concepts!

Reading the definitions and concepts here will enhance understandings of the similarities and differences in self-guided learning terminology.

For the purpose of this investigation, we will use the term self-guided learning. When examining ventures in self-guided learning, many of these terms will need to be defined within the specific learning contexts provided.

Viewing the videos and summaries below will help guide our collective understanding of self-guided learning!

Defining Related Terms

Being self-guided means that individuals take personal control to conduct, direct, and lead their learning path through life. Learners look after and make decisions about their own learning needs, directions, and outcomes. Self-guided learning comes from within, pointing the way to external sources, resources and supports for individual learning events.

Cheryl Lowry describes self-directed learning as "a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others." She includes the actions for learning, as identified by Knowles (1975) of:
  • diagnosing needs
  • formulating goals
  • identifying resources
  • selecting and implementing strategies, and
  • concluding with evaluating learning outcomes.

Key understandings about self-directed learning include:
  • “Self-direction is the basis of all learning; be it formal or informal, the effectiveness of learning is relative to an individual's motivation. All individuals are capable of self-directed learning but the degree of development varies due to their individual differences” (Williamson, 2007).
  • “Self-directed learning …becomes possible, when certain things cluster together to form the stimulus and the opportunity for reflection and exploration” (Smith, 2002).
  • “Self-direction as the continuous exercise by the learner of authentic control over all decisions having to do with learning, and self-direction as the ability to gain access to, and choose from, a full range of available and appropriate resources” (Smith, 2002).

Here is a video from Dr. Shawn Bullock of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. It is an introduction to self-directed learning.

Introduction to Self-Directed Learning

Andragogy The notion of andragogy put forth by Malcolm Knowles (Smith, 2002) includes six characteristics of adult learners
  • need to know (why am I learning?)
  • self-concept
  • experience
  • readiness to learn
  • orientation to learning and
  • motivation to learn

This short video provides an overview of the concept of andragogy.



This term refers to “self-directed learning that is related to but different from informal learning. This term refers to "learning on your own" or "by yourself". Someone who is an auto-didact is self-taught. "Auto-didacticism is a contemplative, absorptive procession.” (Wikipedia) Familiar examples of auto-didacts are found in the 1997 drama film "Good Will Hunting" and Dr. Spencer Reid in the television series Criminal Minds. Lynda Weinmann of Lynda.com is also a well-known auto-didact. You can learn more about her and her venture on the Venture Analysis page.

Guided discovery learning:

A related term identified as the process where learners “discover knowledge without guidance, developing their own understanding. The role of instruction is merely to provide a suitable environment, which in software might be a microworld or simulation. Discovery learning, or instructionless learning, involves hypothesis formulation and testing” (Edutech wiki).

Guided self-directed learning:
“This term has evolved to outline a continuum of instructor-student responsibilities and actions during designed learning experiences" (Wulff, Burke and Hurley, 2001). The role of the instructor is a guide as the student learns in context dependent on their own needs. The students develop self-direction in content-practice fields with the instructor as the guide.

Since there are a multitude of ways the term self-guided learning can be said, here is a list of some of them:

Self-directed learning
Asynchronous learning environment
Assuming primary responsibility
Independent learner
Individual responsibility toward learning
Self-managed learning
Self-regulated learning
Inner directed
Intrinsically motivated learning
Solitary learning
Isolated learning
Learning without a teacher
Student generated learning
Teacherless individual learners
Self-acquired knowledge
Unsupervised learning

(Hiemstra, Roger (2004). Self-directed learning lexicon).

Concepts and Considerations
Four steps for self guided learning are identified on this tip sheet from the Learning Center at the University of Waterloo.
These include
  1. Being ready to learn - readiness for self-guided learning has been researched. A self-directed self-assessment tool was developed by Guglielmino (1977) and adapted by Williamson (2007). It incorporates sixty items under five categories. The five broad areas provide analysis of awareness, learning strategies, learning activities, evaluation and interpersonal skills. When analyzing self-guided learning ventures, each of these areas should be evident in the learning products.
  2. Setting learning goals - establishing an outcome is an essential element in a true 'backward planning' style
  3. Engaging in the learning process - this is done through surface, deep and strategic learning events, activities and elements. Hiemstra further outlines these elements in the Personal Responsibility Orientation (PRO). This includes assessing needs, setting goals, specifying learning content, pacing the learning, choosing the instructional methods, techniques and devices, controlling the learning environment, promoting introspection, reflection and critical thinking, trainer/instructors' roles outlined, and evaluating the learning.
  4. Evaluating the learning

Models for self-guided learning ventures include
  • face-to-face
  • blended
  • online
  • web archived
  • hyflex

and can be
  • formal
  • informal
  • non-formal
  • self-guided

To discuss what self-guided learningDiscussions Icon.jpg means to you, head to the discussion topic page to further discuss terms, definitions and concepts.

References and Links

Educause: 7 Things you should know about hyflex. (ELI7066) Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbouttheHy/218263

Guglielmio, L. (n.d.) What is the self-directed learning readiness scale? Retrieved from http://www.lpasdlrs.com/

Hiemstra, R. (1994). Self-directed learning. In T. Husen & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (second edition), Oxford: Pergamon Press. Reprinted by permission. Retrieved from http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/pl3p/Self-Directed%20Learning.pdf

Hiemstra, Roger. (2004) Self-directed learning lexicon. International Journal of Self-directed Learning, 1 (2).

Lowry, C.M. (n.d.) Supporting and facilitating self-directed learning. Retrieved from http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/89dig.htm

Self-directed learning: A four step process. CTE Tip Sheet (n.d.) Retrieved from http://cte.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/tips/self-directed_learning_four_step_process.html

Smith, M. K. (2002) Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm

Williamson, S.N. (2007). Development of a self-rating scale of self-directed learning. Nurse Researcher, 14, (2). Document Number: 2009513428

Wulff, S., Burke E., Hurley J. (2001). Guided self-directed learning: Strategies for distance and on-site education. 17th annual conference on distance teaching and learning. Retrieved from http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/proceedings/01_7.pdf